Building an Online Community From Scratch
T here are plenty of benefits to building an online community from increasing your reach to cutting your marketing budget. But what’s the best way to go about it?
Monitor, engage and be transparent; these have always been the keys to success in the digital space.
– Dallas Lawrence
Starting from scratch is labor-intensive and not always the best way to go about it. With all the online platforms available, it’s easier enough to take advantage of some already-established communities.
Steps to Building Your Online Community
Let’s just assume you already have a website. But, you’ve noticed more and more companies, both startups and well-established organizations are building communities. Does that mean you should, too?
1) Do I Need an Online Community?
You need to establish what you want out of your community and how it will best serve you and your brand. Just building one because everyone else is, isn’t a good enough reason to just go ahead.
There are many ways to go about building your community so it’s important to understand exactly what you want from yours. Try to imagine what your customers would want, because if you don’t start with them, they won’t bother, either.
Deciding what you want out of your online community will make it easier to narrow down what to include and what portions you don’t. There is no point in including features that no one, including you, will need.
2) Who Is Your Target Audience?
Your target audience for your company or product isn’t always going to be the same people who will join your community. People who already know you and use your product need a reason to join.
Certain features will draw people in. It could be a forum where they can meet and share ideas about your company. If you sell a food product, perhaps a place where people can share recipes.
Do you want them to be able to ask questions directly to you? Is there a way people can contact you or inquire about a franchise? Can they order products from you or is there an easy link? How many people do you want to join?
3) What Platforms?
Engaging with other established social media platforms is the best way to start. Establish your company on a Facebook group, Instagram, and link these to your website.
You can start a forum on your own website or start one on its own, but this requires more work and marketing from you or your team. The advantage of starting a site on established platforms is there are already a lot of people there.
People will follow you and many will start their own community around your product. A quick look on a site like Instagram will prove that. Look for something like #mustard and you will immediately see millions of posts.
People like to use other products or celebrities to gain followers and if they like your product they may tag you in it. Young influencers online have a lot of clout, but often not for very long.
4) Set Your Guidelines
Your community will need guidelines and rules that the members need to follow. Without them, anything can happen, and everyone knows how quickly things can turn on an internet forum.
Ideally, you want your community to be manageable. No one wants to engage in a chat forum with several hundred people. But you want to have people engaged. Guidelines will keep it safe and welcoming.
5) Who is in Charge?
As a business owner, you want to know what is happening in your community. Likes, dislikes, and how people are engaging. Even someone with a startup needs help in this department.
There are free platforms and pro sites where you can build your community. When you engage with a third-party platform with professionals to run it, you get more features, more control, and more engagement.
They can come with apps for mobiles, real-time threads for engaging conversations, better security, and email highlights for members. Ultimately, these communities are for your users.
6) Provide Value
Providing great content to your community isn’t the same as blog posts on your website. An interactive community should get better content. That doesn’t mean you can’t post your other content, but be clever about it.
Try to put up topics that will genuinely help you and your company. Get members to engage and encourage a discussion, You can ask about a new product you have, put up a recipe you want people to try, and get guests to help.
Bring in guest speakers or use some of their material to engage your community. Getting their honest opinions is what these are all about. It helps you grow your brand and it helps your members, as well.
7) Engagement is Key
You want your members to be engaged and encouraged to come back. Have trivia quizzes or other types of games, the ability to share their content for the group, and make it fun.
You can have other content and activities with prizes that will want people to come back. You can also encourage people to meet and greet, work together on a scavenger hunt, or team up to build the best Halloween cake.
Using a social media engagement tool can help you keep track of all the comments and messages that are sent to you on your different social media accounts. We recommend using the Occuz 360 tool, it allows you to access all messages, complaints, leads, content, digital channels and reporting while analyzing performance, all in one tool.
8) Get Visible
You need to get your community noticed. Provide links to it from all your other platforms and encourage your visitors to check it out. Not everyone who visits your site and other socials will want to join, and that’s fine.
You want people who will engage, contribute, and return. They will also bring like-minded people to join and that’s exactly what building a community is all about.
Find the platform that offers you the tools you want, like measuring engagement and performance, rewards for members, like badges or ranks, and it needs to reflect you and your company.
Making it personal will help you stand out from all the other similar communities. But, similar communities can also help you grow because your members will be a part of more than just yours.
Listen to their suggestions and concerns, and then act accordingly. They are there for you.