Creating an online community: The What, Why and How

Online communities such as forums and for the most part social media channels have become integrated into our lives over the past decade, and we now find ourselves not batting an eyelid and speaking to someone across the globe or communicating with friends and relatives via a keyboard rather than a telephone (ruling out smartphones of course!). So naturally, building an online community for your business is a worthwhile step, as it allows you to reach a vast audience, and gives your brand a voice among the voiceless.

What Is An Online Community?

An online community is anywhere online in which a large gathering of people come to chat, discuss certain topics in some cases, and in other more large scale cases such as Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networks, the main aim is to socialise.
Within these larger social networks we often find groups who have created sub-communities focusing on a more specific topic of discussion, much like the threads within forums. You will also find that blogs are growing online communities, with people who will regularly read and comment on/discuss the blog posts with others who also follow the blog.

Why Does My Brand Need An Online Community?

The main reason businesses are so intent on generating Likes, Followers, Connections, etc. across the social media board is because it means they have a people to market their products and services to, people who are interested in their brand and what they are doing currently and in the future, and may even turn into or already are customers.  Having this loyal following is in effect one way of building an online community.

Once you have this community, and as long as you continue to keep them engaged, this community works both ways. It keeps the consumer happy as they feel they have a voice and are able to talk directly about their thoughts and feelings on the topics because you are encouraging them to (see How Can I Create An Online Community For My Brand), and for you it gives you the chance to drip feed information about your brand and their products/services to an interested audience rather than posting blind and hoping someone will be interested.

It also gives you the chance to learn more about your potential and already established customers, as they will voice their opinions with encouragement, so you learn what they want. You can also find out more about their geographic location, age range and interests, again giving you additional information at the click of a button that can be used in the creation of new products and services, or changes being made to current ones to fit in with this new information.

How Can I Create An Online Community For My Brand?

Now here comes the tricky part. Engaging consumers will take time and effort, and it certainly isn’t something that can pop up overnight or be paid for. The key is to ensure the consumer is at the centre of every decision, content wise and other wise, and that they realise this. This will then show them that this is a place for them to come and express opinions and have a voice as a consumer.

      1.       If you haven’t already done so, create business pages and accounts for your brand on your preferred social media channels.

      2.       Create a campaign that has your consumers at the centre of it. This involves creating a two way conversation between your brand and the consumer, and could encompass things such as ‘Tell us what you think and WIN’ competitions, ‘What’s your favourite thing about (brand)’ question and answers, or polls where people can vote for a feature of a new product or service (e.g. ‘What colour do you want the new chocolate bar wrappers to be?’).

      3.       Once the content starts to get noticed and you begin to receive feedback and reactions, do not shy away from negative comments and opinions. Reply to them in a personal way, assuring that person that you have taken the comments on board and even go back later mentioning how you have incorporated their feedback into the new product or service.

      4.       Keep the audience engaged and keep fresh content flowing. If they lose interest or feel they are being ignored they will start to drop off, and your community will soon diminish as well as giving your brand name a negative reputation. 

Labels: , , ,