There is a really big difference between an audience and a community. An audience is one-way. It is not interactive. It isn’t social. An audience passively watches or reads. An audience doesn’t participate. Or share with others. It just observes.
On the other hand, a community is a two-way conversation. It is a living, breathing thing. It is extremely interactive. It is Social. Sure, there are some people who just watch or read, but many more participate and share with their friends. And that is why your business needs to build an online community.
So what exactly is community building? Well, your mother was right; to make friends you have to BE a friend and this especially applies to business marketing online.
It is not enough for a business or brand just to exist on the Internet any more. Your business needs to thrive and attract attention, and the way to do this is have an active community. The days have gone when all businesses needed was an online presence which basically consisted of having a website with a logo on it and a way for people to email you.
Even now, if all you have done is just fired off a few tweets or made a couple of Facebook posts about what your brand has been up to this week, t
hat really is the bare minimum that you can get away with. You need to think of that as being your starting point.
From there you can build a community of like-minded people who aren’t just your customers – they’re also your potential customers, your peers, the leaders, innovators, visionaries and stand-out voices in your industry. If you create a space for all of these people to join you in conversation you and your business will reap huge rewards.
At the heart of all communities are relationships. Your first step is to identify, reach out and build a relationship with all the diverse groups that fall within the sphere of your business.
This will have positive benefits for your business, particularly in the search engine rankings. Here is the reason why: Google frequently updates its search algorithm to reflect real-world interaction and penalise the companies who are using out-dated and sometimes, unethical Search Engine optimisation (SEO) strategies to bump their web site to the top of the search engines.
This is good news for companies like yours taking part in social media marketing. So long as your marketing efforts align with what a live, actual person would find valuable, your site will not be in any danger of being penalised from algorithm updates. All the people that you are building relationships and establishing a community with, are going to be naturally linking to your website, your content and your blog. You are going to be providing exactly the sort of content that Google is looking for to rank highly in the search engine, and it is all down to having strong relationships with your community.
How A Community Will Help
Without wishing to sound too cynical, if you have created a vibrant online community of people all interested in whatever your business is about, you’ve got a great pool of focussed, targeted people right there are your fingertips to whom you can market to.
However, it goes without saying that you don’t want to do this in a blatant way. If you constantly send out obvious promotional offers and hard-sell sales pitches, your online community will quickly abandon you.
What you need to do is get people excited about your products and services by building relationships, and they will seek you out and buy from you.
Let’s say for example, that you are running a vibrant community of people interested in running gear and you are contacted by a company that makes sportswear. They introduce themselves and tell you a bit about what inspired their company. You like the sound of what they’re doing and have a look at a few of their promotional videos, which you decide to share with your own community because they are informative and well made.
This sparks off some good reactions and slowly the brand is introduced to a group of highly targeted potential customers. It is all done without it ever seeming like a hard sell. And in turn, your brands and products are being introduced to another potential community in a virtual circle that feeds off itself. It is a win-win situation.
So being involved in a community can be a way into other markets and potential customers that you might never have reached otherwise, because of the other communities you can share stuff with.
What You Need To Build A Good Community
To build a good community, you need to start with the right components.
First of all, you need good content. This is absolute key. You can’t have a community built around something insubstantial – it just doesn’t work. So what do we mean by having good content? Well, good content could be blogs, articles on your website, bios, videos, infographics, you name it. However, the point is, it needs to be good.
The reason why it is so essential is because it demonstrates that you know what you are talking about (never underestimate how important that is to community building), you are passionate about the subject and you care about the readers. It also shows that you can be fun, your stuff is worth coming back for and whatever your recommend will be worth checking out.
For example, if you own a company that sells skateboards, good content could be a video showing how to maintain and care for your skateboard after each ride or it could be a blog post about Nyjah Huston or any other skateboarding champions. You get the idea. The only real limit for what qualifies as good content is your own imagination and what you think your community would like.
It is quite possible that you already produce this kind of content, but you might not be using it to its full potential if you are not sharing it to a wider audience on social networks.
You can easily get your information out there by posting on Facebook, Twitter and others such as Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tumblr. Remember that you don’t need to be on all of them, just the ones that work best for your particular business.
Another tool for community building is good old-fashioned email newsletters. Contrary to popular belief, the email newsletter is far from dead. If people have signed up for your email newsletter, there is a high chance that they’re so interested in your products and services that it would be criminal not to offer them the chance to buy something.
The key to success in email newsletters is managing your list. Rather than sending out blanket emails to your entire list, you need to segment it, so that you are sending out the right message to the right parts of your community. Never forget that while some people don’t like or participate in social media, it is very rare for them not to check their email.
Once you have decided to get your community off the ground, you first need to identify the types of audience you want to attract.
Think of them as divided into different categories and work out what each type wants and what problems you can solve for them. Keep asking yourself the question: what do they really care about?
Next, identify your completion. This will help you to find where your target audience are already. Remember though that it is not about chasing numbers. You want a highly targeted group of people who will get together as a cohesive unit, not a generic mass that be larger but is too difficult to identify.
Now it is time to come up with a strategy for you or your team to follow. You need to decide how you are going to define success in building your community. For example, is it to get 10,000 Facebook likes or 2000 Twitter followers? You decide what your goals are, then agree to short-term, medium term and long-term goals, and then decide on the tools and strategy you are going to use to get there.
Once you’re doing the work of building a community, remember to be flexible. When you start producing (or outsourcing) great content, and getting it out there on social media channels, you might find that the community doesn’t go in quite the direction you expected. Your most popular posts might not be what you thought they would be, for example.
At this point, you might need to re-evaluate your plan or equally, you might need to stop being distracted by things that aren’t core to your business, despite being popular, and get back on track. It is all too easy to get distracted or lose direction on social media.
Slowly, Slowly Catchy Monkey.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you need lots of patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your community won’t be either. Just like Rome, building your community never ends. Your job is never done. Don’t think of community building as a job to be done and ticked off a to-do list. Instead, think of it as a journey with no final destination.