How To Build an Online Community In 5 Simple Steps
Updated: 7 days ago
With the world feeling the effects of coronavirus. we all begin to realise how separate we can be. Now, more than ever, we rely on our social networks to connect us to friends and family.
If you’re running a business, connecting with your audience, your community and your customers is vital at the best of times, so learning how to build an online community should be a key part of your business strategy, but how do you do it? We’re glad you asked.
Social networks have revolutionised the way we live in recent years. From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to LinkedIn, we share our lives digitally like never before, but from a business perspective, being able to connect and interact with your customers and audience is an incredible opportunity to valuable to waste.
Any new business, or one new to the online world, will start at ground zero in terms of a community. Even with a gazillion physical customers, you’re always going to start from nothing online. You need to build an online community that lasts and those customers can be a huge part of that.
With a tablespoon of creative thinking and a dash of imagination, let’s look at how you can harness the power of your audience to build an online community that works in just 5 simple steps.
1. SET REALISTIC GOALS
Unless your one of ‘those’ people who buy fake followers (yes, that’s a thing), building a vibrant online community doesn’t happen overnight. We wish it did, but it doesn’t. It takes time. The first thing you need to do is understand what your goals are.
Think of creating an online community like any other long-term project you might undertake within your company. You need to consider what’s realistic based on the resources can afford and to set realistic goals based on that.
You will know the resources you can throw at it, so don’t overreach. Slow and steady is a perfectly acceptable solution, if that’s the best you can do.
Building a community online is more than just posting on Twitter or Facebook once a week or when you can be bothered, it’s about engaging with your audience. Ask open-ended questions to start conversations. If they comment, comment back in the right tone. Mix your posts up, so it’s not all text, add videos and photos where appropriate. Work on understanding what your audience needs and help them to achieve it online. Learn which hashtags are relevant to your industry and use them (without OVER using them).
In the early days it probably won’t take up much of your time, but as it grows, so will the time it takes, so bear that in mind. That said, it really doesn’t have to a full-time, all day everyday task.
Little and often will work well and little by little, post by post, your community will grow in line with your expectations (if not more so).
2. SET UP YOUR PROFILES
One of the common pitfalls that companies fall into when diving into the social media world is to set-up an account on every network they can possibly find. Don’t do that. Not least because, with the best will in the world, you’re not going to have the time to keep them all up-to-date. Not having an account at all is better than having one you never ever use.
To build a successful community, you need to understand where your potential audience is. You need a platform that works for you and your business. Each social networking platform has its own pros and cons.
Facebook is obviously the largest network so has an enormous reach. It’s relatively easy to share posts and can, potentially, reach a huge number of people, but has had issues with privacy and isn’t the most, shall we say, ethical of companies.
There’s also no guarantee that your posts are going to reach their intended target thanks to their algorithm, unless you pay for the privilege of course.
Instagram might be the best option if the visual aspect of what you do is an important part of your business. Twitter is great for engaging (and sometimes enraging) people but is also good for creating posts with a personality that reflects your brand.
Whichever platforms you ultimately go for (there are over 60 of them), think about where your audience might be and focus in on those first.
When setting up your profile, always include links to your website and come up with a catchy biography that captures what your business is about. Make sure you add links to your networks from your website too, so it’s easy for visitors to connect across multiple platforms.
3. SET UP YOUR BRAND CONSISTENTLY ACROSS PLATFORMS
Branding across the platforms that you choose is an important part of creating an audience. Ensuring consistency takes a little time, but will pay dividends.
Make sure that your visual branding (logo, colours, etc.) is clearly reflected across your accounts. This includes, but is not limited to, using the right account name. Try and get the same name if you can. This might be easier said than done, especially if you’ve got a fairly common name, so you might need to get creative. Try getting something like ‘Smith Ltd.’ consistently used across platforms and you’ll see the problem.
It’s also important that the same branding is reflected offline too. This includes things like compliment slips, business cards, flyers, etc. Using the corporate colours, graphics and imagery will help your community to feel part of the whole process. If you need a hand with this, let us know.
4. SET TIME ASIDE TO UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
If you’re only a small business, finding time to analyse your audience might seem like a pipedream with everything else you have to do, but it’s a crucial part of building a community.
How can you know what your community likes or wants, without gathering insights into them? They know, so you need to too.
Many people are daunted by analytics, but it doesn’t have to be scary. It can be as simple as asking them! Using your social media to ask them what they think of the products they’ve bought? What could be improved? Is your range of products missing something they need? Their advice and opinion can be invaluable.
Remember we’re trying to create an audience, so when people do respond, make sure you thank them and follow-up if necessary.
Most social networks have their own set of analytic tools built-in, so it should be easy to track visitors to your website and which platform they came from. Who are they? What’s their age range? gender profile? location? It’s all in there.
You’ll be able to see which are your most popular posts and what really connects at particular times of the day or days of the week. When you understand what’s working, you can prioritise more of it.
5. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
When you’re building a community, it’s easy to be blasé about it, especially if you’re a small (or ‘one-person’) business. It’s not like there’s not enough to do already, but YOU can be your best advocate for creating an audience.
When you get a comment, question or engagement, respond as quickly as you can. It doesn’t have to be a long response, but something is better than nothing.
A community thrives on active participation and you can be at the centre of it. If a customer is pleased with your work, your product or service, post about it and, if possible, tag them into it.
Chances are they’ll retweet or share it, widening your reach. Thank people for following you, sharing posts or signing up to a newsletter.
You’re going to know your business and your products better than anyone, so post about tips and tricks for getting the most of them or how to look after it (whatever ‘it’ is). Simple, quick ideas that will all help create a solid community for you to build upon.
If you need any help with your own social media strategy, please get in touch. All the links to our social media platforms are below, so please feel free to connect with us and keep up-to-date when we post more content that can really help your business. Blog Photo courtesy of John Schnobrich on Unsplash