If there’s a business online but no one talks about it, can it still be successful? Probably not. Community building isn’t optional anymore.
There are two priceless assets you need for a business to succeed online. Trust, and attention. You need an audience that trusts you, whether that’s believing in the quality of your product or embracing the values of your brand and service. It isn’t something you can fake – at least, not for long. The value of this trust is why everyone talks about being ‘authentic’. Because the other asset is attention. Break trust, and you lose attention. And without attention, you can’t even build the trust back up again. (Although you’ll have seen apology PR campaigns that attempt to do just that.)
Being online means that yes, there is more competition in terms of sheer numbers. This means that as well as unique traits like exclusive designs, amazing services, great value for money, and other USPs, you can stand out in other ways. By sharing your values. Through purpose-driven campaigns. By building a relationship with your audience that goes beyond the transactional.
That’s where community comes in.
What is Community?
Forget quantity. Community is all about quality. And it’s not just about businesses and their audiences. Anyone can build a community around something that matters to them or interests them. You’re probably in groups or other communities yourself. But when it comes to business, community is also a concept. It’s a group of people aligned by interests and attitude. Take Apple fans, for example: people who eagerly await for product announcements and watch them live, queue to see a new product in store, rave about the latest features, recommend it to friends, and embrace the product not just as an object but as a lifestyle.
A community can literally be a group, too. Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, and other platforms like Telegram offer literal community services where people can come together around a common interest. We’ve talked about what online community management involves if you’re looking for more practical information on having a group like this for your business.
How to Build Community
Just like company culture, if you don’t set out to do something deliberately there will just be an ‘accidental’ form of it instead. ‘Accidental’ community can happen. But it’s best when it’s encouraged.
One of the biggest needs of a community is the give-and-take concept. Just like a good friendship, there should be balance. People want to feel like they are giving and receiving. As a business, you can encourage a healthy community in a few ways:
- Clearly establish your brand values and communicate them, so your fans are built up by people who have the same views. These are core principles that should guide your business, so make sure it’s not just on a whim.
- Create opportunity for two-way conversations between you and your audience. Respond and engage on social media, and start conversations yourself about the things your business cares about. (You don’t want to be the friend that only hangs out when someone ELSE arranges it, right?)
- Demonstrate that you’re taking feedback on board. For example, as public awareness has grown, I’m sure you can name at least one business that has cut back on their plastic use and consumption.
With clear values, the basics of management in place, and an active fanbase you can look into creating a literal group of people. This could be, for example, a Facebook group based around something that matters to your business.
Or you could even create a private community on your own platform. Some businesses even turn this into a product – particularly if it’s educational.
For example, an interior designer could create a group for people to share their inspiration, tips, favourite products, get recommendations and more. They receive professional advice and tips, benefit from the moderators, and appreciate the designer’s expertise. Guess who they’ll keep in mind when they’re ready for professional services?
How Community Building Benefits Business
The benefits of building a community online are very similar to the benefits of social media marketing. The clue is in the ‘social’ aspect. The social media metrics that matter are all about community building, engagement, and involvement.
But why should a business actively build community? Here are a few reasons:
- You’ll be able to understand your audience in-depth. It used to be straightforward: your customer would see you, face-to-face, and if they didn’t like something they would tell you. The grapevine in town was pretty common knowledge, too. Now, with review sites, private chats, and a global audience it’s hard to know exactly what people are saying unless you’re actively involved in the conversation.
- By building a relationship, you can get constructive feedback. People won’t see you as a faceless business, they’ll respect you as a person. And when it comes to genuine, constructive feedback you’ll want it from your core community first. Is the packaging awkward? Do they hate the new recipe? What frustrates them about the industry you work in? How can you serve them better?
- With enough momentum, you can create real change. Particularly if you align a community around a certain cause. This can be a gamechanger for an entire industry
- By aligning an audience around something deeper than just your product or service, they are much more likely to evolve with your business. If you don’t want to personally grow your range of products or services, this still opens up a huge opportunity for affiliate relationships or business partnerships.
- You’ll find new opportunities (new products, services, et cetera). As Facebook’s research puts it, community increases creativity.
- It’s essential for organic reach on your social media platforms, as your audience will already be engaged with your content. (This makes the algorithms happy.)
- It’s ‘lead generation’ in its most natural form.
All of these things work together to increase your ROI, influence, and flexibility as a business. And speaking of influence…
Community is Influencer Marketing at Scale
Have you ever looked into influencer marketing? It works, because of the community involved. The influencer’s community trusts them, pays attention to them, and engages with their content. You are tapping into the community-building work of someone else.
And like we said during our live Q&A (check out the Q&A highlights here), everyone is an influencer. When you think of Apple fans as an example, what you’re observing are the exact behaviours companies might hire a brand ambassador for. Except, genuine fans do it because they are committed to the brand. Effective brand ambassador and influencer marketing relationships should be built on the basis of a genuine appreciation and relationship between the person and the product.
So if you’re community building, it’s also where you could find your best influencer collaborations and brand ambassadors.
So again, you can’t fake it. At least not for long. The days of fake celebrity endorsement and paid actors reading ‘reviews’ from a script are coming to an end: people want the real thing.
And the real thing is really good for business.