Building online community is one of the best possible ways to categorize your target audience from the huge internet population that the social media has now opened you up to. It is a common knowledge for entrepreneurs to ensure that their customers ultimately become product evangelists and this does not happen overnight when you are constantly trying to push something to them.
When does a customer become an evangelist? It is only when they feel that they are a part of your community and your products are directly addressed to solve their problem. In most cases, the difference becomes simpler when your interaction becomes two-way rather than you dictating a list of product advantages to the customer.
Before Building Online Community
Before you set to building your online community, it is essential to understand your user problems, because ultimately that is the entire essence being a part of a community. Check for similar groups in other social media, that cater to your target audience and list out reasons why or how your community is going to be better in comparison to the existing one.
Before building your online community, try to answer these questions.
- Why you are creating the online community?
- Who is your target audience?
- What problems are you trying to solve?
- Are there any existing groups dealing with similar topics?
- How long can you spend on community development?
- What is going to be your value addition?
Once you realize that your basics are resolved and you are personally satisfied with the responses, start inviting the initial set of community members whom you might have known even offline.
Once you invite the basic members and have a very friendly rapport with them, you will slowly realize that your online community has slowly grown organically without you having the need to invite more members.
It is because, at this point, your first few members who were directly interacting with you would automatically realize the effect of the community on them and invite others to share the same experience with them.
This is exactly how most leaders are formed, they share their knowledge to their initial set of followers and this in-turn will create a ripple effect and will soon amass a large following for their deeds.
As you grow your initial set of members will start resolving new members’ queries giving you more time to strategizing and scaling the community across specific niche topics in your domain.
Again as stated, the next step in the early stages of community development is interacting with your early audience. One interesting way of responding to your community would be through content.
Ask them relevant questions, try answering them or help them connect with someone who can actually answer them. You can later incorporate these responses and add their suggestions to your content which would ultimately result in them sharing your content instead of you spamming people to share your contents.
As Canva’s Head of Social Strategy had once advised, “Community building is to be giving, supportive and helpful without the expectation of a return. I feel if you are kind and giving that people will remember it and do the same for you when the time comes. Respect and reciprocation are earned bonuses from your community.”
It is essential to realize that the success of a community does not depend on the size of a community, but rather on the number of meaningful conversations and problems resolved within the group. Therefore, it is absolutely okay to grow your community slow in the initial stages to add value to every member.
There were many instances of online communities that scaled instantly and ultimately shut down because of lack of relevant activities in the group. What happens after a certain stage when there are no strict guidelines is that new members might start spamming the group with random posts.
Ensure that each post is not only approved by a moderator but also almost instantly because a post that is approved after 6 months might not have any impact on members contributing to the group.
One particular example of this is Reddit community, over the years many have successfully launched a huge community in subreddits with their strict guidelines. The ones who have managed to crack reddit moderator rules have grown their influence in the community.
Another arena where you can add value to your community members would be to invite influencers and thought leaders to the group at least once a month and encourage community participation with the guest through an AMA sessions.
Offline Community Development
Never forget the impact of offline personal interaction with an individual is much higher than online interaction. Your community is almost very similar to the team you have offline. You can organize small meetups at regular intervals to meet with some of your community members and interact with them on a personal level.
This will give them the impression that you truly care for them and they have very high regard for your brand from then. If you have enough bandwidth, you can also organize large conference once a year for your brand and then invite your community members for the same.
While many major brands do this, even early stage startups have realized the importance of offline community development since year one. There are meetups happening in companies during weekends or after office hours almost every month to engage with their fellow entrepreneurs or target audience to share the developments in the company also to get necessary feedback regarding the same.
During these meetups/conferences, you can invite other guest speakers in your industry much like the online community development activity and provide the platform them to interact with influencers. These offline events will also enable your community to understand your brand much better and then turn to become your evangelists in the future.
While much has been already said and discussed community development, it is important to remember that unlike marketing campaigns, community development activities don’t have any specific deadline. You need to carry out or allocate specific resources to keep up the community work as you scale and also ensure that it is about the community and not about the brand in particular.