Community Building is a service to your customer. It’s a value to your customer. The benefits of joining an online community for your customer are great.
They get helpful customer service, a group of like-minded people to chat with, and, direct contact with you.
These are all excellent reasons for starting a community. Any time you can add more value for your audience, you should. But always remember that there is as much value in that community for YOU as there is for them.
You’ve created your business to help improve the lives of your audience. We know that the only thing that people really ever buy is some type of improvement.
Whether it’s a new sweater to wear to the office Christmas party that will make them feel amazing or a digital course on how to grow a garden of vegetables that will help them feel more self sufficient, it’s always really just one thing.
A step in the right direction toward whatever goal it is they wish to acheive.
Your successful online community is going to help your audience to improve and it’s going to help you find new ways to that you can help the achieve their goals.
There is a lot of work and time and energy that goes into building and maintaining a successful online community. It can be easy to feel discouraged by that.
But if you build a well-engaged community, based around the values that are important to your business, then the insight you gain and relationships you build from that community will be a valuable asset to your business.
Let’s talk first about what online Community Building is for your business.
What Is Community Building for Your Business?
Whatever type of online business you have, there are different levels of interaction that you have with your audience.
- You talk to them (either in a blog post, YouTube video, email, etc)
- They talk back to you (in emails or direct messages)
- They talk to you and to others (this happens in the comments section of your blog or social media or on your community platform if you have a separate one.
Once you enter into level 2 or 3, where there is some back and forth, you are building engagement with your audience and that is community building.
The most beneficial for the community overall is going to be the third one where there are conversations and discussions happening with multiple people involved because that’s when your message really spreads and it’s when your audience starts to reveal some of the questions you might not have realized they had.
It’s also often where things “click” for your audience. They’ve consumed your content, whether it’s a course or a post or an email or a video, but hearing it in a different way and seeing how others have implemented it will often lead to that light bulb moment.
Level 2, where your audience is responding directly to you, is not really community building yet, but it is a good indicator when you start to see this happening consistently, that it’s time to consider some ideas for community building.
Why Is Community Building Important for Your Business?
At Pocket Business we teach you the Pocket Business Framework.
- Get them to notice you.
- Get them to pay attention to you.
- Get them to trust you.
- Convert that trust into money.
You online community building is going to help with the most important and most difficult of those steps, “Get them to trust you”.
Gaining someone’s trust in the online world is no easy feat. We are naturally skeptical of anything we come across that we can’t really see or interact with. Having a strong online community combats that skepticism.
When you are showing up consistently every day in your community, helping to solve the problems that your audience is encountering and demonstrating the values that are important to your business, you will build trust with your audience.
When you have gained that trust, when people see the value that you provide and the consistent way that you provide service to them, they will feel far more comfortable purchasing (or purchasing again) from you.
We also teach you in Pocket Business to start with figuring out who your Hero is. You can read all about the Hero in the Pocket Business Handbook, but your Hero is a your ultimate customer. Your job is to figure out all of their problems and emotions.
One of the great benefits of online community for business is that you get to see the real life version of that Hero that you have created and are trying to help.
It’s not that you build a community to validate the Hero that you built, it’s that interacting with the Hero in the community is going to show more ways that you can help him.
There will be problems and emotions that are revealed that you didn’t anticipate.
You’ll also get to see places where your content might need to be beefed up. You’ll see opportunities for new products.
If you see the same question about the same topic coming up over and over again, then you know it’s time to add some content around that topic or fix up what you already have.
How Do You Start a Community?
When you start to think about community building with your audience, the first question you want to consider is “Am I ready for this?”
I mean, you, as an individual and I also mean, you, as a business.
Building and maintaining a community does take time and energy and as Community Manager at Odd Noodle, I was often asked, “Don’t you ever sleep?!” because of how available I am to answer questions.
And of course I slept and ate and did lots of other non-community related things. So while it might sometimes seem like managing a community is a 24/7 job, it’s not. Except, it also kind of is.
The expectation I set for our community is that every question/comment gets a timely response. I don’t turn the community off at 5pm on Friday and turn it back on again on Monday. But I also don’t spend 8 hours straight, staring at the screen waiting for a question or comment.
There are online community tools that can help manage the amount of time you spend actually in the community.
So, while you don’t have to assume that you will be tied 24/7 to the community, you do need to set up an expectation for when you are available and how quickly responses should be expected.
If you’re ready, then it’s time to decide if your business is ready. You can ask yourself a couple of questions.
Would an online community benefit your audience? If your audience is going to be more successful in how they are trying to improve themselves because there is an online community available to them, then the answer to this is almost always yes.
Would my audience engage, with some encouragement, in an online community? This one you can usually tell by whether or not you’re getting email responses and/or comments on the content you are already creating.
If the answer to those is yes, then it’s up to you to bring some serious value and engagement opportunities to the community platform.
Once you’ve decided to start the community, it’s time to think about an engagement plan. We’ll talk about specific things that can work, but the plan should start with looking at your Hero and refreshing yourself on all of their problems and emotions.
- What is important to them?
- What do they like to talk about?
- What are the things they would love to fix?
- What have they already figured out and would love to share with others?
These are the types of topics you want to form your engagement plan around.
At this point it’s important to start to think about the values you want to emulate in your community. This will be dependent on your topic. For instance, a blog on zero waste living is probably going to have “sustainable living” as a value. In our community of bloggers and business owners, “perseverance” is an important value.
Knowing the values that are important to your audience (and also some of the negative “values” that won’t be tolerated) is very important. You want to project the positive values and make sure to curb any of the negatives that might pop up.
Now you’re ready to select your community platform and tools. For community platforms we like:
When choosing your platform, consider the features and price that will work well for you. Slack as a community platform is my favorite. I like the conversational, chat style that Slack offers, but Circle and Discourse are slower paced and less overwhelming, offering the opportunity for more thoughtful, long form discussion.
Once you’ve got your engagement plan and you’ve selected your platform, it’s time to launch this community.
You want to treat this as you would a sales sequence. Look at the benefits of joining a community for your audience and write a series of emails and social media posts about them.
Whether your community is free or paid, people are going to think about “what’s in it for me” regardless. You have to clearly express where the benefits are.
And finally, make sure your platform is populated with some engaging, welcoming, thought provoking content for your audience when they do arrive. The last thing you want is people showing up to an empty community!
Ideas for Creating Engagement In Your Community
Building and mantaining engagement is the most difficult thing that you will need to do as you manage your community. Communities are constantly in flux with people joining, lurking, participating and even leaving, so engagement is something that you have to always work to keep strong.
Here are some ways to build engagement in your community.
- Start a community newsletter that goes to your entire audience that keeps them up to date on what is happening in the community. It’s a great reminder for people to go check out what’s happening and participate.
- Write a welcome email for new members. Let them know what to expect and encourage them to post an introductory message.
- Start an accountability group (or groups). Accountability is one of the keys to achieving your goals and forming groups for accountability is a great way to build engagement.
- Plan daily content. This is very important, especially in the beginning when your members may be nervous about starting their own topic.
- Do some live community building. Plan a Zoom meeting for an Ask Me Anything or deliver a workshop for the community. These events create excitement and enthusiasm
- Poll your audience periodically. It’s an easy way to get feedback on how they are doing and you might get some ideas you hadn’t thought of for things to add to the community.