Published October 4, 2022
Building a strong community is essential to growing a business. But why? And how can you go about it?
In this article, we’ll talk about:
Let’s start with the basics…
Reaching for the dictionary won’t help you much here. While a brand’s community is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” (at least the characteristic part), that definition misses the features that make brand communities distinctive .
The characteristic that connects members of a brand community is an investment in your brand that goes beyond what’s being sold to them. They have an interest in the brand or company itself, expressed through loyalty to its products, an active interest in its future development, advocating for the company and products, and regular discussion about it. These community members encourage and maintain each other’s enthusiasm and can act as ambassadors to the wider world.
Brand communities are usually connected through online spaces. They can be built on social media platforms but are at their most powerful when they exist within the company’s own territory, on its website, blog, or forums.
A community provides a core of dedicated clients who can be useful to a company in many ways.
Building a community allows a brand to connect with its customers on a deeper level.
Two-way interactions are increasingly replacing the one-way stream of advertising as the prime tool of marketing. They’re more satisfying for their targets and as a result are often more effective for the companies deploying them.
A community creates a space full of two-way interaction. There, the brand talks with its clients and they talk with one another. This makes clients feel valued by a brand, which in turn makes them value the brand more. It binds them in.
When a brand has a community, it means that its customers are more likely to be loyal and engaged. Brand loyalty is essential for any business and a community can help to create it.
A community can also become a support network for a company, one that provides information, marketing channels, and a secure commercial base.
But beyond this broad sense of bonding with clients, what benefits does a community bring?
There are many benefits to building a community for your business.
A community can help you build brand awareness. Some of this comes from the way that community members will talk positively about your brand, but it’s more fundamental than that. In social media marketing, the metrics are critical. Simply getting shares, likes, and eyeballs on your content can help it to spread further. A community and the engagement it brings can help hugely with this.
Once you have their attention, a community can help you to connect with potential clients. The conversations and content within your community help to draw the attention of these customers and to keep them paying attention. That lodges your business in their minds and gives you time to work on pitching products to them. It can be the beginning of a conversation that leads to sales.
This comes partly because your brand lies at the centre of interactions between community members. That centrality keeps attention on the brand and builds attachment.
It can also foster loyalty among your client base, loyalty you can build up by providing extra value to customers. Curated content, responses to queries, and the simple existence of an enjoyable community make your brand valuable to community members.
Certain sorts of communities can be particularly valuable to their clients. A community that exists away from social media, through a mailing list or the comments section of a website, can create a more comfortable environment for people to express themselves. Such a relatively sheltered space, free from the drive-by criticism and casual observation of places like Twitter, is one where people can better express themselves and feel a sense of belonging. That’s the sort of space that people increasingly crave. Building a community like that can make you an essential part of your clients’ lives.
But the value of a community isn’t limited to the attachment it creates. A community can provide valuable feedback about your products or services and help you troubleshoot issues. There, you can gather the opinions of clients, learn about any problems with your brand, and test responses to new products. Because it contains people who use your products, it can be very useful in finding out what works well, what’s broken, and what could be improved.
As well as understanding your business, you can use a community to help understand your clients. Within that community, they’ll discuss their own needs, interests, and behaviours, giving you valuable qualitative data on who you are working for and how you can better please that client base. You can then use this information to drive more business, through products and services built around your clients’ needs.
As well as improving existing products, a community can be a great way to generate new ideas. Considering a diverse set of viewpoints makes you a better innovator, as it gets you outside of your own assumptions and approaches. Community feedback means that you get opinions from a far wider group of people, beyond your own team. They’ll come up with ideas you would never have dreamed of, and while those might not all be useful, there will almost certainly be some gems.
If you’re looking to build a community for your business, you should keep a few things in mind.
Your community should have a clear purpose that aligns with your business. Without a purpose, your community will lack direction and eventually fizzle out.
When thinking about your purpose, consider what makes you unique and interesting to clients. What specific niche do you fill, how do you provide value to your clients, and how can you build a community around that? A company selling services to IT departments might build a community around tips and examples for coding. One selling eco-friendly clothing might focus on green lifestyles or environmental campaigning. Aim for something that’s specific enough to provide a distinctive focus but not so narrow that it will have limited appeal.
If you’re struggling to find a distinctive niche based purely on your product, or you’re looking for an extra boost, then embracing a social cause can increase your impact. Find something that’s meaningful to your employees, so that they’ll be passionate in talking about it to your community, and that is meaningful to your client base.
If you want people to stick around, you need to give them a reason to do so. For this, content is key. It gives members something to come to the community for, a source of value to justify their time spent there, and something to discuss with each other. It will keep your community alive and active.
Make sure to post interesting and engaging content that will encourage discussion and interaction. Educational content that your clients can use in their work or daily lives is ideal, but entertaining and thought-provoking content can serve just as well. The important thing is that it provides value.
Customise your content for your community. Match the style and content to the specific interests and communication style of your customer base. Include stories about team members and clients, to show a dynamic relationship between company and community, build clients’ attachment to your staff, and validate active community members.
This content should make it easy to access and be drawn into the community and its materials. If you have expert level content on relevant topics then also produce some that’s introductory, to draw new clients in. Use formats that are easy to digest and that hook people from the start, so that visitors will be drawn into the community. Highlight the most valuable and engaging content at the point where new people enter the community, such as a front page or pinned post, to maximise the chances of engagement.
Content that’s useful, customised, and accessible will give participants a strong reason to be part of your community.
You can't just sit back and expect people to find your community on their own; you need to actively promote it to your target audience. Share connections to your community in your emails and social media. Explain the benefits to new clients and encourage them to sign up. If your community is based on a social media site then cross-post to other relevant groups and highlight the group in your off-platform communications.
Provide ways for community members to signal the community’s existence. This can mean t-shirts, memes, articles, or other content branded with your company and community. Members who enjoy being part of the community will want to signal their involvement and share materials with the world.
Promoting others can become a form of self-promotion. Positioning your clients as experts and thought leaders can lead to more content from them and add credibility to your brand and community. Cross-share content they’ve created that’s part of or relevant to your community and make sure to tag them in. By talking them up, you’ll draw attention to their work, including the parts you're involved with, and you’ll look more humble than if you only focus on your own work.
When clients share interesting ideas, materials, and images with your community, reshare them. This will provide you with more material to attract new members, while making clients feel valued, and so increasing their loyalty to you.
As the leader of your community, it's important that you be active and involved. Show your members that you care about the community and are invested in its success through your participation.
Consistency is very valuable. It’s comforting for community members to know what to expect from you and this can even create a buzz of expectation around regular events. Regular updates ensure that there’s always something for members to talk about, that the community feels fresh and lively, and that new members can see that the place is alive.
It’s not enough to just be on transmit, beaming out your posts and opinions. That’s the old-style advertising model, the one that’s dying off. To avoid that, put effort into responding to what community members say, encouraging their conversations and validating their opinions. Be responsive to questions and take an active role in promoting discussions. Authentic and relatable interactions are crucial, so don’t force it. Find a Community Manager or employees who are good at interacting online and make them responsible for this work.
Try to engage in conversations without controlling them. If community members feel like they’re leading conversations then they’ll feel more like this is their space. They’ll relax, share more of themselves, and engage better with you and with each other.
In all of this, think about how your community members communicate and aim to match it. Listen to your community’s ways of talking, the word choices, how they use pictures, videos, and memes. Follow these patterns yourself to show that you listen, that you have something in common, and that community members belong here with you.
Make sure to encourage and reward participation within your community. This will help keep members involved and motivated to contribute.
Some encouragement is as easy as starting and continuing conversations, but there are other options that can add impetus to the conversations. Consider rewarding those who contribute content or interact a lot with others. You can offer incentives such as discounts, exclusive content, or early access to new products or services . Personalise these rewards based on the interests of your community and, where possible, those of the individuals you’re rewarding.
As well as encouraging conversations about your community’s topics, encourage people to share about themselves. This will build connections between community members, foster a sense of closeness, and give you more material to understand your client base. Give them questions to answer and challenges to solve. Encourage them to share pictures and personal anecdotes that are relevant to the community’s topics. Give them a reason to take pride in the community and their role within it.
A strong community can be the engine for its own growth. The excitement and drive of community members, as well as the content they provide, helps to draw other people in.
But it’s not enough to sit back and let a community take care of itself. You have to plant the seeds of debate, encourage and guide conversations, and reward high levels of engagement. The right framework will encourage people to share themselves, to bond with each other and with your brand. This will give you valuable information and a powerful marketing tool.
Join the Kaizan Community for access to exclusive content and events, as well as the latest best practices on how to level up client management and growth. Sign up here.