An online community can have immeasurable benefits for selling your product. When you build an online community, you are creating a space for your audience, engaging them in new ways, and becoming a trusted resource for your customers.
However, starting a community online from scratch is not easy, even if you have a great product.
If you have ever tried to go viral on the internet or grow your social following, you know the difficulties that come with an oversaturated online landscape.
Creating an online community can provide a platform to better support your customers, enable your audience members to connect with one another, and encourage thoughtful conversations among your current users or customers.
You can also benefit from your online community by getting a front-row seat to the needs and wants of your consumer, finding opportunities for upselling, and fostering brand loyalty.
Keep reading for the beginner’s guide to how to build an online community.
Choose the right platform
When you start an online community, you have to decide where to host it. Essentially, your options boil down to two choices: free platforms or owned platforms.
Like social media sites, offer a free built-in audience. You can likely find your customers or audience members already on Facebook, Twitter, or similar sites. You can establish your community on social through posting content.
However, free platforms mean that you do not own your community or the content. You are subject to the changes in the platform, and social media platforms change often. You have to follow the rules and guidelines of the site you are using, and you may have to change your strategy unexpectedly from time to time.
These platforms are created specifically to your wants & needs as a business/brand owner. These custom-built community platforms can be as robust or as simple as you want them to be.
However, the cost of creating your own platform is high. In addition, consumers already have enough social platforms to deal with. Your platform will need to be extremely niche or offer incredible incentives.
Decide which features are the most important for you in terms of platform. If you do not have easy access to your customers or extra money to spend creating a platform, free options may be the best route. If you want to do things your way, and owned platform may be the logical choice.
Determine your goal
What do you want to get out of this community? Your community should have a purpose and enable you to reach certain goals.
Whether you are trying to learn more about your audience, upsell your products and services, or become a thought leader in your space, it is important to be clear about your goals.
Your goal will help you make a lot of decisions about your community, like who to include and what type of content to post.
Know your audience
Who belongs to your audience? Does your community extend to all of your customers and target customers? Or, are you trying to connect with users of a certain product? You may even be looking to expand your market outside of your current audience. Whatever the case, knowing your target audience is crucial.
When setting up your online community, consider what your audience wants.
- What are they hoping to gain by joining your community?
- What problems can you solve for them, and how can you make their lives better?
Answering these questions will help you decide who your audience is and how to find them.
Provide valuable content
Valuable content is the best way to start a community online. When you provide content that engages your audience, they are more likely to participate and share your content with others.
Valu packed content can come in many forms, like audio, video, or text. Try experimenting with all available options to determine what resonates best with your audience.
It’s important not only to post valuable content but to be active with your audience as well. Answer comments, like posts, and follow people when they follow you. These actions show that you are invested in your community members and value their opinions.
Consider providing a reward for participation. Maybe your online community gets exclusive access to new product launches, or you could provide member-only promo codes. Whatever you decide, make it worthwhile for your audience to join your community.
Start off soft
Consider a soft launch before diving into your community completely.
A soft launch allows you to interact with your audience and work out any bugs before making your community public. Customer feedback can be invaluable during this period and enable you to make your full launch even better.
Add content to your community, make sure your team is ready to start participating in discussions and select a limited group to join your community or forum. You can select loyal customers, people whose feedback you value, or customers that fit a specific profile.
During your soft launch, gain insights into the people who should be included in your community, the problems they are facing, and the types of content they want to see.
Invest in promotion
When you launch an online community, the fear is that no one will join. You can combat this by promoting your community and investing your time and money into expanding your audience.
You should promote your community on your website and social media pages, through emails and sales reps, and via your customer service team. Your entire organization should be all hands on deck once your community launches.
Invite your current contacts to join your community, start mentioning it everywhere you go, and partner with influencers who appeal to your audience. There are countless ways to promote your community, both free and paid, and it may take some time to find what works best for you.
Starting a community online from scratch takes time, and you won’t gain thousands of new members your first day out.
However, the best way to start a community online is to be consistent. Post regularly because disappearing on your customers can lead to losing audience members. Regular posts also train your group members to check the community on a regular basis.
Being present is key, so make sure you are checking in on your group regularly. This practice makes it easier to monitor the conversations happening in your group, address potential issues, and steer the conversation in a way that benefits your organization. It takes a lot of work but consistently making an effort to grow and engage your online community will pay off.