Building an online community is one of the smartest business decisions you can make.
Digital communities are a place where you can connect with your target audience. People can learn from current customers, share feedback, and build trust with your brand. The communities serve as a powerful platform for converting new customers and growing your business.
However, for your online community to be successful, it must be engaged. You don’t just need group members, you need people who are active and interested in the community.
Creating an engaged online community starts with a solid foundation.
Whether it’s a LinkedIn Group, Facebook Group, or community on another platform creating an engaged community is the key.
Here are some of the top tips for building a highly engaged online community for your business.
What is a Digital Community?
Before creating one, it’s important to understand what an online community is. Online communities are where people with shared opinions, interests, and goals unite.
What this looks like depends on your business and industry. For example, for a fitness coaching company, this may be a private group to share progress and transformation stories.
Ultimately, the purpose of an online community is to provide a platform for building connections. Community members can:
- Discuss topics of interest
- Interact with your brand
- Learn more about your brand/products
- Share news and advice
Benefits of Building an Online Community
Online communities are highly member-centric. Your audience will feel more connected with each other and with your brand. These communities provide a sense of transparency and empowerment that can help your company build trust with your audience.
Some of the top reasons to build an online community include:
- Improve your industry thought-leadership.
- Increase business referrals via brand ambassadors.
- Gain helpful insights from your audience to improve your business.
- Increase retention to boost sales.
- Adapt quickly to market shifts.
- Realize digital product opportunities (like courses) based on consumer demand.
Determine Your Community Goal
The first consideration for building an online community is the goal of your community. Do you want to generate more sales? Educate customers about a product? Increase brand awareness?
Your community will likely play into a few different benefits, but it should have a clear goal. The type of content you’d share in a community aimed at brand awareness is different than the content you would share in one trying to generate sales. The type of people you invite to those two communities would also be different.
What does your company need most? Select the community’s goals based on your business goals but also based on your audience’s desires. Identify the use case of your community based on what your company needs to do. Keep in mind that you may develop multiple distinct communities with unique goals.
Who Will Manage the Group?
Creating an engaged online community is not a “set it and forget it” strategy. You need people to manage the community. Who are the key internal stakeholders in your organization?
There are a few different ways to view “stakeholders” for the group.
For one, you can consider who should manage it. When looking at it this way, marketing, customer support, and the community manager are viable options.
You can also examine who in your organization will be most impacted by the community. In this case, it’s often marketing again.
Sometimes it makes sense to consider upper management as stakeholders. The CMO overseeing digital experiences could be an option.
Oftentimes, marketing teams, operations, or customer service are involved in community management. Furthermore, you may have multiple stakeholders involved for different reasons. The stakeholders who should manage your group largely depend on the goal of the group and your unique business structure.
Regardless, you must outline the responsibilities of your team. Define the relevant responsibilities for managing your community. For example, consider who will be responsible for the following tasks:
- Daily administration
- Webinars or other digital events
- Community support, answer issues
- Responding to questions about products and pricing
- Gathering and assessing community feedback for ideas
If your community is vulgar, harassing, or littered with self-promo, it may not be able to achieve its goals. You want to create an engaging community that your target audience will enjoy. The community should be helpful and appealing to your audience.
Unfortunately, there are many individuals and businesses who abuse communities for their own gain. It’s very common to see people only posting self-promotional materials. Worse yet, some may try to sabotage your reputation by posting vulgar content.
Community guidelines and rules can help you keep your community spam-free. Make sure the rules clearly outline acceptable and appropriate behavior. You should reiterate any overarching rules from the platform you use as well.
The top areas to cover with your community rules include:
- Appropriate member behavior: What is acceptable behavior from members? Where do you draw the line between a fair argument and harassment?
- Moderator roles: Explain what community moderators can and cannot do.
- Topics: What topics are relevant to the community? Which are irrelevant and better discussed elsewhere?
- Complaints: Explain how people can flag complaints and your process for handling them.
- NO tolerance for harassment or discrimination: You want everyone to feel welcome and safe in your community. Make it clear that you will not tolerate any discriminatory behavior.
Promoting the Community
People make your community. You can have the best processes and ideas in place, but you need people to create a community. Growing a community from scratch is not easy. Once your community is ready, you’ll need to promote it.
The best ways to promote your community are with your existing audience members. For example, start with your email list. Send out a compelling newsletter to your email subscribers and customers. Let them know about the community and send them an easy CTA to join.
Furthermore, display information about your community on your website. Add a link near your social media buttons.
Turn to your social media audience. Those who follow you on social media may be inclined to join the group. Promote the group on social media, and let people know what unique value the group offers. Reach out to any particularly active social media followers and invite them to join privately.
Once you have some group members, you can leverage them to grow your group. Remind your group members to invite others to the group. Use gamification to incentive early members to invite others. You can offer contests, reward systems, and more.
Another helpful way to promote your group is by collaborating with influencers. Imagine you are the fitness company again. You could partner with a “fitness influencer” in your demographic to talk about the group on their social media page.
Create an Engaged Community Today!
As you can see, creating an engaged community takes planning and organization. Anyone can start a group, but growing a community is much more challenging. Still, creating a highly engaged community is well worth the time and effort. Engaged community members provide helpful feedback and can become powerful advocates for your brand. Use the tips above to start building your engaged online community today!