Creating a community from your customer base

Most of your marketing is probably one-way communication – but have you thought about what could happen if you turned it into a two-way conversation?

You’re probably already taking part in a few communities online – maybe lots of them!

If there’s a blog you regularly read and engage with, that’s an online community. You might be part of a Facebook group for your local school or your neighbourhood. You might even be part of a forum, for a hobby or a part-time passion.

Reddit anyone?

So what does building a community have to do with business?

Well, you’ve probably heard the term ‘brand advocate’ thrown around a bit – the idea that you can turn your customers into people who will actively promote your business.

READ: How to turn your customers into advocates

But building a community goes deeper.

You can get feedback without doing market research. You can ask for help before product launches. You can really understand the needs of your customers.

In short, it can help your brand be better.

Venessa Paech, the founder of both the Swarm Conference and Australian Community Managers, says that research backs up the idea that communities benefit business.

“Research overwhelmingly shows that members of active online communities both buy more than traditional customers, and also generate trusted referrals for new customers,” she said.

So, how do you go about creating a community?


What do you need to consider?


As a business owner, you’re the host and the community builder.

It’s important to remember that the people you join your community will also feel a level of involvement.

Remember, an audience is a group you speak to. A community is a group you have a conversation with.

A community is a two-way street, and you’ll need an appropriate platform to hold your conversation on.

A few options:

Facebook Groups: A simple option, and it’s easy to link your group to your Facebook page.

Disqus is a platform that hosts commenting on websites and blogs, and can be a powerful community building tool.

Lithium and Discourse are community building tool designed to help businesses build forums and discussions areas.

Slack and Telegram are great for creating private chat communities, and can also be excellent for building community among your employees.


What else do you need to know to get going?


Paech has a simple tip to figure out where to start: talk to your customers.

“Is there a problem they’re having trouble solving? What do they want out of a community experience?” she asked.

She said the needs of your customers should directly inform the kind of community you design.

“If they need better access to trusted expertise, build a community of experts and information exchange. If they need ideas and inspiration, facilitate that in a way that promotes relationship formation. If they want access to special features or privileges, build a community experience that delivers that,” said Paech.

Once you’ve selected a platform, consider who your founding members will be.

They might be the most active members from your Facebook page, the people who always open your eDMs, the customers who took the time to give you Google Reviews, or the customers who you’ve come to know personally.

Expect to do a lot of heavy lifting in the early days of your community, and have content prepared to keep the conversation flowing.


Managing your community


While it’s important that you’re active in your community, and that you have a full understanding of what you’re getting into, risk management is an important consideration.

You’re thinking both about your reputation and the legal risks that you take on in setting up a community.

If you can, it’s an excellent idea to engage the services of a community manager.

A community professional will be able to talk you through these elements, help you to design a crisis plan, and give you a greater chance of successfully activating your community.

During tricky times for your business, or even a full-blown crisis level incident, an engaged community can be a real boon as it allows you to quickly reach the people who will amplify the message that you want to transmit.


A final note


Online communities can be a lot of fun. And just like the communities you take part in face-to-face, you can feel very close to the other people in the group.

You can feel very excited about what’s going on, and you can feel annoyed when you don’t agree with the direction of the group.

Basically, online communities contain real people, and it’s vital to give them the respect they deserve.

As well as looking after your communities with appropriate resourcing, hosting and interaction, it’s vital that you both have a clear understanding of the relationship.

“Make sure you manage expectations carefully about how involved they can realistically be, so you don’t disappoint, and be mindful not to take them for granted, or they might turn that passion in the opposite direction,” said Paech.