Connecting with an audience on social media and converting them into loyal customers is challenging, but highly rewarding. One thing most successful brands have in common is that they’ve learned how to build a community around their business. They go beyond just selling products and instill their brands with a meaning that makes people want to participate and spread the word. In this guide, we’ll be looking at the essential qualities it takes to build and manage a community.
Why It’s Valuable to Build a Community
Creating a community is a little different from typical selling or marketing. At the same time, you can sell within a community. In fact, when customers feel they are part of a community they’re more likely to buy more. Here are some ways that a company can build a community.
- Create A Newsletter – Building an email list is an important aspect of a digital community. Sending messages in newsletter format is an idea for community-building as it encourages you to include topics of interest to readers rather than simply promotions.
- Be Active In Social Media Groups – Facebook groups are great for fostering communication. Since most of your customers probably use Facebook, it’s a convenient way to reach them. What’s nice about a group is that it lets customers connect with each other rather than only the brand. LinkedIn groups are another possibility if you’re in the B2B sector. If you’re active on Twitter, you can create a group there as well.
- Hold Virtual Events – Brands can create live events in their communities. As of this writing, many live events have been put on hold because of COVID-19. This still allows for virtual events, though. Online conferences and webinars are good for building community.
These are just a few examples of how brands build a sense of community. What really counts, however, aren’t the tools and techniques you use but how you apply them. For example, an email newsletter can be an effective tool for engaging with subscribers or merely another annoying item that fills up their inboxes. Facebook groups can be fun and addictive or quickly forgotten. That’s why community management plays such a key role in determining the success of your community.
Community Managers Responsibilities
A business may hire a community manager or assign this responsibility to an existing employee. For larger companies, there may be a whole team of community managers. Here are some of the tasks they may perform.
- Observe customers and customer data. They may get their information through polls and surveys, reading comments and actually conversing with customers.
- Support and engage with customers. Responding to social media comments, answering emails, and possibly talking to customers at live events.
- Create and maintain channels and platforms where customers can engage with one another and with the brand. They may start and manage a social media group or chatrooms or organize an event.
- Identify influencers and brand ambassadors who are strong advocates of the brand.
Now let’s explore some of the most effective ways to manage a community.
Blend Customer Support Into the Community
As noted, a community manager may interact with customers through email, social media, and elsewhere. One of the benefits of offering support on social media sites or on your own forum is that you can help build community while helping customers solve their problems. Some larger brands have busy community forums where people ask questions and often receive answers from other users as well as moderators. With many software companies as well as open-source programs such as WordPress, there’s a knowledgeable community around to answer questions and help to solve problems.
A helpful community does several things. It lightens the load for customer support as many questions are answered by other customers. A sense of community also leaves customers with a more positive feeling about the brand as they can get help. It provides businesses with valuable information. Customers may suggest solutions that you hadn’t thought of.
Of course, you also have to recognize that community management and customer support, though they can overlap, aren’t the same. You have to know when to provide personalized and prompt customer support to deal with specific issues. The community, however, can be extremely helpful for discussing more general issues.
Get the Community Involved With Your Brand
An active community can do more than answer questions and help to solve problems. They can even help a business grow, come up with new product ideas, and think of innovative ways to use existing products. You can see this with certain brands that excel in this area.
Sephora Beauty Talk is the perfect example of a community board where members are friendly and supportive. While they certainly offer help that makes it easier for Sephora’s customer support, they also offer their own tips based on experience. Another very different kind of company where this also occurs is Lego Ideas, where members are encouraged to submit their own ideas that others can vote on. Lego takes the idea a step further by rewarding successful creators with a portion of product sales. Not everyone has the budget and name recognition of Sephora or Lego. However, with any type of business, it’s possible to tap into customers’ knowledge and experience. For example:
- Food – Customers can contribute recipes and serving ideas.
- Pets – Pet owners love to talk about their furry companions and are glad to offer tips on care, training, feeding, transporting and other aspects of pet life.
- Travel – People love to share their travel experiences.
- Health and Fitness – Here’s another niche where enthusiasts are glad to talk about diets, nutrition, workouts and other lifestyle habits.
There are many ways to encourage community-building. In addition to groups and forums, you can solicit user-generated content on social media sites. Contests, such as photo and video contests, are another great way to get customers to contribute ideas.
Social Listening Helps You Support the Community
Social listening lets you tap into the latest news and trends affecting your customers. This process helps you discover what kind of content your audience seeks, which platforms they are using and how they feel about different products, places, people and activities. You can use what you learn from social listening to build a stronger community. This includes:
- Track the latest news and trends in your industry.
- Find out what people are saying about your brand.
- Measure social media activity so you know where your audience is most active.
- Track your competitors and their customers.
- Identify influencers who are interested in your brand, your competitors and your industry.
Recognize and Encourage Brand Ambassadors
Brand advocates or brand ambassadors are your most loyal and enthusiastic customers. They play a valuable role in spreading the word about a business. They are an important source of word of mouth promotions. They are more likely to leave positive reviews, buy brand-related merchandise and discuss a brand on social media. Don’t make the mistake of taking these brand advocates for granted. If they don’t feel appreciated, they can easily jump ship and switch their loyalty to another brand.
Fostering your brand ambassadors serves a couple of purposes. It helps to keep them loyal. It also makes it easier to recruit new brand advocates into the fold. Here are a few ways to accomplish this.
- Offer attentive service. There’s no substitute for paying close attention to customers’ needs and providing great service.
- Get feedback. You need to ask your customers what they need and what changes they’d like to see in the way you operate. Polls and surveys are good for this, especially short and focused ones that cover specific products or interactions. You can also encourage customers to share their opinions on your blog and social media pages.
- Engage with customers. If you want to encourage your customers to share their opinions and share their experiences with their friends and family, it’s essential to connect with them. Respond to reviews as well as questions and comments on social media. It’s good to respond even when there’s no specific question or complaint. Many businesses fail to respond to compliments and positive reviews, which is a mistake. Even taking a few seconds to say “Thanks, glad you had a great experience!” makes a big difference. This type of appreciation encourages other customers to participate.
- Create a referral or loyalty program. A referral program lets you reward customers who bring you additional business. A loyalty program provides gifts and rewards for repeat business. This works for any business from a coffee shop offering a free beverage for every 10 purchases to an airline rewarding air miles. Both referral and loyalty programs are great for fostering brand advocacy.
Encourage Your Employees to Become Brand Ambassadors
Employees can be some of your most valuable brand advocates. As people who are familiar with the day-to-day operations of your business, they can share their knowledge with the public in a personal way. Cultivate employees as brand advocates in a low-key manner. Don’t push too hard or you’ll defeat the purpose.
The best approach is to create a positive work environment where employees will naturally want to share their experiences. Keep them informed as much as possible about your brand’s values and goals. Encourage them to post on social media, within certain guidelines of course. Recognize achievements and publish these on your social media pages and company newsletter.
You may be wondering how to incentivize employees to advocate for your brand. Overtly paying people to say positive things about you isn’t the best idea as it feels too much like a bribe. A more effective tactic is to be generous with gifts. Branded items such as t-shirts, tote bags, and other promotional merchandise can be circulated widely. If you surprise a deserving employee with a more substantial gift, he or she is likely to mention it on social media. Even unbranded gifts will be appreciated and tend to motivate recipients to talk about the business in a positive way.
Using Influencers to Contribute to Your Community
Influencer marketing has been around for a while now and there’s something of a backlash against it. The real issue is that people are skeptical of influencers who don’t seem authentic. Brands can still benefit from working with high-profile experts and celebrities who genuinely believe in a product and business. This often means seeking micro-influencers who are well-respected within an industry, rather than simply looking for celebrities with huge follower counts. Here are a few ways that working with influencers can help to build a community.
- Study your customers and followers to identify the influencers they follow. You can then begin to build relationships with these influencers by following them, sharing their content, and linking to them.
- Interview experts in your field. An expert is a type of influencer who is well-versed on a certain topic. Interviews can be done via webinar, Facebook Live, YouTube, or however it’s convenient. These are educational events that aren’t directly selling anything so they show that you’re contributing to the community and not only promoting yourself.
- Influencer marketing is changing but it remains a viable strategy to engage with your customers and build a community.
- Have an influencer help you publicize an event or product launch. Whether you’re holding a live or virtual event, influencers can introduce their own audiences to your business.
Creating a Community Helps You Grow Your Business
When customers feel like they are part of a community, they are more likely to remain loyal to a brand. There are many steps you can take to facilitate this process. Maintaining a community is an ongoing process that takes constant attention and management. You must constantly pay attention and listen to the needs of your audience, so they feel appreciated and included.