5 Ways to Build an Engaged Community to Grow Your Business
In today’s world, customers expect to have more interaction with the brands they love. Two-way communication is what separates brands that succeed from brands that don’t. This communication builds lasting relationships and a loyal customer base. People need to feel that they are an active part of the brands they follow.
You have a great product and you know how to produce content that your audience loves. So, how do you turn your audience into a vibrant, engaged community?
There are five things you need to do to convert your passive audience into an active community.
1. Share Your Brand Values
What ultimately draws people to your brand are the values you share with them. We’re much more likely to buy from brands that we feel share our core beliefs.
Your values are what you stand for. These are at the core of your business and thus affect everything you do.
If you haven’t already identified your core values, ask yourself: “Why do I do what I do?”
What was the original impetus that pushed you to start your business in the first place? What are its goals? How does it want to remake the world into a better place? What problems does it solve for your customers?
Once you’ve clearly identified the values behind your brand, you need to communicate them loud and clear at every touchpoint you have with your customers.
Write a Statement
Start by writing a statement that sums up your core values in one sentence. You can use this in your marketing materials wherever appropriate. It should stress your motivation and what makes your company unique.
Learn About Your Audience
How well do you know your audience? Take some time to get to know them personally. This will help you discover which of your values connects best with them, and you’ll also learn how to best communicate your values to your audience.
Your Values in Action
What do these values look like in action? Take the statement you created and brainstorm some things you could do that would show them in the real world.
Make Sure You Align
Does everything you do communicate your values? Does anything contradict them? Look at all of your communications and touchpoints with your audience to make sure nothing contradicts these values.
Get Everyone On Board
Make sure that everyone associated with your brand knows these core values and employs strategies to communicate them.
By keeping these values in mind and communicating them wherever possible, you’ll attract and keep the right people who share the same values as you.
1. Revisit your business goals and identify the ways a brand community could help you achieve them.
2. Identify specific goals for your community and the brand values you want it to reflect.
2. Share Valuable Content and Other Benefits
In order to maintain a strong community, you need to make it a great place to be. You do this by offering unique value to your community members.
This can be done in several ways. One way is to offer exclusive, high-value content. “High-value” content is material that tackles problems, issues, or questions that your audience faces and offers an actionable solution. Your audience receives the greatest value when they’re able to consume a piece of content, take the action you lay out, and quickly see results in their daily lives.
This content shouldn’t be promotional. Think of it this way: you are educating people, not selling to them.
“Exclusive” means that this material is not available anywhere else. Exclusivity in itself offers a special value to members.
For example, you might maintain a few blogs and have an email list where you’re publishing regular content. But for members of your membership site only, you offer better content. This might be long-form material such as free courses or eBooks; or it could be more specific content, like articles that go in-depth in subtopic areas of interest to your audience.
In addition to content, there are other benefits you can offer your members which don’t need to come at a high cost.
A chance to share opinions
Create a place where your audience members can talk to each other. They can not only share opinions and get their questions answered, but also take advantage of networking opportunities.
Although your purpose is not to sell, you can offer community members special deals on your products or services as a “thank you” for joining.
Swag is a small item that goes a long way. Create office supplies or coffee mugs with your brand image on them and offer them to your members.
If you offer a service or software, give your members a free trial or free access.
Access to resources
Provide resources that only members can enjoy. These resources could include additional content, membership in related groups, free templates, or anything else you think your audience could use.
Education and training
Since the goal here is to educate, offer unique educational opportunities like webinars or one-on-one coaching sessions.
Opportunities to publish
Give your audience a platform where they can publish their own content.
These will give you some ideas on how to make your community a place everyone wants to be.
3. Be Passionate and Personal
An online community isn’t something you set up and then run autopilot. You need to be present because your enthusiasm and personal touch is a major part of what makes it a real community. Passion is infectious and your members will catch it from you. This is how you inspire them. And your helpful presence gives them a personal connection to the group.
First, you’ll need to be present in the community on a regular basis. You’ll need to see what’s going on, reply to comments, offer help, moderate, and post.
Get to know your community members personally. Don’t see them just as numbers. Welcome each new person when they join and see what kind of personal connection you can make with them. Interact with your most active members and pay attention to the types of comments they post. When you know your members, you can offer them specific content or information you think they can benefit from.
Don’t be afraid to share purely personal content. If you run an online forum for your brand, bond over hobbies and interests that aren’t strictly connected to your niche. You might have a category in the forum called “Just for Fun” specifically for unrelated topics. Just steer clear of controversial topics like politics and religion.
When you interact with your audience, talk about your passions and inspirations. What is something you’re excited about right now? Make this the topic of your blog or forum post. Focus on topics you can talk all day about and your enthusiasm will spread to other members. Encourage them to do the same.
Make your community about your audience, not yourself. Highlight their achievements, share their stories, and focus on their problems and issues. If you do this, they’ll be more invested in your community since it focuses on them.
If you’re building your community mostly online, try bringing it offline. You can build deeper connections by meeting in real life. Offer tickets to live events, hold meetups, appear at local exhibitions and fairs, and create opportunities for people to meet and chat.
Finally, be there when people need you. Someone may contact you with a difficult situation or question. Take the time to solve it for them and offer your expertise, and you can win each member over one by one.
What are your strategies for making your community personal? Identify three things you’ll do.
4. Encourage Interaction
A community isn’t just a group of people gathered together in the same place. They need to be actively engaged with the brand and with each other. It’s your job to get them interacting this way.
Especially when you’re just getting started, you’ll need to start discussions. Bring up a topic and ask for your members’ opinions on it. Pose a question and see how people answer it. Bring up a common problem and one solution you’ve found, and then ask everyone to pitch in any tips that have worked for them. You’ll be the conversation-starter and hopefully once you get the ball rolling, others will start conversations as well.
Identify Your Brand Advocates
Identify among your members a few who are particularly active or influential and enlist their help. These are your brand advocates and they’ll help you get other people involved. You can give them extra bonuses or exclusive content, ask them to take the lead in projects, ask them for feedback, and more.
Give People Something to Do
Give your audience things to do. Try to choose or create content that has an activity attached to it. You can have them vote on their favorite content or product, write reviews, fill out surveys, or create content of their own which you can then post on your platform.
Create events for your audience that are held online or off. It can be something as simple as a virtual get-together or in-town coffee break so people can get to know each other. Give them an opportunity to mingle.
Keep People Focused
Your members joined the community because they’re focused on some goal related to your brand and topic. Keep them rallied behind this common cause or value. Focus on the change your members want to make in their lives or the goal they want to achieve.
Make It Fun
Make your community fun. It should be a place everybody wants to be, where they can feel relaxed and enjoy themselves.
Identify 3 ways you’ll engage your audience and get them interacting together.
5. Choose the Right Platform
Your community will have some online venue where the bulk of its interactions take place. It could be a website or blog, or it could be a forum or social media group. This is your community’s home on the web.
There are both free and paid options for creating this online space. You can use a free platform at no charge, but you have to abide by whatever rules and limitations that platform has. Another option is to pay and build your own platform over which you’ll have total control and more features available to you.
Social media is a great place to host your community because it’s likely that most of your potential members are already there. For example, if you create a Facebook Group, it’s incredibly easy for anyone with a Facebook account to sign up without having to create a new profile or passwords.
For an online forum, your website, or a proprietary platform, there’s one additional challenge more than social media: you have to get people there. However, this is a better option if you want to customize the experience and make it feel more exclusive (and you’ll still use social media to promote it and drive people there).
Whatever platform you choose, make it as easy as possible to sign up. This is one determining factor in whether people will join your community. If it’s complicated, they may not.
Although this will be your main platform, you should connect with your community members across other platforms as well. Interact with them everywhere they are online. If your group is based on your proprietary membership forum site, get them to join your email list, follow you on social media, and meet offline if possible.
When choosing your community’s platform, consider carefully the tastes of your audience. If you’re choosing social media, look at sites your audience already uses or sites where you already have a following. Consider also how they’ll access it, whether that’s through a PC or a mobile device.
Find out what your audience wants and give them a community where they can indulge in it. Remember that your community is a two-way street and that your personal touch, expertise, and enthusiasm will go a long way to helping to building a thriving community.
Decide whether to use an existing platform or create your own.
Choose a platform based on features and ease-of-use for your audience.