How to Build an Actionable Online Community

Every brand needs a community to support it, vouch for it, and give it a personality. That’s not a new development in the marketing world.

Brands had communities long before the digital age. For example, my favorite mom-and-pop sporting goods store informally supported a community that gathered there regularly for coffee, banter, stories, and discussion. Topics included the best products and brands that catered to our outdoor pastimes … and lots of tall tales! We ended up buying things there, too.

Today, with so much of consumers’ lives and our world’s commerce going through online channels, it must be harder to build such a sense of community and feeling of belonging around your brand, right? Yes and no.

Yes, there is still some challenge around finding people interested in your product or service, getting them to come to “your place,” and engaging them with like-minded individuals. But in many ways, the digital world has spawned almost endless ways to build a large online community of friends and advocates of your brand. Here’s how.

Understand community’s definition

A community isn’t your Facebook friends, your Twitter followers, your Linked In contacts or your Google+ circles. Rather, a community is the sum total of all you do socially and digitally, and the interactions you produce. Get people involved are the watchwords. A community exists across platforms and transcends digital channels.

Start with video

It doesn’t have to be fancy or long, but create a short video (one to two minutes is enough) that talks about the community you are inviting people to join. In today’s world, video engages and shares better than any other approach, and is more likely to incite action. Make sure you ask for that action – join us!

Link, link, link

Every piece of correspondence and interaction with potential brand fans needs to invite them to join the community. Whether it’s in an email, on your website or embedded in a social media post, you have to let prospects know that there’s a vibrant community of like-minded individuals out there just waiting for them.

Create hashtag gold

Your online community members need a way to get together. Create a hash tag, and use it everywhere and often. A hashtag is the magnet that brings folks together.

Pluck from other communities

One of the best places to locate new community members is to visit similar communities, join the conversation, become a part of the mix, then start getting your brand into the conversation. Pluck community members to be a part of your (better!) community.

Send newsletters

Create a sense of belonging. Create a monthly newsletter and send out to community members as an essential voice of the group. Better yet, engage a group leader to independently edit and create it (you get final approval before publishing). You lose some brand control, but the community gains immense credibility this way.

Remember social media is a tool, not an end

Some marketers think that social media is their online community. Not true. Rather, social media is a tool to help you build, maintain and engage that community.

Separate community and offers

Build a good social media persona for your brand. Then, don’t pollute community waters by inserting offers and promotions. It’s tempting to do so. But members are there for another reason — to feel like part of a family. And families don’t (or at least shouldn’t!) be selling to one another. View your online community as a PR jackpot and positive mood-influencer … not a marketing opportunity to exploit directly.

Provide content of value (and lots of it)

Community members are looking to pursue their passion or pastime and enjoy it more. Keep them engaged, and keep your brand at the center of the community with content that gives members knowledge and starts conversations. Blogs, articles, e-books, guides, templates, planners, news updates, social updates – every piece of content you do should help the community learn and encourage it to talk and interact.

Conclusion

In some ways, today’s brands might miss the down-home feel of a friendly group that gets together face-to-face. On the other hand, the digital world offers almost endless opportunity to build a large and engaged virtual community that does attractive and actionable things – creates goodwill, provides positive PR and encourages participation – all of which helps your business.

And you’re not limited to how many guys you can squeeze around the back counter at the store!

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