Becoming an influencer or authoritative brand is important if you provide products or services online. The most powerful way to reach your target audience is by sharing the same ideas and interests they like. Connecting with the right people grants you an opportunity to build personal and business relationships and create a growing community of people who want to be connected.
Put yourself in a scenario where you have built trust in a group you have created – by sharing valuable information, communicating with the members, and solving their issues. Now, imagine that you release a new product or service online. Where should you promote it first? To your faithful audience. You are the leader, they know you, and that’s why they trust you. They are ready to buy.
You’ll be amazed how much value you can acquire by this simple, yet prolonged process – find the right people, send the right message.
In this article, I asked 10 experts about their tips on building an online community. What are the benefits and why it is mandatory for an online marketer to have their own tribe. Read on to understand the psychology and the essentials behind the process.
Natalie Lesyk – Digital Marketing Manager at NING.com
I would say that creating an online community from scratch is like throwing a big and а memorable party. Before you even start, try to answer these questions:
- Will I have fun?
- Will people have fun? (even more important!)
- Why should people join my party, and not somebody else’s?
If creating a successful social network is what you want, you should start with setting the appropriate mood. Do you remember visiting parties where you didn’t know anyone? There are always some party animals that go and hit the dance floor, as well as those who remain shy wallflowers. Your goal is to make the latter ones go and dance.
When starting an online community, be as specific as you can, add a tagline, description and logo (if you have one). The style of your website should be polished but not perfect.
For your online community, start with the people you already know. It will be a small party at the beginning, but you’ll be sure that you can trust every guest. After that, let the people outside your inner circle know that something is going on here by:
- Linking your social network to your blog or website.
- Finding out more about social networking software and trying to determine the best options for yourself.
- Including the URL of your online community in the signature you leave on the forums, blogs, or emails.
- Promoting your social network on the platforms related to the same topic or niche.
- Lastly, not forgetting about search engine optimization to create a social networking site that can be easily found by internet surfers – search engines are also participants at that party.
Thinking of how to build a community that will last? Make sure you turn on the music, keep the drinks flowing, and let people crash on your couch.
New discussions, posts and updates make a good social networking site. Post new photos, videos, and other engaging content, even if you are the only one who does that at the very beginning. Don’t let your guests leave the party after only a couple of hours. Persuade them in your originality, offer something they won’t be able to find at other parties, and make them feel special.
There are lots of underwater rocks when you create a social network and finally start to enjoy it. You’ll experience both excitement and despair, as well as some hangovers from time to time. In the end, you will have a vast army of party makers who are eager to hit that dance floor.
Blake Morgan – Customer Experience Futurist
Get a niche.
I started focusing on customer service in 2007 and I grew from there. When you’re out there involved in your topic, you meet like-minded people – you make a name for yourself. It doesn’t need to be the most glamorous topic but just get started and focus on it as much as you can.
Yoav Vilner – Co-Founder and CEO of Ranky
The key to building a strong online community is to use your social connections and existing group members as a resource. Here are some of my favorite strategies:
#1 – Find Your Best Advocates
Find your biggest followers by checking for those who consistently like, share, or comment on the posts. If you don’t have any members in your online community yet, share your group’s posts on your own social media pages.
Don’t be shy about approaching followers directly. They’ll be flattered when you personally reach out to them, thank them, and let them know how valuable they are for your online community. This, in turn, will make your biggest advocates more inclined to do you a favor and invite their friends to your group.
#2 – Encourage Member Participation
In order to convince existing users to stay and new users to join, you need to show them that your online community provides value. Membership in your group shouldn’t be passive, and activity shouldn’t be confined to likes, comments, and shares. Instead, you should encourage group members to actively participate. Posting compelling questions, humorous anecdotes, or insightful tips is a great way to get people talking and engaging. Demonstrating that your group provides good conversation and entertainment shows that it’s worthwhile to join.
#3 – Show Fans They Matter
Rewarding your group members for their membership and participation is another way to provide the value that encourages people to stay and join. Show community members that you care about their opinions by showcasing their ideas on your platform. For example, you can write an encouraging post or blog article to respond to top user comments. You can also create contests between users related to fun monthly themes or you can feature user-generated content and encourage users to vote on their favorite posts or projects. Once you get users interacting with one another, you’ll help them build relationships within your group and give them a stronger sense of community.
John Rampton – CEO at Calendar
It starts with you. You start by building an amazing product and service that people love. If this doesn’t happen, there is no point in starting. Next, start really paying attention to your customers. Call, email, and text them. Become a part of their tribe. This will gain their trust. Once you gain their trust, they will purchase anything you put in-front of them, not to mention share with their friends. Repeat. Over time this will turn into a thriving community. Remember, it starts with you.
Murray Newlands – CEO at ChattyPeople
Engage potential users/customers in existing communities while making your product. If you make a great product for the communities that already exist, then they will come to you and be part of your community. The biggest thing for any startup is to let people know you exist. I see so many startups spending all their time working on the product without getting customer feedback as to the features that are needed.
Ankit Singla – Founder of BloggerTipsTricks.com
When starting a community from scratch, you must remember that your own audience network is small. That’s where you have to wisely leverage the existing platforms to funnel in new community members, nurture them, and grow them into engaging members who benefit your community.
For me, I use the following methods to get a steady influx of visitors to my community (currently, this is my blog’s Facebook group):
☆ Leverage existing platforms like your webinars and events you speak on and inform the audience to connect with you on your community.
☆ Leverage social media channels by hanging out where your audience hangs and then try to solve their problems (these can be by answering their questions or sharing industry-relevant ideas on other high-traffic Facebook groups or communities).
☆ Inform my mailing list subscribers of the new community and how it can help them.
The next part is even more important: funneling community visitors into members. For this, I do the following:
☆ The first thing is branding. I brand my communities in order to match my brand and blog’s vision. Every color and design selection should tell the same story across all your platforms. This makes them feel “at home”.
☆ Secondly, I share valuable ideas, tips, and my expertise (in terms of Facebook live) to help my community members grow and scale their business.
☆ Lastly, I don’t forget to engage the community by asking them to take part in conversations and decision making (like what banner looks good or what logo is best for the community). This makes them feel appreciated and the engagement levels skyrocket.
Lastly, if you have a thriving community where each member is an integral part of your community, you can grow quickly by word of mouth and other scaling methods.
Swadhin Agrawal – Founder & Chief Editor of DigitalGYD.com
When you’re creating a community from scratch, you have to very carefully leverage the existing resources to draw a steady stream of community members. For these, I use platforms of like-minded people who could relate to the story and the passion of my brands.
Two of my favorite platforms are Product Hunt and BetaList where you can initially discuss your product and get to interact with members who are equally invested towards similar topics. You could also use a medium to get initial exposure and attract the founding members.
Another key strategy is when creating your community from scratch, you should often look towards collaborating with other leaders in your niche rather than thinking them as your rivals. You could include them in your community to leverage their reach and authority to grow your community.
In a recent case study, I used my bloggers’ community to get about 34 backlinks, including 21 dofollow ones (as per SEMrush) for my on page seo techniques article, which added 500-is new subscribers to my email list and I got a mention on Neil Patel’s blog.
The next part is nurturing them and growing the initial members and leverage their word of mouth and network to grow into big numbers. Here’s how I do it:
Make the first handful of members feel like they actually are a part of what you do. Invest your time to hear what they say, feature them on your blog/website, and most importantly, make them feel like they are the actual thought-leaders for your brand.
This can be done by rewarding special badges for their loyalty (this may seem childish at first but it later becomes a dream or a goal for newer members).
Have a content strategy. Just like you’d have an editorial calendar for your blog, you should have exactly one for your community too. For example, Buzzfeed has regular challenges in their content schedule where they engage the top active users to share their posts based on a common theme.
Their average post for such a challenge theme, called Love Week, got over 250,000 views, which is monumental for the initial growth of your community, both by engagement and reach.
Richard Millington – Founder of FeverBee
Let’s assume you have a very clear goal for the community (www.feverbee.com/roi) and your community is aligned to that goal (www.feverbee.com/strategy).
First, make sure you have a powerful concept. Is this a community based around an identity or a function (e.g., is it for an existing group of peers or is it a place people come to get advice or tackle a specific problem)? Test these concepts on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere to see what resonates best with the audience.
Second, build up a list of 100 or so potential founding members. These are the people who you know best or are most passionate about the topic. Ignore the big influencers at this stage. Focus on those who talk about the topic on social media, write reviews of relevant books, attend meetups, write to your customer support team, or do anything that identifies them as more passionate than others.
Third, interview at least 30 of this group and find out what they are struggling with, what they hope to achieve in the future, and develop some possible discussions around this. Build up a detailed profile of these members. Make sure you know what challenges are most relevant to them today (not in general; you want specifics here).
Fourth, start a simple group on a mailing list or Facebook group and invite the exact people who mentioned these issues to participate in these discussions. See if you can get discussions going and keep them active. Keep testing different types of discussions until you see what sticks. Try really meaty posts (full resource templates) with lighter topics (what are you working on today?) to get a sense of what most resonates for your audience.
Fifth, start to invite more people and move to a hosted platform (www.feverbee.com/communityplatforms). Lithium, HigherLogic, Discourse, Vanilla, Mobilize, Mightynetworks, and a few others work well depending upon your budget. Focus on improving the SEO and gradually moving members across to this location. Start making it easier and easier for people to find the content they’re looking for.
Sixth, once you have 100 actively participating members, you can do the fun job of focusing on improving conversion rates, giving everyone a sense of influence, @mentioning members into discussions, delivering great welcomes and more … build up multiple streams of growth (newsletters, partnerships, direct invites, word-of-mouth work, etc…)
…now you’re flying. Good luck!
Will Blunt – Founder of FlypChart
Building an online community that knows, likes, and trusts you from scratch can be overwhelming to say the least. And perhaps the worst thing about it all is that no one ever tells you how hard it is going to be.
There are “experts” all over the internet preaching about tactics they have never even used themselves and success that they simply don’t know the first thing about. Not to mention that there are LOTS of people trying to do exactly what you want to do – make a living online.
So, that’s the bad news.
The good news is that there is no one single way to build a community online and turn it into your career. The truth of the matter is that the ones who make it out the other side have one trait in common: persistence.
Persistence to accept setbacks and overcome them. Persistence to appreciate that nothing great is going to happen over night. Persistence to keep turning up every single day and doing the little things that slowly add up to something meaningful.
Persistence to forget the haters and embrace the people that will support your journey.
Pick a platform, stick to your guns, surround yourself with positive people that challenge your way of thinking, and persist, persist, persist.
Zac Johnson – Founder of Blogging.org
One of the best ways to grow a community is to take advantage of what Facebook Groups has to offer. It’s VERY hard to build a platform on your own site or even within a forum. Not only will it be hard to set this up, but it will also be hard to get audiences to become active. This is why Facebook is such a great platform for setting this up. Once you have it in place, then send out a mailing to all of your mailing list subscribers to let them know. Also promote it on your websites, blogs, and other social media channels as well. As your community starts to grow, don’t forget to stay active! It’s one thing to get your followers to click and join; it’s another to actual start and keep the conversation going!
1. Be niche-specific. Create a community around your competence and knowledge. Establish a leadership in your industry.
2. Provide relevant content to your target audience.
3. Interact with other influencers in your niche. They are your partners, not rivals.
4. Create relationships with your members and show how valuable they are.
5. Engage with them! Your fans are the core of your community. Let them feel comfortably.
6. Be consistent and don’t let your fans forget about you.
By following these tips you will make a step forward into building your own community and becoming a trusted source in your niche.
About the Author
Georgi Todorov is a digital marketer. He recently started his NGO DigitalNovas. His passion is to help startups grow and thrive in a competitive environment. Georgi is also a partner at FortuneLords and PR expert for AdaptRM.
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