Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Building a Thriving Online Community

We have all heard the saying “Your vibe attracts your tribe,” and know that an engaged social media community is key to online success, but how exactly do you go about building an online community? What does it mean to have a successfully engaged community?

For a brand, your community is the number one reason to join social media. Not only is your community made up of current and potential consumers, but it’s also where you will find both brand advocates and brand ambassadors – people that will help amplify your messages to their networks, so your reach is spread way beyond just that of your own. More and more, you can find studies that show that people trust recommendations from friends and family over brands, so these social media advocates are gold for companies.

An online community is simply a group of like-minded people, that have gathered together around a common interest, idea or goal. It builds as people find your content and your brand, and begin to engage with it. Engagement can take many forms, depending on the social media platform. It can be simply following you, or deepen to include engaging with you, sharing and promoting the content you put out, and talking about your brand both online and off.

Most importantly, you need to keep open two-way communication with your community. I am a huge advocate of treating online and offline relationships in exactly the same way. When you meet someone new in person, you introduce yourself and find out what you have in common, how you can relate to this person. You take an interest in them and find out what THEY are interested in. There is no difference when you meet people online that are members of your same community. If you are running the social media for your company, you aren’t above or outside any of the community members, you are one of them, the same as everyone else is.

Creating meaningful relationships online means you will be doing a lot of listening in the beginning. You want to find out what is important to the other members, what they want to know, and then you are better able to begin crafting and sharing content that provides value to your followers and fellow community members. Yes, your content will sometimes talk about your company and your product, but the focus needs to go far beyond that. You will be focusing more on the personal interactions, rather than broadcasting information or talking AT people. You will need to be able to respond to all comments and questions that come from members of the community, not shying away from anything negative they might bring up. In fact, sometimes negative feedback is the best way to learn and grow! At first your followers will be just that – people that have gathered because they heard about your brand, or want to learn more, but if you nurture each relationship, they will turn into loyal community members.

What’s next? How do you keep your community interested and engaged?

Here are some of the tips I have learned:

1.     High Quality Content: The most important tip I have learned is that is not ever about you. It’s about the community. You want to consistently provide the highest quality relevant content possible. Content varies. Sometimes it takes the form of a how-to, or it can be something inspirational that will resonate with your community members, or something written or shared to entertain them – the key is to listen and talk with people long enough to find out what they want to know, and then provide that to them in a unique way.

2.     Consistency: How often do you post? Do you disappear after posting an article, until the next one comes out? You want to build trust and let people see that you are someone to use as their go-to for information, so being consistent in your messaging and responses is important. Consistency goes beyond posting schedules. It means that all your messaging is the same, no matter who it comes from in the company. It means that you do what you say you are going to do and always follow through. You are credible and build trust through being who you portray yourself to be.

3.     Honestly Care About Your Community: What if suddenly everyone in your community jumped ship and went to follow a similar brand? You would have no company any longer. The people in your community are your brand’s life blood and if you look at them that way, it is easy to be grateful for each and every one of them. So let them know! Respond to each comment or post. Remember that people have millions of choices of what brands to support and they’ve chosen YOURS! We’re all busy, but they’ve taken the time to chat with YOU! Show people your gratitude. Maybe that means reposting a blog post they have written, or asking about their day when they’ve posted about having a tough time. Again, this is no different than how you would treat an in person relationship with a friend. Say thank you when someone shares a photo or a post. A simple acknowledgment can be makes someone’s entire day.

Remember that all relationships take time. There is no overnight success when it comes to building, nurturing and growing an online community. There are ebbs and flows and sometimes people leave. Prepare to work really hard at these relationships, but know that the time spent will be worth it.

What are some of your tips? Tweet me at @lucyrk78 and let me know!

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