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You’ve put in the hard work and time to create a well-founded brand. These days, having a solid visual style isn’t the only necessity. Consumers now more than ever build trust in brands differently than in the past. Whereas before, we’d talk TO the audience, the audience now wants to talk WITH us. That’s why creating community around conversation has become crucial for success and should be addressed in your digital strategy plan. In today’s post, we will be exploring some key steps for creating this community.

Why Does Community Matter?

Besides becoming an extension of your brand, an online community can serve as an important practical function for your business. For example, your community may give you indirect or direct feedback on existing aspects of your company, giving you a better idea of where you stand. Along these same lines, you can also use your community as a built-in focus group, pitching new product ideas and gauging their reactions.

One other positive aspect of fostering a community for your brand is that public conversation, especially user-generated content, becomes invaluable for growing your brand awareness. In a study, Nielsen found that 83% of consumers either fully or mostly trust recommendations from their friends and family members. Having a community talking about you puts eyes on your brand and builds trust and awareness. Plus, it’s not necessarily work you directly have to do.

Overall, it’s proven that a trusted online community can help make your products more relevant, your content more engaging, and your business more profitable. The question that remains is, how do you get started?

1. Identify Your Goals/Motives

The first step in creating an online community is knowing what it is you wish to accomplish by making it. The main objective may be to create a group of people that will generate buzz about your brand online. That’s definitely important. Still, don’t be afraid to get a bit more specific and create actionable goals that you can quantify. Then you can begin growing the community in that direction. For example, you may be hoping to:

  • Increase customer engagement
  • Increase customer retention
  • Expand demand for a product or service
  • Create a collaborative location for conversation among customers

By carefully deciding what it is you want to accomplish, you can create a better plan for achieving your goals. Be sure to track these goals as time goes on to make sure you are staying on your timeline, or if you will need to adjust. This will ultimately create a better, more focused experience for your customers, as well.

2. Decide on Your Methods

Social media is one of the most common ways brands create an informal online community. These platforms are relatively easy to use and have the potential to be extremely popular among your target audience. Not to mention, they are totally free.

However, they also come with unique drawbacks. For example, social media platforms are ultimately owned by large corporations that dictate their platform’s functionality. One poor usability or policy change could potentially put your content and community at risk.

There are other options available. You could create an owned community on your website, such as a forum. This can be useful because it puts you in full control of the content and how it is presented. When you own the community space, you determine the tone, pace of updates, and also build more direct brand strength because users are in your space, not another provider’s.

The drawback with this tactic is that it may take some time to build a following on this platform you’ve built from scratch. Gaining users and followers will take some effort on your part, as well as getting people to actually engage. You also become responsible for managing and securing another website.

3. Manage and Maintain

No matter which method you use, it will be necessary to decide who will be “in charge” of the community. If you are using social media as your community platform, this may be your social media manager or PR person.

It is important to have one designated person overseeing the community for a number of reasons. First, if customers are asking questions about the company, they are going to expect prompt and accurate responses (usually within a few hours). Second, if for any reason an internet troll enters the conversation, you would want someone capable to swiftly remove that person. Then, it’s a matter of clearing up any damage that may have been done.

These duties fall on top of any day-to-day updates, such as posting content and engaging users.

4. Launch Your Community (and take your time)

Once you have the basics sorted out, there’s nothing left to do but start building your online community. Encourage the public and your customers to engage with you by advertising this new platform, and possibly even rewarding customers that engage for a certain period of time or that make a certain number of posts.

Don’t be afraid to start with a soft launch by encouraging employees, friends, and family to be the first users. They can give you some initial feedback that can help work out any bugs before launch day.

Case in Point

DigitalOcean is a cloud services provider whose products help web developers deploy applications running on multiple computers. Over the years, they have worked to create a strong online community to strengthen their brand, support their content, and encourage new customers. They rely on community members to write articles, rewarding them with $300-$400 and matching this pay with a donation to a tech non-profit. They also allow their community to create tutorials and pitch ideas for projects and start-ups.

This supportive, creative atmosphere allows customers to be directly involved with DigitalOcean’s products and goals. Not only does it help foster a stronger brand, it also creates a greater sense of trust among new and old customers, and has helped the company grow exponentially since its founding in 2011.

While your own journey with creating an online community will be personalized to your business’s needs, you can use these steps as a guide while working through it. This community will do a lot to set the tone for your customers’ views of your brand, so it is important to be diligent about monitoring it and anticipating any potential problems. Having but failing to work on a community around your service may be worse than not having one in the first place, so don’t neglect the responsibilities that come with nurturing it.