Short Guide: How to Build an Online Customer Community

We’ve previously covered how to transition your business from offline to online. Steps included finding a proper domain name and extension, hosting plan, SSL certificates and appropriate business email addresses. Today, we’re covering how to build and online customer community for your business.

Background Story

It’s clear that search engine optimization is not enough to build an audience for your website. Rather, it has become ineffective and a financial burden for small businesses who cannot afford costly long term strategies. In the light of too many businesses optimizing their message towards search engines, and ignoring the human factor, new concepts have been seeing daylight: online community, social listening, social sentiment (aggregated social media measurement that shows how companies perform in the eyes of their consumers).

How to Build an Online Customer Community

Recent trends have pushed companies towards the idea of community. And it was about time! Community, social listening and social sentiment are all interlinked and complementary to a strategy worthy of 2016.

Businesses and groups work extremely well on the foundation of “community inside a community”, one example being the CMX Hub and their ever-growing Facebook community. Now, how can you build your own online community and eventually sell to it?

Step 1. Take a Look inside Your Garden of Connections

That’s right: look into your connection pool. Who do you know? Who has influence? Who has an existing online community? Find out, connect, reconnect and learn more about their connections. A great way to understand a business is to understand its audience and customers. Do they have user engagement on their social media pages and blogs? How do they do it? Don’t be afraid to ask. Learn from other examples, and ask other leaders to support and recommend you.

Not Sure About Your Own Connections? Build New Ones

Join in group discussions, events, other communities and ask for guidance. The best way when asking for help is to pose a scenario. Here’s an idea/way to connect with people. Early in 2015, I wanted to expand/connect with CMX hub members, so I posted this message:

“To everyone: I want to add some more cool people to follow on Twitter. Who’s there, please give me a shout. I’ve already connected with some of you, but the more the merrier.

p.s. I’m @roxanasoi on Twitter (just so you know who is stalking you)”

Result? 36 new connections on Twitter.

Step 2. The Three V’s: Vision. Voice. Value

Ain’t no sunshine without the three V’s when you’re building an online community. Especially if an ultimate goal is to sell products or services or both to the members.

People need to know who you are and what you do, as well as what you are planning. Your vision should incorporate elements from the past, the present and the future. Make it short, concise, crystal clear. Align it with the avatar of your ideal community member. Wear the community’s shoes: what would make you be part of a cause? What makes you excited and eager to be part of a group? One simple call to action – that’s what vision is in the eyes of community.

Voice, or commonly referred to as message is an important element. Your voice reflects the impact you have on your audience. That is why communication with your community should be transparent, warm, positive, and aimed towards growth and excellence. If the way you communicate with people is not full of life, excitement, and most importantly, human, forget about building a long-term connections with your members.

You can’t have one without the other. That is why value is crucial. Less talk, more action. Meaning, what is it in for the community? Especially when you are selling a product or service, make sure you explain the value. How would your offerings upgrade the lives of your members? Why would it make a difference? Any other costs involved? IF so, how would your service/product reduce them? Snuck in the offer some extra benefits and make it a deal they simple can’t refuse, not because they are forced to, but because it is in honest truth valuable to the community.

Step 3. Blog + Social Media Channel

Now, it isn’t enough to connect with other thought leaders and strategize your ideal community members. You need an actual place to start from, that will help you attract new members, as well as already existing members.

How do you attract pioneers, early adopters and eventually, the masses? The answer is a blog and a dedicated social media channel. Let me provide the details below.

Building a Blog and a Social Media Group in 2016

Wondering how to start a blog in 2016? There are 6 major points to take into account:

  1. Blogging Niche
  2. Blogging Platform
  3. Domain Name
  4. Powerful Hosting and SSL Certifications
  5. WordPress Installation and Plugins
  6. Content Strategy

First off, spend some money to make some money. This means, don’t go for free platforms. Rather, go for dedicated premium products. A domain and hosting can cost as little as $100 for one year. WordPress themes, responsive and user friendly start as low as $50. Plugins are freemium. Content strategy costs time and research, so it’s your call as to how much you spend.

The idea is to give your community a proper environment to learn, acquire new skills, exchange, read, watch, interact, subscribe. Think about what social media platform you enjoy most, and where you get great engagement. Then, think about where your audience lives. Is it Twitter? Then, create a Twitter chat and hold it on a regular basis. Facebook? Go for a Facebook group. LinkedIn? A LinkedIn page and group might just be the answer. Instagram? Combine personal with business account. Business accounts benefit from analytics and “stories” – very cool for engaging people.

Create and use a hashtag on a regular basis to simplify ideas exchanges and interactions. Use debates to encourage conversation. Share not only your products and services, which are by definition promotional, but additional resources, tips and information that will improve your community’s lifecycle.

Encourage the members’ corner, or featured member weekly practice, where members are introduced and featured based on excellence, innovation, impact on community, problem solving abilities and more.

Bottom Line…

You might think that this isn’t any different from building a regular community. In truth, it shouldn’t be. No matter the ulterior motif you have, the dedication and involvement should be the same when it comes to your community. The idea of selling products or services to your members is basically an On/Off button. But valuable engaged communities are rare to find and hard to keep alive, so channel all energies and resources in that direction.


Image via Flickr

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