The combination of constantly changing social media algorithms and social users seeking a more personal connection has created an opportunity many small businesses and industry experts are incorporating into their marketing tool belt. This tool is the development of an online community. Small businesses, third-party sellers, and niche writers can all utilize a strategy of going deeper with their audience to establish a space online where sellers and buyers have direct access to each other. Ideally, an online community will help everyone cut through the noise of the internet.
There is more to an online community than setting up a Facebook group and inviting your friends. Cultivating an online community requires time and attention on the part of the group organizer, but when executed strategically is an ideal inbound strategy.
What is an Online Community?
An online community is a space where people communicate. They may gather around a similar niche, type of employment or hobby, but the goal is the same. An online community forms when people with like-affinities are invited to connect through an online platform.
Some examples include:
“Patreon is a membership platform that makes it easy for artists and creators to get paid.” Many Podcasters utilize this platform instead of seeking advertisers for their Podcasts. For a small monthly fee (I’ve seen the rate as low as $3 a month) a Patreon Supporter gains access to a platform with exclusive content and more direct access to their favorite Podcaster.
For almost any niche and hobby you will find a free online community, but the option to establish a group with a small monthly membership fee is one to consider. This is especially helpful for someone seeking to join a group kept smaller intentionally allowing for more direct access with the group members.
Why do I Need to Build an Online Community?
If you are finding it difficult to attracting new customers or you are attracting potential customers, yet have a hard time keeping them engaged after the initial sale, an online community can provide a space for continuing education and engagement with customers.
Online communities are also a great space to network with other people within your industry and expand your network of colleagues or potential business partners.
How do I Cultivate an Online Community?
Cultivating an online community will take some time and effort, but it is well worth your investment in order to establish a space to interact directly with people who are interested in the products you sell or the services you provide.
A well-developed Buyer Persona will help you quickly target your ideal group member. After you define your community member a little prep work should occur before you send out invitations.
Write out community guidelines in a clear and concise section of your platform. For example, if you are utilizing Facebook, you can upload a document with guidelines as well as add a pinned post to the group wall. The instructions may include limiting how people interact to include only helpful and instructive comments.
After you invite people it’s a good idea to welcome members and direct them to read the guidelines. Provide a few questions to help get interaction started, but after that seize the opportunity to observe the group interactions. As an observer, you will likely learn more about people’s personalities, but you can also discover the pain points people experience around your community.
Let’s say you have a new product that you recently put out for sale. Although many people have signed up for more information, few are following through to purchase your product. By creating an online community, you can uncover why people aren’t completing a purchase. Perhaps your price point is not aligned with potential customers’ perceived value of your product. With this new information, you can develop marketing information to explain further exactly why your product is valuable.
Another benefit of an online community, as previously mentioned, is that as you interact with your ideal consumer you can uncover pain points. For example, let’s say you are offering individual instruction on new software and you are having a hard time booking teaching sessions. Your online community will give you direct access to ask when people prefer to schedule meetings. You can then adjust your calendar to accommodate the preferences that overlap with your availability.
By creating an environment where group members can directly interact with you, you can individualize a buyer’s journey and promote your product or service. Still, cultivating an online community is also about serving your people! Be strategic about the content you share in the group. Find helpful articles from sources other than your website and share them with your community. Ask engaging questions and then stay silent as people comment. Thank people for their responses.
Encourage others to share content as well. Pay attention to what member post and why. This can be very helpful as you plan out your content calendar. Finally, develop KPI’s to help you measure the effectiveness of your online community.
- Define who belongs
- Extend personal invitations
- Clearly communicate community guidelines
- Engage, Interact, Engage, Interact (listen more than you talk, especially at first)
- Be a cheerleader
- Share helpful information from sources other than your blog
- Give your community members space to interact with each other
- Create KPIs to measure goals you’ve set for your community
Cultivating an online community is an effective inbound marketing strategy for a small business, author, or service provider. There are multiple ways to interact with online communities through platforms such as Quora or CraigsList. By creating your own group, you can ensure you are reaching your ideal buyer early in their buyer’s journey and walk alongside them from potential customer through evangelist.
Ready to start developing your online community? Start with a thoroughly developed buyers persona.