Establishing and growing a brand online goes beyond generating marketing messages to a selected audience. Advertising alone does not bring you any closer to the growth path you’ve been craving for months, as the diversification of today’s digital space requires a well-thought-out strategy.
Consequently, sending only one-directional messages doesn’t cut it. Businesses need to shift their focus to developing real connections with their audience – relationships that are authentic with trust, genuineness, and reciprocity at its core.
You can see relationships between people (and brands) in two different ways: transactional and transformational. As you might have already guessed by its name, transactional relationships are based out of interest – an exchange of something for something else in return.
On the flip side, transformational relationships develop beyond a mere transaction, and focusses on developing long-lasting connections, which is what most of us want, ultimately, isn’t it?
As a brand, which type of relationship should you be aiming to foster with your audience?
Well, the goal should be to develop long-lasting relationships, the kind that adds value to your organization, and satisfies both your customers and your needs.
Alright, alright. Now that you know what your brand should be striving for, it is time to figure out what is the best way to achieve long-term growth and marvelous consumer experience.
The answer is simple: Online communities. Online communities are a critical way to elevate your brand to the next level and a must if you wish to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
How can online communities help you grow your brand?
Building a successful online community has its challenges, sure. But if you do it right, they can become a wonderful alternative (and cost-effective!) addition to your marketing mix. The benefits of implementing a great community can be the following:
Increases Brand Awareness
92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth above all other forms of advertising. They are four times more likely to buy from a brand when this is referred by friends, family, or members of their inner circle.
In a similar way, the fact that individuals wish to recommend your brand to their inner circle can only mean that they perceive your brand as reliable and trusted, which in turn helps shaping the identity of your product or service, and makes you stand out from potential competitors.
Feedback and idea sourcing
If used right and listed to, your community can be a great source of development ideas for your business. Use their feedback (comments, questions, messages) to improve your product or services in ways that make your brand stand out.
Customer needs change rapidly nowadays, so how amazing is it to have a place that provides a constant influx of inspiration?
Online communities will help you stay on top of your game by allowing you to gain a deeper understanding of customer needs more authentically than with traditional market research methods (as those can be biased).
Fosters Brand Loyalty
Keeping current customers engaged is critical, especially if we take into account the Pareto Principle in which 80% of your company’s revenue will come from 20% of your customers. Whether you create engagement with events, customer meetings, or, in this case, online communities, the key is to keep your audience engaged. For that to happen, it’s necessary to listen carefully to the expectations and wishes of your community, be responsive, and ultimately, provide value and support for members.
And let’s not forget about peer-to-peer learning
For many organizations, online communities have become a critical part of their digital strategy. Communities help inspire conversations, develop trust, and create meaningful engagement with your primary and secondary stakeholders. As a result, you’re facilitating conversation and providing your members with a platform to interact with one another and share their knowledge and experience on a shared interest.
Now, simply gathering people in the same (online) forum will not do the trick.
As a community manager, it´s your role to ensure that every member feels included, engaged, and is motivated to partake in conversations. Here are a few tips to activate your members and ensure they feel welcome:
- Encourage your group to share their experiences with the group. Psst! Formats like asking for feedback in the comments, doing polls, posting quizzes all work quite well for this.
- Recognize your followers.
- Be consistent with your content and posting schedules.
- Challenge your community.
- Set the tone and lead by example.
Building your community
As the architect of the online community, you need to ensure to lay out a long-term plan that ensures the invested effort is fruitful. For that reason, it is critical to thoroughly consider and plan how you want to position your community already from day one.
Yes, there’s should be room for flexibility and adaptation, but the overall direction should be clear from the moment you hit publish.
1. Select the focal topic
Will your community revolve around digital advertising or will it be about best practices within the SEO realm? Whatever your main goal is, you should select a central topic or common identifier for the community. This will dictate the conversation you drive and will be the unifying piece between your brand and your followers.
2. Perform a competitive analysis
You’ve now decided on the perfect topic and you’re confident it’ll drive the utmost value to your future community. We understand, it’s exciting! However, before you jump into the deep end, make sure you are filling a gap that isn’t already filled by someone else.
For that, the key is research. Dive into what your competitors are doing and check the space other communities might be occupying already. Are they appealing to the same audience? Is there a gap you can cover? And, most importantly, how can your brand differentiate itself from them?
3. Establish your channel strategy
There’s no one size fits all when communicating with your audience. For that reason, you need to select the social network that best fits your target group. Gone are the days where you should leverage your marketing campaigns everywhere.
Instead, you need to be present wherever it makes sense for you and your followers. Focus on your primary channels, however, keep secondary channels on your radar in case your audience starts making a shift in that direction.
4. Define your content strategy
The key to successful activation and growth of your community relies on the type of content you share, so it’s critical you make it relevant to your audience. Make sure you understand your audience well before you announce your community to the world.
It’s important to have the purpose of the community in mind as well as your overall strategy when drafting what you’d like to communicate. Are you promoting a new product release, updating your audience on the latest industry trends, or sparking new ideas?
You probably have tons of ideas for content, however, keep in mind that the way you approach your community might vary from traditional one-way marketing communications, and so would the nature of your content.
Whereas promotion might be one of your established goals, you’ve got to remember that your priority should be aimed at nurturing relationships, and ultimately, at making your community members feel seen and heard. We encourage you to include the following ingredients to your content strategy – it’ll pay off.
- Create original content and make sure it’s relevant
- Create engaging and thought-provoking content
- Try on different formats for size
- Foster and share user-generated content
- Make it applicable and help your readers learn and grow.
5. Establish reporting to track key community metrics
The long-term survival of the online community highly depends on how you can prove its value concerning your overarching business goals. Do you want to increase opportunities, reduce customer churn, or is your strategy cantered on boosting brand awareness?
Whichever your goal is, you must establish the KPIs you’ll be reporting on and use to benchmark your success. You might want to consider the following:
- Engagement (discussions, likes, comments, shares)
- Number of followers/members
- Referral traffic
- Share of voice
- Number of active members
- Conversion rate
These are just a few of the key metrics you should be focusing on. However, if you’d like to get a thorough introduction to the world of social media ROI, you might want to read our Social Media ROI eBook and learn how to quantify the value of your social media efforts.
Pro tip: Prioritize engagement over follower count. Once you’ve mastered the first, your fans will follow.
And now what? 😱
You made it all the way here, yay! That means that you’re almost ready to bring your ideas to life and become the source of inspiration for the community that’s waiting for you.
The next step is to promote your community among your existing audience and key stakeholders. A word of advice: Nobody knows you better than your current customers, so make sure to get them involved. Alternatively, you could look into partnering up with influencers that align well with your brand, audience, and values – influencers might become valuable allies when spreading the word.
Building a community is hard work and it doesn’t happen overnight. Evaluate the resources you’ll need, from the community managers that’ll live and breathe the community to having the right design and content assets in place.
Got it? Great! Then you’re ready to go live and spread your magic. If you’d like to have additional inspiration, check this webinar on how Wesleyan University and Pluralsight established and grew their communities online.