How to Build an Online Community

Honestly, I don’t go on Discord much.

But whenever I do, I think I should spend more time on the app. I subscribe to a few channels that match my interest. Every time I hop on to see where the conversation’s going, I see a few familiar users. It immediately makes me feel more comfortable in the chat.

And I realized: that familiarity was nothing more than a sense of community.

It was an oddly warm, fuzzy feeling. Were these people my friends? I’m not sure. But did I like them and value their opinion on topics I enjoy? Very much so!

That’s why I wanted to tackle online communities. Building an online community is a powerful way to create engagement around your brand or product. It helps increase brand awareness, create brand loyalty, and build emotional relationships with your customers.

So today, we’re exploring what an online community is, the benefits of building an online community for marketing, and practical tips on how to build one.

Table of Contents

What is an online community?

An online community is a group of people who come together virtually to share ideas, experiences, and resources around a common interest. These communities are found on social networks, forums, blogs, and other digital platforms. Online communities can be formed around any topic, including hobbies, interests, lifestyles, and brands. Online community members can interact by sharing content, commenting, and liking each other’s posts.

There are many types of online communities for any number of shared interests.

For instance, Facebook groups for writers allow users to share their stories, poems, and other works. The community can offer feedback, advice on how to find an agent or manager, or suggestions for courses writers can take to improve their skills.

Communities also exist for fans of specific movies, TV shows, books, and other pop culture properties. Community members can share news about their favorite series, fan theories, speculation on future episodes/installments, or updates about related fan conventions.

The possibilities have very few limits. Because of this, many companies have built brand communities for customers or interested parties to share thoughts, ask questions, review products and services, and more.

Benefits of an online community for marketing

Building an online community can benefit digital and social media marketing. Best of all, it offers these benefits at relatively low costs!

Some of the most valuable benefits of building an online community include the following:

Become an industry expert

By building an online community around your products, services, and knowledge, you can become viewed as an expert in your industry. This can help develop deeper, more trusting relationships with your customers. It can also increase your reach by helping users seeking expert industry advice or insight find your community.

Increased engagement

Building an online community allows you to engage with your audience in a more personal and authentic way, which can lead to increased engagement and loyalty. An engaged audience is likelier to share your content, participate in events, and purchase your products.

Customer insights

Online communities provide a platform for customers to share their feedback, opinions, and experiences with your brand. This information can be invaluable in improving your products or services and building stronger customer relationships. Listening to your customers and responding to their needs will make them feel valued and heard, leading to a deeper connection with your brand.

Brand ambassadors

Building a loyal and engaged community can help create brand ambassadors who will champion your brand and products to others.

Brand ambassadors are customers who are so satisfied with your products or services that they are willing to recommend them to others. These advocates can become some of your most powerful marketing assets, as they will share their positive experiences with their network and attract new customers to your brand.

Positive word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective ways to attract new customers, as people trust recommendations from their peers.

Increased brand awareness

As your branded online community grows, so does the potential reach of your brand. Community members can help spread the word about your brand and attract new customers. This can be done through shares, likes, and comments on social media platforms and through user-generated content.

How to build an online community

There are no hard-and-fast rules to building a successful online community. While building your community, it’s important to focus on creating a positive, welcoming, and reliable space.

To build a community online, consider these steps:

Define your goals

Before launching a community, it’s crucial to determine your goals. This can help you understand what kind of community you want to create, the type of content you should create, and how and where to find your audience.

It’s helpful to consider your target KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). KPIs provide measurable data you can use to track your progress toward your goals.

For instance, you might consider KPIs such as:

  • Number of sales
  • Number of individual customers
  • Percentage of market share
  • Monthly website traffic
  • Revenue growth

You can also set KPIs for the community itself, such as the number of users or goals for engagement (likes, shares, etc.).

Once you’ve decided on your KPIs, targeting a specific goal for each is important. This way, you can track how close (or far) you are from those goals. Tracking progress helps you adjust your strategy as needed to help you meet goals.

Choose your platform

Once you’ve determined your goals, finding the best platform to meet them is essential. You can create communities/groups on platforms such as:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Slack
  • Reddit
  • Discord
  • Twitch

While these are currently the most popular, many sites allow you to create private and public forums. Each platform has its strengths and weaknesses, so I recommend researching which ones suit your needs best or have been successful for other, similar communities.

Create the community

Each platform has its own process for creating and registering your community. Important decisions to make during this process include:

  • Whether to make it public or private
  • Whether to make it a paid membership or a free community
  • Set any requirements for users to join
  • Develop community rules
  • Appoint a community manager or moderator (“mod”)

The mod(s) can monitor the daily operation of the community and ensure all users follow the rules. So, it’s important to find someone trustworthy and aligned with your brand’s values.

Create engaging content

For an effective customer community, keeping your audience engaged is essential. You’ll need to create valuable content that resonates with your audience. This could include blog posts, videos, infographics, or other content that provide value to your audience.

Keep in mind that, in such a community, you might not be the sole creator. Your audience will likely create and share their own content. However, it’s helpful to create your own content frequently that focuses on your brand, products, services, or industry. This doesn’t just offer entertainment or information to your audience; it sets the community standard for what type of content to share and how to do so.

Encourage member participation

Engagement is the key to a thriving online community. Before finalizing your community, creating a plan for stimulating user engagement is helpful.

To encourage member participation, you’ll need to create opportunities for members to interact with each other and share their thoughts and ideas. This could include asking questions, creating polls, and sharing user-generated content. By encouraging member participation, you’ll develop a sense of community and make your members feel invested in the community’s success.

This can also include participating in the community yourself. You can interact with your audience, offer feedback on content, or reward users’ participation by acknowledging their contributions to the community.

In this way, you can create a supportive community, encouraging members to connect and build relationships.

Launch your community

After setting everything up, creating the rules, and understanding how to engage your audience, you can launch your community. If you already have an audience on another social network, you can share a link to help grow the community.

Alternatively, you can find similar forums where you can share a link to your own community. However, please keep in mind that many communities don’t allow self-promotion. So, ensure you understand another community’s rules before sharing your link.

How to use online communities in digital marketing

Online communities can be an integral part of a digital marketing strategy. There are several methods for implementing your community into your overall digital strategy.

For instance, you can use your online community for:

Social media marketing

Because many online communities exist on social media platforms, they’re helpful for creating a social media marketing strategy. You can use audience engagement, hashtags, and trending topics to help grow your audience, increase shares/likes, and potentially go viral.

Content marketing

Creating valuable and engaging content can drive traffic to your website, build brand awareness, and establish yourself as an industry leader. Your online community can help share your content and provide feedback on what types of content they find most valuable.

Email marketing

By building an email list of community members, you can create a permission-based email marketing strategy.

You can send targeted emails that provide value to your audience, drive conversions, and build customer loyalty. For example, you could advertise new products or services, provide information and advice, offer discounts, and alert your audience to new content (complete with links to increase CTR).

Influencer marketing

Your community might already be creating brand ambassadors. Some of those ambassadors might be social media influencers. Influencers are industry thought leaders who can help “influence” others into purchasing products or services.

With this type of marketing, you can build relationships with influencers who promote your brand to their audience, potentially increasing sales and brand awareness.

Customer service

Customer service can be an essential part of driving engagement. You can use your community as a dedicated space where customers can ask questions, provide feedback, and share their experiences.

Regularly listening to and responding to customer questions, complaints, and suggestions can provide more personalized and responsive customer support. This can lead to increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.

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