The advent of social media has provided brands and businesses with a new way of communicating with their customers and loyal patrons. If before, the way of reaching out to them is through telemarketing and e-mails, engagement with them is taken to a different level with the growth of online communities. Having an online community is not as simple as talking to an audience. There is a dynamic exchange of ideas and opinions that allows customers to be more involved in the brand.
Creating a community allows your consumers to interact with you and share their feedback, stories and insights in a faster and bigger scale. While it is good in building relations with your stakeholders, it also opens up a window for negative reactions, which is why it is something you have to consider very seriously for your business. Before you decide to utilise this strategy, you have to determine first if an online community is something that you need because it takes a lot of effort and commitment to maintain one.
With a community of customers – loyal or disgruntled – you have direct access to their feedback and insights, which you can use for research and development of your products, services, or business, as a whole. It’s also an avenue for you to clarify or address any problem or concern. Knowing that you are listening to them also lessens frustrations from your customers. By establishing an open line of communication with your consumers, you can generate repeat customers and even turn them into your brand ambassadors that can bring in new ones through word of mouth.
But building an online community is easier said than done. Whether you create a forum, host it in your site, or use any of the social media platforms, there are tips to guide you on how to start and strengthen a community online.
1.) Content is king
Having informative and interesting content will hook your existing members and even drive new members to your online community. It should keep your audience engaged through facts, stories and questions. Remember that it’s not a one-way street. It’s not just you talking. It’s also an avenue for your audience to participate and voice out their opinions. You can even generate your content from your members. That way, they feel more connected to your brand.
2.) It’s all about value
Starting an online community is just a small percentage of the big picture. Sustaining it takes a lot of hard work. Members stay in the community when they find value in it. They may get new information regularly, voice their opinions, find gratification or earn new friends along the way. You have to form a special relationship with your community because trust is a key ingredient in keeping it together. Respond fast to queries or concerns in a tactful manner.
3.) A mine of expertise and ideas
Since an online community is composed of human beings, it is also a dynamic organism. Allow some room for your members to show their talents. Enliven discussions to generate lots of ideas. Be generous in giving affirmation to them. When there are insights or works from them that you want to use, be sure to recognise them and give them credit.
4.) Community guidelines are important
Like in any group, it is expected that there will be varying opinions, ideas and reactions. One person can react differently from another in a given situation. To avoid conflicts and install order in the community, you must set down rules and guidelines for everyone to follow. That way, members are aware of boundaries and limitations, making sure they don’t overstep on other people’s space.
5.) A community has a culture
The culture you want to infuse in your online community must reflect the values of your brand. But don’t make it too hard sell. The best way to influence the culture of your community is that you set yourself as a good example. Call out those who go out of bounds but in a non-offensive way. Acknowledge those who embody your corporate values.
6.) Let go of control
To make your community thrive, you often have to step back and allow them to take the reigns of running it. You’ll be surprised at how eager they are to respond to each other’s questions, police those who do not follow the guidelines and initiate endeavours for the good of your brand.
There are more things you can do to create, develop and maintain an online community. The important thing is that you have to feel their pulse to know their needs. You can also listen to stories of business owners who have done the same. If you belong in organisations like EO Melbourne, it is a rich resource to mine lessons from the experiences of other entrepreneurs.
Regard your online community as your support base, setting a stage for them to shine and reach their full potential. It’s a give-and-take relationship that you, your brand, customers and prospects can align and help uplift each other.