By Alisha Shibli
As social animals, we seek solace in safe and nurturing environments where we can freely share our stories and views, where we can learn from each other and grow together. This idea of a community based on shared interests, passions, circumstances, and ambitions has permeated the realm of businesses as well.
Community management refers to creating opportunities to interact with your audience as a brand that has a life of its own—like a real person as opposed to a company. It involves creating a space where you can get genuine feedback on your products and better understand the needs of your customers. It also facilitates interactions that stimulate the mind and bring people closer on multiple levels. It’s where you can create long-lasting relationships with your customers but they can also do so with other customers.
As a small business, you may have fewer customers but that gives you the opportunity to really get to know them, connect with them more meaningfully and humanize your relationship.
Here are seven ways in which you can create a community for your business and not just a customer base.
1. Determine your goals
While there are several benefits to community-building and management, defining the key objectives will help you create robust strategies and campaigns that target the right people. For instance, if your goal is to increase online brand awareness and gain more followers, you should definitely focus on social media.
If you wish to be known as a thought leader or a knowledge resource, you may want to focus on creating content, writing guest posts or being featured on other content websites, and participating in webinars and offline events.
2. Create your community member persona
Your customers will undoubtedly form a big part of your community, but they need not be the only part. For instance, apart from existing and prospective customers, your community could also include professionals from related fields or even your own employees.
Defining what your community would look like in terms of the demographic and psychographic characters of its members coupled with your objectives will form the base of your community management strategy.
3. Hire the right team
The members of your community management team aren’t just your employees. They are part of the community, together with you, your customers and other followers. Apart from having the necessary skills, they should have a genuine passion for making meaningful connections.
They need to have a clear understanding of the brand message and the ability to communicate it in a way that resonates with the audience. The roles and responsibilities of this team include but are not limited to:
- Project management
- Content creation
- Social media
- Content moderation
4. Create guidelines
Every member of your community management team is your brand ambassador. They should be able to represent your brand in the best possible way while interacting with a diverse range of people.
Create a document that clearly defines the scope of work for every role and lays down the best practices for communication and behavior to keep discrepancies and friction to a minimum. Ensure that every member has access to this document, not just your in-house team but also external contributors.
Revisit these guidelines regularly to update them based on any new developments within your community.
5. Create a strategy
Depending upon your objectives, target audience, budget and the skills of your team, you can now determine what would be the best way to build a wholesome community.
Use social media
When it comes to connecting with people via social media, there is no dearth of channels, from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube. However, instead of trying to be vaguely present everywhere, you should narrow down your choice to only a few channels where your audience is the most active.
For instance, Facebook has by far the most demographically diverse users, but if you wish to create a community geared towards professionals, LinkedIn may be a better option for you.
Next, come up with meaningful content pegs and buckets that resonate with your audience. You can also research some of the brands that they are already following and see what further value you can add to their social media experience.
Determine when your audience is the most active so that you can schedule your posts accordingly for maximum engagement.
The key to creating a thriving community on social media is to post regularly (and at the right times) and respond to people as often as possible. Be open to sharing content posted by other members on your page.
Create a website or landing page
Giving your community its dedicated website makes sense if your community management strategy spans multiple initiatives. For instance, if you have a blog where you post in-house as well as user-generated content, a discussion forum, regular campaigns, and contests, you can host all of it on a microsite separate from your primary website.
You can use this microsite to create the perfect community vibe, where people can share and converse freely about topics of mutual interest, even provide tips on using your products and solve problems.
When conceptualizing your community website, make sure you pick a domain name that resonates with the idea of a community rather than a transactional space but also can be linked with your brand.
For instance, if you are a clothing company with an official website such we www.brandname.store, your community website could be www.brandname.online or www.brandname.site, or something else depending upon the nature of your community.
Appoint brand advocates
Happy and loyal customers are your biggest brand advocates and can help you grow your community through referrals and recommendations. Start by finding your most active customers, not just those who do business with you often but also those who are active on social media.
Reach out to them to encourage them to become your brand advocates by inviting more people to join your community. You can incentivize the association with perks such as membership discounts, free samples of new products, premium content, social visibility, and free entry to exclusive events or meetups.
Not only will you gain more followers and members but you will also strengthen your relationship with these loyal customers.
6. Measure your success
Measuring the impact of your community-building efforts along predetermined parameters will tell you:
- How your community has responded,
- How much it has engaged,
- If the engagement was up to your level of satisfaction,
- What changes are needed in your strategy and how you can plan for the future
Tools such as Google Analytics and Hubspot help you determine the efficacy of your efforts on websites such as forums and blogs, while social media channels have their in-built tools such as Facebook Analytics and Instagram Insights.
7. Foster an internal community
As mentioned earlier, your team is as integral a part of your community as your customers and other followers. It is important to foster among your employees, external team members, vendors, and other stakeholders a sense of belonging so that you can work together as one as opposed to working in silos.
This is especially crucial if your team works remotely or is spread across different locations. Internal community-building initiatives can include creating channels on apps like Flock, Asana, and Microsoft Teams based on mutual interests where people can talk about things other than work. You can also organize events at your workplaces, such as game nights, sports screenings, and movie nights.
By delivering exceptional products and services, you are creating customers. But by building a community, you are creating allies who understand you, who are loyal to you, and who will even advocate your business for you.