by Jayson DeMers

Strong relationships and customer loyalty are
essential for laying down a solid foundation for any business. They not only
create stability, but are important for future growth. They’re also helpful for
claiming your piece of the pie within your industry. One of the most effective
ways to develop relationships and gain loyalty is to build an online community.
Here are some of the primary advantages of this strategy and the steps to take
to build an online community around your business.

You’re
Not at Google’s Mercy

As many business owners have found out in recent
times, Google updates their algorithm fairly frequently. Panda, Penguin and
Penguin 2.0 have caused plenty of chaos and many businesses have experienced a
drop in search engine rankings. While it’s smart and necessary to be SEO
conscious, problems can arise by continually doing the next big thing. However,
establishing a community can act as a shield in an uncertain SEO world. No
matter what Google throws at webmasters, a community will be able to sustain
itself and maintain a steady supply of traffic.

Increased
Authority

When a potential customer is considering which business
to purchase from, they’ll typically choose the one that seems the most
trustworthy. Making consumers feel comfortable with your business is the key to
outshining competitors and making conversions. Nothing can make you appear more
trustworthy than a large group of followers interacting and acknowledging your
legitimacy. According to The
Australian Psychological Society
, 78 percent of people trust
information from their peers as opposed to only 17 percent that trust
information from corporate or product advertising. That’s why establishing a
community should ensure a steady stream of repeat customers, while making it
easier to branch out and acquire even more customers.

Boost
Brand Equity

Besides this, it can help to differentiate your
business from competitors and increase your inherent worth in the eyes of
consumers. Simply selling products or services is one thing, but creating a
brand can do much more. It gives a business a unique personality that makes consumers
form a bond with the business entity, increasing brand loyalty and giving
customers incentive to stay updated on recent news. When faced with the choice
of buying from a trusted brand or a faceless business with no personality, the
majority of consumers will go with the established brand.  

With that being said, here are some tips for
building your own online community around your business:

Focus
on Your Audience

Being successful requires you to base your approach
with the audience’s interests in mind. After all, a community is about all of
the members as a collective whole and not one individual. This can be
accomplished by publishing valuable content, and plenty of it. Creating a
steady stream of in-depth blog posts about relevant topics is a great way to
get started.

Offering a free eBook or whitepaper is another idea.
Basically, the goal is to show people that you view them as valuable assets of
the community and not simply as dollar signs. While it’s obviously your goal to
promote your business and make sales, it shouldn’t come at the cost of being
intrusive or annoying. Being overtly salesy can be detrimental to your online
community-building campaign, so use discretion.

Be
the Expert

If you expect people to take you seriously and join your
community, you’ll have to prove your knowledge and define exactly what you
bring to the table. Being the go-to source for a particular topic and the
expert in your niche should encourage people to take you seriously. Expert
status can often be achieved by providing sound advice via channels like:

  • Company blog posts
  • Guest blog posts
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Slideshows
  • Podcasts

Once you develop a positive reputation and some credibility,
more and more people will want to become part of the online community.

Encourage
Interaction

For a community to thrive, it requires plenty of
communication from its members. That’s why it should be your prerogative to get
customers, readers, followers, etc., to interact as much as possible. There are
a few ways to do this. 

  • Create insightful blog posts that delve into your industry and discuss relevant topics. Be sure to also ask questions that require input to get the conversation going.
  • Add a forum where your audience can post and respond to relevant threads.&nbsp
  • Start an email newsletter where subscribers receive exclusive information.
  • Place a contact box on your website where people can offer feedback
  • Begin an email outreach program, and encourage responses to your email newsletters. Be sure to A/B split test in order to determine the optimal tone, style, subject line, and format for maximizing response rates and open rates.

Although the initial stages are sometimes slow
going, building an online community has an accumulative affect where progress
speeds up over time. Typically, the most difficult part is getting the ball
rolling. Once you gain some momentum, it gets easier to bring more members on board.

Be Responsive

To create loyalty and rapport with your target
audience, it’s important to show your appreciation for their involvement. Otherwise,
the number of members within the online community is likely to wane over time.
Being responsive isn’t rocket science; it simply involves taking the time to
put forth the necessary effort.

For starters, it’s important to promptly respond to
all questions and inquiries you receive. Whether it’s after a blog post, email
or a contact box, always respond within one business day. If you’re unable to
respond to all questions and inquiries, assign this task to another employee or
team member. In the event that the community becomes large, you’ll likely need
to hire a community manager. That’s when you know you’ve struck gold.

Whenever a discussion is started following a blog or
social media post, chime in and contribute. This should enhance the reach of your
content even further and show your audience that you’re paying attention and
genuinely care about their input. Over a period of time, audience members will
get to know you and each other, and a community of like-minded individuals will
be born.

If you notice that a particular person is constantly
participating and contributing, you may even want to contact them directly to
thank them for their input. Often, this simple act can really make someone feel
appreciated and solidify their loyalty for years to come.

Get Social

Creating a network through social media sites is yet
another way to maximize your influence and connect with the right demographic.
Since the very purpose of social media is to encourage communication and
sharing, it’s the perfect medium for building an online community. According to
Mashable,
the average American spends nearly 7 hours a month on social networking sites.
With users discussing and sharing content about nearly any niche you can think
of, sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are ideal resources for growing
a community. Tracking and analyzing your social media campaigns
is crucial to ensuring success of your campaign as well. Business intelligence
systems are sprouting up that can support these efforts
thoroughly. Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, free or inexpensive software
programs like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, and and SproutSocial are great candidates
for a start.

Additionally, just like on a website or blog, quality content is crucial, so a whole-hearted effort is important for achieving results. Unlike a website or blog where you’re expected to primarily create unique content, it’s perfectly fine to curate content on
social media sites. For example, retweeting on Twitter or reblogging on Tumblr
is common and encouraged as long as you’re providing value for your readers.
You’re actually helping others out by doing so, which can lead to further
networking opportunities. Due to the inherent ease of sharing, social media can
accelerate the growth of a community and maximize exposure.

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How to Build an Online Community Around Your Business

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