Why Build an Online Community?
I’m not going to lie, building an online community will take a commitment of time and possibly some marketing dollars. But fear not as the effort will be well worth it when you consider that an online community can:
Increase Customer Loyalty
Websites and social media pages are just digital locations where people can go. A community is a place where people can belong. Branded communities offer greater opportunities to create more loyalty and lifetime customer value than social networks alone.
Create Brand Advocates
What kind of advertising is best? The free and effective kind! Word-of-mouth advertising has always been the best, because people ultimately trust their friends and loved ones more than they trust anyone else. An online community naturally creates brand advocates because it invites consumers to engage in conversations and share content.
For many years now, business owners have taken the same approach to content marketing that I have taken to cooking, the ol’ “guess and pray approach.” When I make something that requires a lot of measurements and knife skills, I generally end up getting overwhelmed, winging it, and praying the result is edible. Many marketers, hoping for the glory (and revenue) that comes with a viral post or video are overwhelmed, wing it, and pray the result gets as many eyes on their content as possible. A much better approach to extending your reach is to invite a few hundred of your best customers to your private online space, recognize them for their loyalty, and watch the word-of-mouth multiply.
Collect Consumer Insights
Having direct access to your customers means having access to a whole heap of data that can help you make better marketing decisions.
9 Ways You Can Begin Building an Online Community
“Build it and they will engage with your brand,” is the famous quote from the movie “Online Community of Dreams, is it not? Well let’s pretend that it is… Unfortunately, building a successful online community is not quite that easy. But the good news is, if you follow the tips I am about to share with you, you’ll have a much better chance of creating a space for your customers in which they can engage, learn, and give and receive value.
1. Don’t Confuse a Following with a Community
There is a big difference between a following and a community. You can build a following but you must earn a community. Followers and audiences observe, they don’t participate. When you engage an audience you are typically having a one-way conversation. A community, on the other hand, is a two-way conversation. A community is like an organism that has a life of its own. Any effort you take must be focused in the right direction, of building a community of people who want to engage with you and each other.
2. Always Remember Who You’re Dealing With
Behind all of those little photos and avatars are actual human beings who have a life, hopes, dreams, pains, and fears. By coming to your community they are showing that they value what you have to offer. Always remember you are serving real people, so value their time and provide the best version of your brand you can.
3. Know the Point of Your Community
Just as you had to have a specific point for you blog and Instagram page, you’ll need to sit down with your marketing team to figure out exactly what the purpose of your community will be. What do you want your customers to gain from participating in the community? How will you invite them to participate? What role will you and your marketing team take? How will you present information? Your customers will know almost instantly whether your community is self-serving, so spend some time developing a community with a point, and one that serves your customers’ needs.
4. Consider Hosting Your Community on Your Own Site
If you have your wedding reception in a fancy hotel, you’ll have to follow the hotel’s rules. If you have your wedding reception in your backyard, you can do the chicken dance wearing nothing but a sombrero and a smile and get away with it. The same idea applies to where your community will live. Yes, it may be easier to host it on a platform like Communifire, LinkedIn or Higher Logic, but if you host your community on your own site, you will have more control and be better able to analyze search and visitor activity.
Participation and selling are very different. You shouldn’t only engage when you’re trying to talk up your brand. Find other ways to add value to the conversations happening. Did you just finish a book you found inspirational? Did you experiment with a recipe for a peanut butter smoothie? Be human as well as a brand.
6. Be Unique and Consistent
Content is still king, and every day your consumers are bombarded with 233 gigabytes of it, give or take. If you want to attract your target consumer’s attention and keep it, you’ll have to figure out a way to cut through all of that digital noise. Maybe no one in your specific niche is doing much with video. That may be a great opportunity to be unique. Maybe everyone and their mother is writing 2,000-word posts – so go the opposite way and write a short tip of the day. It’s also important to be consistent. Know ahead of time how often you are going to release content. Create a content calendar and stick with it. If you start out posting once a day, your customers will come to expect that, so don’t suddenly post once a week.
7. Be a Giver
In life, and in marketing, you tend to get what you give. To build a community, give of your time and try and solve your customers’ problems. Reach out to community members, engage, ask how they are and if you can help with anything. And MEAN it. This isn’t a sales tactic, this is how you earn the trust and respect of others. Will it have a positive effect on your bottom line? You bet, but that isn’t why you do it. You should be in the business of genuinely wanting to help others better themselves and their lives. If your online business is still grunting and crawling around on all fours, it’s time to evolve and create a community where your customers can get the richest, fullest experience of your brand. By following these tips you’ll be able to create an inviting space that serves their interests and offers real value.