Your business starts with your brand, but the other major part of the equation is your audience. You need to be able to connect with them in a meaningful way on a regular basis. While there are a number of different ways to do this – experiential events, direct marketing campaigns, loyalty programs, etc – we’re going to look at building an online community for your brand.
What is an online community? Well, it can be defined in many different ways, but loosely it is defined as a group of people who interact with each other over the internet (email, websites, messaging, social media, etc.). This group of people will have shared values and a common interest that brings them together – they will come together for a purpose. That purpose can vary depending on the online community. In your case, you want them to come together to interact with and celebrate your brand and what you stand for.
There are two different types of online community:
- Shared social communities: You are working on a public platform where you have limited control over the narrative and the data that you can collect. For the most part, social communities are public, however, you can create private groups on Facebook, for example, if you are looking for a more closed community.
- Owned/branded communities: This is a dedicated community built by you, housed usually on your website and generally secured by membership. You have more control over the data that you can collect as well as the management of the day to day on the platform.
The most common among small businesses are shared social communities. Building a social community means less of a financial investment up front, but you can’t forget about the time it takes to build it!
But why should you invest your time and resources into developing an online community? Here are a few reasons for you to consider.
Online communities are not just a channel for customer support, they are made up of real people making real connections. It is invaluable for brands to humanize themselves enough to engage in that type of relationship-building where they can build up trust over time, which creates loyalty.
It’s important not to get too hung up on what platforms and tools you will use to build your online community. The platforms and tools are just a means to bring people together. If you have done your research about your target audience’s habits, then you should be able to easily pinpoint where your online platform will be housed and how it will be run. To have a successful online community you need to approach it from a multi-channel viewpoint. Your customers aren’t just on Facebook or just on email, so form your strategy according to their behaviour in order to have the greatest impact. Your strategy should always revolve around the people you are trying to connect with.
When you do it right, you should be listening as much as sharing on your online community, sometimes it’s even better to listen more. This is a great way to get feedback and insight on what you are currently doing as an organization. In fact, in most cases you can get instant feedback. If you can tap into your audience’s needs, pain points, and interests, then you can adjust your overall business strategy accordingly. While listening is key, it’s also just as important that you act on the information you collect in a timely and positive manner. Telling your customers they are all wrong likely won’t go over very well, but if you take what they are saying into account and implement some of their suggestions where it makes sense, then they will feel valued.
Empower Your Customers
Your customers can be your most important marketing asset. If you engage the group as a whole and make them feel like their opinion is valued, they will feel like they have a say in what goes on with your brand. Customers feeling valued and empowered to tell your story is an incredibly powerful tool for brands. In essence you are creating a group of brand ambassadors that will talk about you in a positive way any chance they get.
Business Growth Opportunities
Having an active online community will generate buzz about your brand, allowing you to create opportunities to engage potential customers. If you post engaging content linking back to your website, you will also drive traffic to your website.
An online community is a great way for you to establish brand differentiation from your competitors. Focusing on the perceived value for your customers will help you stand out from the crowd. Take the time to figure out how you are different than your competitors and use that to create value for the customer.
Building an online community takes work on a daily basis. You need to constantly find ways to create new and engaging content to spark discussion and positive experiences with your brand. As much work as it may take, the benefits outweigh the effort, so if you haven’t started to build your online community, you should get started.
Originally published to the SongBird Marketing Communications blog.Digital & Social Articles on Business 2 Community