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Best Practices for Building an Online Community

Best Practices for Building an Online Community

As you may have noticed, the days when you could pay for some TV ads and wait for the views—and increased sales!—to roll in are long gone. Now you have to focus on your online presence more than ever if you want your brand to blossom with your target market. Maybe you’ve already started with a great website and social media pages galore. But do you have a thriving online community for your brand? If not, it may be time to start one! After all, it’s no longer good enough to only offer one-way communication with your audience. Now you need two-way communication that engages consumers and lets your brand break through the noise. Here’s how an online community could benefit your brand, and some tips on how to start one.

Why You Need an Online Community

When you have a platform where consumers can communicate directly with your team and with each other, you stand to gain several benefits. First, you have an easy way to find out exactly what your audience thinks about your products or services. You’ll see conversations that discuss the details of your brand, giving you a front row seat into what consumers love and hate. Think about how much time and money this type of market research can save you!

Not only can you use the feedback to fix any bugs on your current offerings, but you can also use it to improve your future products and services. And if you use your online community as a place where you can present services or products before officially launching elsewhere, you can get an idea of how your target market will react to your offerings—possibly even giving you a chance to fix any issues before launch. Maybe that’s why 72 percent of companies use their online communities to get feedback—and 67 percent use this tool to get new insights for future products and services!

You can also use your community to offer customer support. This allows consumers to get quick, personalized assistance while saving you time and money. In fact, 49 percent of businesses have reported they save 10 to 25 percent every year by offering customer support via online communities. That’s a pretty good reason to start building your own. Other benefits include the following:

  • Better engagement with customers
  • Improved customer loyalty
  • More brand credibility
  • Increased sales

Clearly, there’s a reason—or several—that you should be creating an online community for your brand! Now that you know the value of it, take a look at some tips on getting started.

Tip 1: Create Content People Want to Share

Your online community can’t help anyone if it’s empty. This is why you need to start with content that aims to educate and/or entertain. Better yet, shoot for content that your audience will want to share with others. This doesn’t mean that you need every piece of content to go viral, but you should be consistently creating content that is truly helpful, such as blog posts that outline how consumers can compare products before they buy. You can also make videos that show how to use the products you sell, or that show off the benefits so viewers can determine if they should buy them.

Of course, some of your content can be purely for entertainment. Think funny videos, comic strips, images, or memes. As you publish content, make sure you keep an eye on analytics to see what resonates most with your audience. Then make more of that type of content for your community members to share!

Tip 2: Encourage Participation in Fun Ways

Another necessity for any community is participation. After all, if you don’t have people coming on your site to leave comments for your brand and other consumers, you just have a regular website or blog, not much of an online community at all. So you’re going to need to encourage participation, at least while you build up the community.

You can do this by gamifying the process. This means motivating people to chat more by giving them points that translate into badges, allowing them special privileges in the community. You can also let them turn in points for prizes, such as free products or gift cards. Either way, be sure to also reach out personally to let them know you appreciate their participation, as this kind of personal interaction builds brand loyalty.

You might need to encourage employees and investors to participate in the community at first to show new members there is interesting content from the start. But keep in mind that while your online community may be 90 percent your brand and 10 percent consumers to start out, if you do things right, within about a year, it should be closer to 90 percent consumers and just 10 percent your brand!

Tip 3: Assign a Community Manager

Don’t try to manage everything yourself as you create an online community. You’re going to burn yourself out and won’t be able to give the community the time it needs to succeed. Instead, appoint a community manager who can take care of everything from technical support and member engagement to monitoring the analytics.

In fact, as your community grows, you might find you need to assign a few moderators to help manage the posts, whether that means answering questions, deleting inappropriate content, or trying to boost participation. The moderator position could even be part of your rewards system for super engaged community members, as you should choose people who are very engaged with both your brand and the online community. Make sure you make the moderator position sound worthwhile to attract the best candidates, such as by letting everyone know what an honor it is to be chosen. You could even offer a sneak peek at upcoming products or services, or give discounts on current offerings.

The bottom line is that online communities are becoming increasingly popular for brands that want to improve customer engagement, loyalty, and sales. For examples of the brands that are doing online communities right, check out Sephora’s Beauty Insider board, where makeup fans are encouraged to share beauty tips, ask questions, read breaking beauty news, post pictures, and sign up for events. Another inspirational community is Lego Ideas, which lets people who love Legos learn about the newest products, submit their own ideas, vote on other members’ proposals, and more. So take a look at these examples of thriving communities, and then find out how to determine the success of your own with this guide: How Successful Is Your Online Community: New Report!

Eric Vidal
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