Creating an online community has huge benefits for all businesses, but it’s something that many business owners underestimate. Having customers is great, but when you turn those customers into a community, you get a huge competitive advantage.
It drives engagement and people will discuss your products online and effectively do a lot of your marketing for you. Being part of a community also drastically increases brand loyalty because people feel a much stronger connection to the business. Consider a company like Apple, for example. The people that buy their products often stick to only Apple products and feel strongly that they are far superior to anything else. They are part of a community and the brand is a big part of their identity. That’s much stronger than any marketing campaign you could ever hope to run.
But how do you build that community in the first place? Hopefully, you already have customers, but you need to connect them and bridge that gap so they become something more. These are the best ways to turn customers into a community to give your business a competitive advantage.
Give Them A Space To Connect
If you want to encourage your customers to connect with one another, you need to give them a space to do that. Social media pages are great because they are easily accessible and all you need to do is make a page and a lot of people will find it. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn, just think about which platform is best suited to your target audience. Everybody is already on these platforms, so it’s easy to get the ball rolling. People can start posting content and interacting straight away, so you have the beginnings of a community in no time.
However, creating your own platform is the best way to take things to the next level. You have complete control over everything that gets posted and you can build a really strong sense of community. It feels more exclusive if you have an app to control your own community and you can offer more great features like a dedicated chat channel, for example. Building the space for your community to thrive is the first, and one of the most important steps.
Allow People To Engage In Whatever Way They Choose…
People will want to engage with your community in different ways and you have to allow that. Some might like to read content without giving their input, some might comment and share, while others will be very active at creating content and leading the conversation. The biggest mistake businesses make is trying to interfere too much and control the way that the community develops. You need to give everyone the freedom to engage with your community in whatever way they choose.
In some cases, you might find that a small group of people take control and run the show, which is great if they have a passion for the business. You can let them do things the way that they want to as long as the community is still thriving. In fact, letting people guide the way things are done gives you more insight into what your customers want.
…But Moderate The Space To Keep It Safe
That said, it’s vital that you moderate the space. The internet can be a very toxic place and that’s never going to change, so you have to keep the community safe. It’s important to put clear conduct rules in place for your community to prevent any offensive or off-topic posts. You should also keep an eye on things for spammers and trolls.
You don’t own this space; your customers do. That’s why it’s important to collaborate with them and make their input really count. When moderating content, you can defer to your audience, in some cases. Just make sure that you are keeping the space safe for everybody because if it becomes a toxic community, this damages your online reputation and you may start losing customers. Take a zero-tolerance approach to offensive content and make that clear from the start.
Give People A Reward For Engaging With The Community
One of the best ways to turn customers into a community is to introduce rewards for engaging with the community. At first, you can do simple things like offering discounts and other incentives to active members of your community. You should also post exclusive content that is only available to your community. Once you start building up momentum and find that you have really loyal followers, then it’s time to think about bigger reward schemes such as VIP benefits or exclusive offers.
Every plan has its own benefits; The more engaged someone is with your community, the better the rewards should be. The downside of this approach is that some people might see it as bribery and question why certain people get rewarded over others. However, if done correctly, you can make people feel part of something special and encourage them to become very loyal customers.
Listen To Your Community
Another way to turn your customers into a community is to listen to them. There are two ways you can go about this. Firstly, you need to listen to information that will help you improve your business. If large sections of the community are complaining about a certain product feature, for example, you need to make a change.
Secondly, listening means keeping an open dialogue with people so they feel listened to even if they have something negative to say. Open conversations are important because it makes people feel part of a community, rather than a customer in a purely transactional relationship with a business. Companies that ignore their communities are missing a huge opportunity to build brand loyalty and create better products and services.
Creating a strong community around your business is the most effective way to develop powerful brand loyalty, get your customers to do some of your marketing for you, and gain useful insights to improve your business. Use these methods and you can foster an amazing community that helps drive your business forward.