Today’s interconnected world brought by the expansion of the Internet, mobile technologies, and social media have forever changed the way we interact and relate to each other. Not only our interpersonal relationships have been influenced and reshaped by innovative and interactive communication channels but the way we do business has dramatically changed as well.
In a constantly evolving digital environment, an online presence has become mandatory as it’s almost impossible to remain completely offline in you work or personal life. And since everybody is on the Internet, brands, businesses, entrepreneurs, merchants of all shapes and sizes had to embrace new ways to connect with their audience and in the end, build strong online communities.
But what is an online community and how can it be beneficial?
An online community is basically a group of people that forms on the Internet based on a common cause or interest, who collaborate with each other by sharing ideas, information, and other resources or work towards a common goal. The members of an online community can be located in a certain region or spread across the globe and the communication is made through means provided by the online environment such as instant messaging, online forums, social media, email etc.
Communities (online or offline) are all about communication and building relationships with like-minded individuals where anyone can discuss about their passion, help each other, or share ideas and tips on different areas of interest. When it comes to selling your products online, creating or participating in online communities can have a huge positive impact on your brand, reputation, sales, and of course profitability. It’s one of the best ways to promote your products or services, find new customers, gather market intelligence, and develop solid marketing strategies to help your business skyrocket!
How can you build a strong online community?
Building an online community is about identifying and building a strong and healthy relationship with both current and potential customers, your peers, the influencers, leaders, or innovators specific to your industry.
Building an online community can be done efficiently if you follow a few steps and pay attention to some important steps such as:
- Develop a proper plan and decide who your target audience will be – Before you begin it is very important to decide which type of community you want to build (private or public) and if it’s going to be for everybody or a smaller one addressing a certain niche.
- Research – Invest enough time to identify and analyze your audience, find the places where they usually hang out (online and offline) and determine how can your products satisfy a certain need or bring important benefits and usefulness into their lives. Figuring out what customers need and what they hope to gain by interacting and taking part in your online community is the foundation upon which you will build valuable content in order to motivate people join, socialize, and develop meaningful relationships.
- Decide how will you host the community – One option would be to develop the community infrastructure yourself with the help of web developers who can build the community software, implement the hosting method, choose the domain, develop an application etc. Other option which is cheaper and easier to implement is to choose a free, open source or commercial community platform, or other online tools and social networking software that best suits your needs, products, and targeted audience.
- Reach out to people and spread the word once your community is live – You can do this by fully integrating a series of online tools based on a unified approach that is capable of delivering good and useful content. A few tips would be:
- Use newsgroups, message boards, chats, email, and social media to talk about your community and initiate interesting dialogs or discussions who can attract people;
- Optimize your SEO strategy by delivering content focused on popular keywords or search terms related to your products and online community;
- Write blog posts which can address or respond to certain community discussions or tackle specific needs that people in your community have;
- Organize online events and offer promotions, discounts, or giveaways to your participants in order to keep their interest high and attract new ones;
- If possible, create offline events to strengthen the relationship with your participants by meeting them personally – this would also work by giving out cards on fairs and markets where you are selling your goods;
- Effectively manage you online community – It is very important to establish community guidelines which can help people familiarize with its rules and regulations and make the on-boarding process clear and welcoming. Involving yourself in certain community discussions will also help in gathering feedback or suggestions from members. You can also initiate or encourage topics of high interest for your audience and identify key influencers or members who can become leaders or advocates for your products or services.
- Keep providing value – Your online community should become a valuable place where its users can constantly turn to because they can find valuable content, information or help from you or like-minded individuals interested in your products or services. On a long term, it can become the best place for analyzing the success of your business and establish how can you innovate and develop new products or services who can beat the competition.