Launching an online community may seem like an overwhelming task, but could be one of the most essential investments your company will make. With planning and a clear vision, you’ll be on the right track for a successful launch.
How to get started building an online community:
- Know your purpose, goals and objectives. Starting from scratch? Decide who your community is for and lay out your goals for what you want your community to become, but be willing and prepared to adapt based on your community’s needs and desires.
- Research your target audience. Find out what social media sites your target audience uses frequently and start there. Look at what your potential members do in their spare time and what they value.
- Research your competition. Spend time researching your rival’s community. What will make your community different?
- Know your focus. What will be the ultimate focus of your community?
- Create a content calendar. Plan at least one week of content before launching. Establish engagement opportunities.
- Begin with a soft launch. Start with an internal soft-launch or public soft-launch to a select audience to get feedback on your community.
- Monitor. After launching, make sure you keep track of what’s working and what is not.
- Adjust and evolve. Be open to making adjustments and refining your community. Keep evolving to meet your community’s needs. Expect trial and error.
- Promote your community. Start conversations with people within your community and encourage them to invite others to the community. Invite your contacts and partner with influencers.
Creating an online community and attracting new customers is only half the battle. Keeping them also requires work. Online communities succeed because of the quality of the relationships. Don’t focus so much on getting more likes, shares and comments that you lose sight of the true purpose of a community. If metrics and marketing become your primary focus over value for members, you’ll miss out on the personal connections and relationships that are the foundation of a strong online community.
How to maintain and keep communities engaged:
- Be consistent. How often are you posting? Do you post every day for a week, then disappear for two weeks? It’s important to be consistent with posting to your followers to remind them of your brand. Make sure you have a designated person to monitor comments and respond to any feedback in a timely manner. If you wait too long to respond, a week or even just a few days, they may lose interest or confidence in your brand.
- Be present. Always engage with your followers. Actively listen to what they are talking about and share content on relevant topics your community cares about.
- Listen and take action. In order to win members over as brand supporters, you must value and take into consideration what they say. Show them you are a real person behind the screen! When listening, you can see trends, gain feedback and insight on what you are doing as a company, and then make adjustments. You should be listening as much as you are sharing content. If they feel their opinion is valued, they will feel they have a say in what goes on with your brand.
- Create fresh and visually engaging content that’s designed to be shared. Regularly creating fresh content is crucial when climbing up the search engine rankings. Good content is shared by your community, which in turn gives your company more brand awareness. Focus on visual content — it’s more successful. Visuals increase comprehension and retention.
- Acknowledge participation. Members of your communities are not passive recipients. They are distributors and sources of content. They share, comment and engagement with your content. Acknowledge readers as more than an audience. They are contributors.
- Competitive advantage. Take the time to figure out how you are different from your competitors. Use what you learn to create value to your customers.
- Be Transparent. Being honest and authentic with your customers will build trust and create loyal supporters. Building that trust will result in customers being open to providing feedback. The more transparent you are, the deeper the customer relationship. If you are honest and provide authentic engagement, your customers will do the same.
Creating and maintaining an online community takes effort on a daily basis. Developing a community involves engaging in meaningful conversations, becoming a resource for your customers’ needs and creating a space where people can share varied opinions and find inspiration. Not only will they interact with you, but they will speak positively about your brand to others. What others say about a company is often more valuable to someone than what a company says about itself. This will in turn expand your community and brand awareness.