How To Build A Community: A Complete Step-By-Step Guide
If a business wants to thrive, it needs to find a way to engage with its audience and nurture customers. That is why online communities play a major part in customer retention and brand engagement.
Online communities improve customer experience, ensuring the long-term success of your business. This is why it is extremely important to know how exactly to build your online community so that your business can further develop.
But if you’re just starting, or don’t have a lot of experience with online communities – it can feel intimidating. In this article, we will be covering all the necessary steps in creating a successful online community.
Also, we will share advice from successful companies that created some of the best communities in the online world. In the end, you will have all the knowledge necessary for making your online community.
Why your customers want to join your online community
1. They want support
The last thing customers want is to be left in the dark. They want to count on you. This is part of every successful customer-client relationship. Customers will join a community so that they can rely on your help and support when an issue arises.
2. They want education & content
Don’t assume that customers know everything about your brand, product or service just because they are your customers. There is always new information to share and new things to learn. This way, they will have available information on the topics of their interest. The community will become their major resource of useful content and continuous education.
3. They want a place to connect with like-minded people
An online community is a great place for customers to come together and share their experience. They will continue to trust the brand if they are surrounded by like-minded people, who enjoy similar things or have a similar outlook on life. They will be happy to stay if they are a part of a “bigger picture”.
The direct benefits of having an online community
Now that we know why customers love to become part of an online community let’s see what the direct benefits of a community are. This is how your company can flourish by making good use of the online community. Here are the top 3 benefits.
1. You can solve customers’ needs more easily
A community allows your customers to reach out whenever they have a problem or an issue that want to address. This direct communication enables you to act fast and resolve all issues as soon as possible.
2. You can provide solid customer support
A community enables your customers to be in constant touch with you. They don’t necessarily need to have problems; oftentimes, it can be a small piece of information they need. Customer support is a major part of the user experience. And excellent user experience is your biggest advantage.
3. You will improve customer retention and brand authority
A community empowers your brand by nurturing a large number of happy customers. As a result of this, customers will speak well of the brand and promote it by word of mouth.
Nurturing customers takes time. An online community allows you to nurture customers at scale while being able to communicate more personal matters.
Brand authority can be improved through moderating and facilitating discussions among group members; also, through sharing your own experience with your customers through content and leveraging other customer knowledge.
Your step-by-step guide: how to build an online community
STEP ONE: Identify your goal / create a vision of the brand
For your online community to be successful, you first need to define your goals. Remember, the online community is a part of your business and, if the business doesn’t stand on solid ground – the online community will not take off.
For example, if we have a company dedicated to environmentalist causes – it will shape its online community around those goals. The community will revolve around discussing environmental issues, offering advice, coming up with local strategies, organizing awareness-raising actions, etc.
This is why your very first step needs to be this: try to describe your goal or brand vision in one simple sentence. If you have that, it’s an excellent starting point.
Also, think about your competition. Do you have any? How strong is it? It’s not the same if you enter the ring with fifty other similar business, or if you face hundreds of them.
If there aren’t a lot of companies similar to yours, it will be a bit easier to find your angle and reinforce your brand. But if there are hundreds, it will be tricky and you will have to find what separates you from the rest on the market.
Before you get all stressed out, know that it’s very hard to come up with something that is 100% original. Most businesses start with the vicious competition but stand out over time with their quality of the product, unique selling proposition, etc.
That is why you should think about your core offer. What is it that you’re offering to the customers? And is your offer unique? These questions will enable you to evaluate exactly where you are, and you will define your goals and brand vision much better.
Now you can move on to the next step and start building your online community from the ground up.
STEP TWO: Find your core audience/target group
This one isn’t easy, but it’s crucial for the success of your business. It’s one thing to define your goals, but another to find those people who will love to engage with you and use all the benefits you have to offer.
Why it is crucial to define your target audience:
- You will make sure that you’re offering the right products/services
- You will know how to tailor your offers in the marketing strategy so that you attract the right customers
- You will increase your visibility and boost your sales as a result of the right brand-customer match
One of the best ways of finding your target audience is by combining demographics and psychographics. Simply put, the former will tell you who would engage with your brand and the latter – why they would engage. Both are equally important.
Demographics give you the basic characteristics of your target audience:
- Age (teens, young adults, adults, middle-aged, elderly)
- Residence (country, city, region, continent, etc.)
- Range of income
- Level of education
- Work habits and occupation
- Ethnicity (doesn’t always apply)
- Marital Status and the number of children
Not all these will apply, and they don’t have to either. You simply need to think about your ideal customer for whom your products/services are. And it depends from brand to brand. If you are Starbucks, you will check off all of these, because your potential range is broad. But if you’re a make-up brand for elderly women, your demographics look quite different.
Also, we have the psychographics, and they are crucial when it comes to the buyer’s choice. A decision to buy a product or service can have more to do with psychology than anything. They include:
- Personality basic character traits
- Attitudes and habits
- Social standards and values
- Interests and hobbies
- General lifestyle (active/passive, outdoor/indoor, etc.)
You will need to think about the psychographics to truly define your target audience. Be sure to go in-depth and try to „decipher“ your ideal customer persona. This will give you an excellent insight into how to build your online community and the reason is very simple: you will know exactly who is part of it.
But here’s the thing: defining your target audience is a continuous process. This is why you need to work on it throughout the year, never leaving your customers out of sight.
When you find the right target audience, you will be able to create a community of like-minded people. In turn, they will be passionate about the topics, discussions, and products you sell. Remember, the community will be alive and well only if you have the right group of people to keep it going.
STEP THREE: Start small and gradually build-up
You cannot create a large online community overnight. Think of it as growing a business: it is a gradual process. Just because your community has one hundred people doesn’t mean it is not successful.
It can be a very efficient online community, with nothing but happy members. Remember, it is about adding value to your customers and being there for them.
It might take anything from a couple of months to a couple of years before your community increases in size. But you mustn’t measure success only in the number of community members.
Stay consistent, provide value and give it time. By applying these, you will be able to create a highly successful online community for your brand.
Here is how Duolingo, a well-known language learning app, approached community building to reach over 50 million members.
STEP FOUR: Form a community team to delegate tasks
This is the hard truth: you won’t be able to take care of the community by yourself. There are so many tasks involved in running day-to-day activities and, if you try handling it on your own, you will soon reach burnout. This is why you will need a community team.
As the name suggests, a community team is a group of people to which you delegate all (or most of) daily activities: replying to comments, sending out emails, handling phone calls, posting content on social media, etc. The rule of thumb is: the success of the community will be reflected in the quality of the team. Here is how you can find and structure a solid team for running your online community.
However, if you’re just starting, or if you’re a small company, chances are you won’t have a budget for a community team. And it will be months before you can afford it. What to do if that is the case?
The best solution is to focus on consistency. Build a community engagement content plan and find a way to automate the process until you can grow your online community. Also, a good idea is to incorporate customer support into your online community; there are so many overlaps between two of them.
STEP FIVE: Constantly provide pure value/content
Your customers should receive only top-notch content from you, month after month, year after year. If they don’t, they will lose interest in you.
You need to make sure that you’re providing value to the customers. This can best be seen in your content marketing. Every piece of content you publish has to bring value to the customer, otherwise – it’s just filler content, and nobody likes that.
Your online community will be happy if you show people they are appreciated. All your interactions with the online community need to be worthwhile. Here are a few examples:
Ask relevant questions (in polls, surveys, etc.)
This is the best way to know what your customers think and what they expect. No need to run around in circles trying to figure it out by yourself. Let the customers tell you what problems they have and what they would like to see as the solution. Polls and surveys are excellent for learning more about your customers’ preferences.
Don’t bombard them with too much content (allow some breathing space)
If you want a piece of content to be thoroughly consumed, you need to allow your community members enough time to absorb it. You must not drown customers with information. Providing value doesn’t mean stuffing tons of content every single day; you can create the opposite effect by doing so. Come up with a balanced content plan and stick to it.
Back the information you’re sharing with facts
Be responsible with the content you’re sharing. Make sure you double-check or even triple-check everything. One of the worst things that can happen is that your customers find out you’re sharing false information. Staying true to the facts will be your strong point.
STEP SIX: Promote and encourage members to invite others.
Your online community won’t be successful unless it grows. That is why you need to allow it to grow and develop continually. The best way to do this is by encouraging members to invite like-minded people into the community.
Email your customers to join your community
Now is the time to use that email list you’ve been building! You should turn as many of your customers into community members. Community members are closer to your business than your “ordinary“ customers. Plus, they are faithful to the brand because they know it “from the inside”.
Create a winning email sequence, presenting the benefits of joining your community, and allow time for customers to get acquainted with it. Email marketing is still highly successful and a great number of businesses use it over all other communication channels.
Here are some ways to continuously grow your community through email marketing:
- Email customers once they sign up for your product
- Direct them to your community for support and education
- Make your community part of your customer onboarding emails.
- Host exclusive events & content in your online community and promote it to your email list.
Run paid ads to your community: Facebook, Google Ads, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
As much as email marketing is an excellent communication channel, social media ads are a great way to scale your community development efforts quickly. It allows you to segment your target audience. Send out highly effective ads to a large number of people that are similar to your target audience.
As with email marketing, draw out the benefits of your online community in the ad, show them the value they will be getting the and present your community as a place to connect with people who are just like them.
Have referral competitions or giveaways
This is a great way to get more exposure and bring new people to your community. You can create a buzz and solidify your brand by offering prizes to those who refer a new member.
What can you give as rewards? There is a lot that can be offered, from gift cards to special promotions, free upgrades, premium services, etc. For example, if you are selling products, you can offer special coupons to winners.
Likewise, if you’re selling services, you can offer promo periods for special deals, such as getting a premium account, getting discounts, or something else. But as long as it’s a tangible reward, people will love it and they will want to take part in the competition.
Here is an excellent guide for finding the right prizes and rewards to share with your online community.
Write out community guidelines
You can create guidelines for the community, so that fresh members know how to use it best. The community guidelines should focus on what the rules for the community are, what is acceptable or not, how to interact with other members. and not allowing selling & promotion of productions that diminish communities and provide very little value.
STEP SEVEN: Be genuinely kind, consistent and active in your online community
Being kind doesn’t cost a thing, but it can help your business immensely. Always have in mind that people joined your community out of their free will and they can leave it just as easily.
Your community members have to see that you are always there for them and that they are truly valued and respected. You need to be regularly present and active.
Always reply to a post
Be sure not to leave customers in the dark. You should find the time to reply to every post and provide a constructive answer.
Have great content on every post
Whenever you share a piece of content, it should be informative, fun to read and engaging. Create and share engaging content i.e. something your community members would love to hear about.
Start discussions (and track them)
This is a great way to stay in touch with customers. Also, it’s perfect for them to keep interacting with each other. You can start discussing the topics about your industry, or current event, but also anything that might be of interest to your target audience.
Here is how you can make your online community more active.
Encourage members to share and become experts within your community
Certain people can become experts for specific topics, and thus help newcomers with any issues they might have. You can also create special bonuses and incentives for the most active community members.
Building an online community will require some time, but it will be a lot easier if you follow all the steps we described. Some steps might be easier, some might be harder, it all depends on the amount of work you put in and your industry. The key thing is to have a clear goal and not to give up.
Do you have any questions? We would love to hear from you! Please, share your thoughts with us in the comment section or our contact form. Thank you!