How to Create and Grow an Online Community From Scratch

How to Create and Grow an Online Community From Scratch

Have you ever seen how companies connect to their audience, but it does not increase engagement?  The communication has no context and does not generate a relationship with users. This is a problem many businesses face.  Their attempt to attract users look sketchy with little credibility. However, it isn’t difficult to create an online community that interests potential customers.  Brands that contribute to the development of a community create value for their customers and increase profits.

It is important for companies to talk directly with users, sometimes even one-on-one. They want to know more about their interests, needs, and behavior. They want to solve customer problems. As a result, consumers begin to interact with these companies and listen to their answers. This causes them to become loyal customers.

Value of building (or growing) an online community

Community is a place where ideas are exchanged. Generally communities are places where people become friends because of a common interest they share. It is a place where relationships are built. For business, communities are places where customers communicate  with each other and the company. Here are four reasons why this is important.

1) Creating a community adds value to customers

Your community is a resource for customers. A place where they can quickly find information, answers, ideas and work on common problems. Users can start a community based around things they are interested in. Other users can join these groups to feel accepted and connect with others who value their opinion.

For example, companies can provide a platform that connects businesses with a community of freelance professionals for content creation and marketing advice.

2) Communities are large focus groups

You can learn a lot about the needs and interests of customers by watching their conversations in the group. The data you collect will be more accurate because users won’t feel pressured to hide how they really feel. Quantitative data is helpful, but qualitative data will allow to understand in detail who your customers are.

Even if the client is happy to answer a survey, they will worry about how this effects their experience. In casual conversation their thoughts and ideas are open to other views and influences.

3) Communities are where brand ambassadors are born

Some customers will value the community you created and will invite their friends to join too. Users will discuss your company, online and in the real world. They become motivated to grow the community on their own and become brand ambassadors.

Ambassadors can suggest blog post ideas, user testing or even promote your company at an event. This provides businesses with information that they can use to increase customer satisfaction. Customers who can promote your brand will save you money that would have been spend on marketing activities.

4) Communities help retain customers

The likelihood that clients will remain with the company increases if they have a community. The statistics below show that building and maintaining a community has long term benfits

  • Increased customer retention by 5% can increase profits by up to 95% in the long term (HBS);
  • Increased engagement on community sites can result in revenue growth of 25% (MSI);
  • The recommendation of friends – the number one factor influencing the decision to purchase (Brand Advocates);
  • To keep an existing customer costs up to 80% less than attracting new ones.

Now that you understand why you should build a community, and the benefits it can bring to your company. Let’s see how to do it.

Tips for creating a community

Before creating a community, let’s quickly describe some basic recommendations that should be taken into account. This ensures that everything goes smoothly, even if you start small.

  • Concentrate on niche: Why would somebody participate in your community? Does it focus on a popular or relevant theme? Focus on that and let the community naturally fall into sub themes (more on this below).
  • List the rules: they are necessary to ensure a positive experience for users. They also warn users what is considered rude behavior so there is no confusion. Recommendations for group members should be simple: no spam, friendly attitude towards the team members, sharing only relevant content etc.
  • Create a habit: The earliest members every morning will look forward to an email. Contributing to your community engages members through emails, notifications, orders, etc. Find a way to inspire daily community participation and interest.
  • Ask for feedback: be connected constantly with the participants to understand how they do what they are getting from the community, and how you can improve their experience. They will appreciate your concern and it will help to maintain their involvement.

Steps to build community from square one

Step one: start small

A community will not be large in one day. The most successful examples started with a small list of email addresses and contacts. Over time, they grew into something more significant. When you learn more about the communities’ values, participants become independent representatives of the company.

Start small and be patient. The decisions you make may not produce instant results, but will create long-term benefits.

Action: select a handful of people with whom to share your ideas. Get the list of email addresses or create a group in Appinall. Start a conversation and see where it leads.

Step two: Create exclusivity

People like being part of a group that feels exclusive. Some communities retain a small number of its members, to maintain the quality of content created. Others find a way to grow and maintain quality. For example, when you are running a group, limit who can join the group. It is difficult to manage group members if everyone has access.

Group members will feel significant and this will attract more users. Add the ability for members to send referrals through invitations to attract new users.
We all want to be the first to try something. We all want to be the first to talk about something new. It’s great to introduce people to a group that has the same values and interests.

Action: Invite a small exclusive group to join your community until you know what value the participants see it.
Let them know that they are the first, and that it is an exclusive invitation — tell us what they will receive from participation, and who else is involved!

Step three: Encourage members to help others

Online community members can create bonds with one another. Many are looking for a resource from others who share passions and interests. By creating a helpful community, you create an open environment. Clients or community members can learn more and share knowledge. When members learn something from others, they are more likely to teach as well.

Action: add value to your customers by creating a hub of relevant information and research.

Step four: Build relationships in the group and move to the side

Erik Martin, former moderator of Reddit, once said in an interview:

“You are as smart as all your users combined. Just listen more, and believe that people who are passionate about a specific topic, make an interesting and unexpected things with that control you will give them”.

Being the creator of a community and a facilitator, you need to connect participants to develop the conversation, then step aside. You can always intervene to answer questions, clarify misunderstandings, or share ads. The point is to allow customers or members to build relationships with each other.

This is harder to do for forums, but for groups on Appinall, your community will be able to split up into smaller groups to discuss sub-topics and areas of interest. They can write each other private messages to build a more intimate relationship. If you are worried about the loss of control, don’t worry. Your community will thank you for when you created the platform for them, so they will remain loyal.

Action: bring different customers together in one chat and see what happens.

Step five: Spread the word about the online community

Once you have attracted a few members and they have started contributing to the community, it is time to move to the next step.

-The community brings value to its members.

-You know what is fueling user interest and what isn’t.

-Rules have been created for the group based on past experiences.

Now it’s time to add more members and work to ensure that the community continued to grow.

There are several ways to do this, and the most effective method depends on the type of community you’re developing. However, several practices that have proven to be effective in different situations.

Methods to attract more users

Referral program: Let early members to invite other people. It is believed that if early members make significant contributions they will invite users who do the same. Referrals are a way for people to share their hobbies, while spreading information about your brand.

The division of participants by levels: You probably have customers who are heavily involved and others who are not. When you are just beginning to develop, invite customers who you think are the most likely to participate. Then, after installing all the processes and rules of the community, invite other customers. This will help the community grow.

Newsletter: Use email to keep users updated on events and upgrades to the site. Once you are able to run a larger community, tell potential customers about the group through newsletters. Let them know the purpose of the community, and what value it generates.

Social channels: Hopefully your audience on social networks is involved. Once the community begins to run independently, and all processes are clearly established, tell the world about it! Share bright moments, victories and ideas of the community. Show a wider audience  what they are missing and why they should join.

Influencers: If the online community is open to anyone, it can be effective to involve opinion leaders. When one of our clients, is a well respected figure in social networks it can benefit a user’s experience.
Find someone relevant to your interests group who can add to the group and benefit from participation in it.

Still don’t know where to start? Write two of your most involved customers or readers today and ask them to bring them communicating with each other. Start small and see what happens.

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