There’s always a lot of talk about building your online community, but what does that actually mean? How do you do it? What exactly IS an online community, and why do you need one?
Think of your current and potential customers as a sort of fan base. For big music and movie stars, fans will follow their work, look for information about them, even share stories and pictures of them online. They do this because they get something out of their “relationship” with the star… entertainment, usually. Having the inside scoop makes them feel special. They develop an attachment. Once the attachment is there, the star can expect those fans to support them via word of mouth and purchasing their products – movies, music, books, and more.
How the heck do you create the same sort of feeling about your business?
It’s not easy, and it doesn’t work the same way for every business. An auto repair shop is going to have to utilize a different approach than an energy drink company. The first step is to provide your customers with something they can care about. There are a few ways to do this:
• Common Cause
• Free Stuff
Which works for your business? If you’re a more buttoned-up company that can serve as an authority in your field, providing unique information in an easy-to-digest format can go a long way. More laid-back and “fun” businesses can go with something irreverent and entertaining. Energizing your base with something you all care about is another option (Childhood hunger? AIDS prevention? Local community?). Of course, free stuff through contests and sweepstakes will always attract a crowd, but make sure you give them a reason to stick around. Prizes always make better rewards for loyalty than incentives for joining.
Most importantly, you need to listen to your online community. Talk to them and pay attention to what they care about. They’ll almost always tell you what you should be doing if you’re willing to listen. Note that we don’t mean they’ll literally TELL you, just that their actions and responses will guide you in the right direction.
Don’t necessarily pay too much mind to what huge businesses are doing online. They have capital that you don’t have, and they have dedicated teams figuring out their stuff… but they also have massive ready-made followings. They could do pretty much anything and still have some sort of fan base to fall back on. When you’re starting from the beginning, you have to forge your own path. Make a note of the good ideas you see, but figure out how to scale them for your audience.
Now you need a rallying point. What’s something you know your audience can get behind that also ties in to your business? Maybe it’s a passion for fashion, or a desire to help people in need. Give them a platform to discuss, geek out, or otherwise fan the flames.
Finally, you need to create a plan. Communities aren’t built by accident. Keep your content fresh and updated. Respond in a timely manner. Block out time to dedicate to your online community building efforts. If you feel the need, attend a conference or consult with a professional.
And for goodness’ sake, have fun!
Stephanie Wargin is the Social Media Strategist at Zenergy Works, a web design and SEO company located in Santa Rosa, California. Her friends like to brush her hair into her eyes whenever she talks about Facebook.