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If I were to ask anyone on the street what the goal of a company is, they would likely say it’s to make sales and generate money. However, as our world continues to grow and change, that goal is simply not enough to keep customers engaged.
People are looking for connection - and who can blame them? While creating space for that kind of belonging may not lead to a boost in revenue right away, community marketing can actually help to keep your company sustained in the long term.
This technique requires a shift in the way your team approaches marketing altogether, but when done right can be an excellent way to foster brand loyalty, innovation, and market reach. Sound exciting? Let’s get started!
Introduction to Community Marketing
Community marketing centers around - you guessed it - building a community. It’s unlike other marketing strategies because the focus isn’t initially to generate sales. The main focus is, instead, to create a hub for people to engage with the company and each other in a meaningful way.
When done right, community marketing can generate
- A Stellar Customer Experience - With one central, authentic, and human spot to connect, customers will feel comfortable bringing forward questions, suggestions, and even complaints.
- Tons Of Useable Data - A huge challenge with data-driven decision-making is having enough information. Communities provide that information tenfold and are excited to do so.
- Brand Loyalty through Relevance - Simply offering a brand loyalty program isn’t enough to keep people invested anymore. Building an emotional connection and becoming a relevant part of customer’s lives will keep them coming back far more.
- Organic Word of Mouth - Communities are perfect for referral marketing because people are able to share and bring their friends into the community. It helps grow the community as well as your business.
- Authenticity - Consumers are far more invested in companies that feel “real” than anything else, especially in the current market.
- User-Driven Innovation - Customers want to have a say in the direction your company takes. Giving them a way to say exactly what they want and need from your product can lead to huge breakthroughs.
How your brand accomplishes this depends largely on the nature of your product, as well as the effort you want to put into cultivating something new.
The Power of Community
In order to fully understand how powerful community marketing can be, you must first understand the power of community in a broader sense.
We all inherently know that a community is a group of people that we are around on a regular basis. You might think of your neighborhood, a sports team, or the town you grew up in.
However, this excludes online communities, and the modern makeup of any community can be far beyond simple proximity. For our purposes, we’ll define community as a group of people who share interests, values, and a sense of belonging.
This need is basic to our human nature, which is part of why it can be so powerful when used in a marketing context. When a company is a part of providing this integral part of a person’s life, they are going to be fiercely loyal and a strong advocate.
While starting a community around your brand can be challenging, once it’s in place it can become self-sustaining. Relationships form, passions grow, and eventually, you and your team won’t need to put nearly as much effort into creating value for users.
Building Your Brand Community
Now, how exactly you go about building a community for your brand is going to change depending on your goals and the resources at your disposal. Maybe you want to build something entirely from scratch, or maybe utilizing an existing platform like Discord is more your style.
Whatever your decision is, there are several potential seeds for a community. You can focus your energy on one, or combine multiple ideas to form a patchwork of connections.
The Perfect Platform
Some companies will have the budget and need for a completely customized platform. A great example of this is Lego Ideas, a stand-alone website where people can suggest future builds and share their Lego creations.
For many businesses, this kind of all-in approach isn’t necessary. There are countless platforms for hosting your community including
- Mighty Networks
Each of these, and the nearly endless list of others, comes with its own strengths and weaknesses, but many can give your team complete control over what’s happening within your community.
However, if you try to control too much of the conversation and activity, you’re likely to choke out any hope of organic growth within the community. Customers are looking for a balance between brand activity and genuine relationships.
Ambassadors and Referrals
The strongest communities are driven to grow by the investment of their members. Setting up a referral program with rewards incentivizes people to invite their friends and grow a community that they are excited to be a part of.
These advocates and ambassadors are likely to be more invested in making the community worthwhile for the people they’ve brought in. You can rely on them to keep things moving and conversations flowing.
Purpose Driven Content
You may not have a large group of people who are passionate enough about your product to start a thriving community right off the bat, but you’ll have no problem finding a group that’s passionate about a social cause.
If there’s something that’s important to you and relates to your company niche, consider building your community around support for that cause. Studies have shown that 76% of consumers are more likely to engage with brands that have a positive social impact.
While building this network, it’s important to stay as authentic as possible. People can tell when your support is simply a marketing tactic. Don’t fall into that trap, keep it personal and watch as people rally behind you.
One of the fastest ways to create a community, company-based or otherwise, is to host an event. This can be digital, such as a webinar or a watch party, or they can be in person.
Live events can be difficult to pull together, but face-to-face interactions and unique experiences will have a lasting impact on your customers. Make sure you know what value your event is offering people, and how you’ll convert that value into eventual engagement and sales.
Virtual events can also be a huge success, especially if your community is spread out across multiple locations. Make sure they’re engaging and offer ways for people to meet one another to form bonds.
Engagement and Interaction
No matter what strategy you choose to start building your brand’s community, there are a few key pillars that you will need to help initiate and sustain growth. These are key for any community, but letting them slip away will quickly lead to the group getting out of your control.
People are not going to get invested in your community if it is clearly an attempt to sell them something. They want to connect with people, learn from one another, and have a good time.
You and your team can foster this welcoming environment by truly participating in the conversations and activities that are happening. Don’t simply be the ever-watching overlords or the people who pop up and make everyone groan because a sales pitch is coming.
How you engage will set the tone for others. Make sure it’s warm and inviting.
Depth of Knowledge
As your community grows around your company’s niche and field, it’s important to keep in mind that you are meant to be the most knowledgeable in the room. This means every interaction needs to add value to the conversation, and every post you initiate that’s related to your brand needs to be perceived as authoritative.
If you’re posting blogs, articles, and even how-to’s, you’re solidifying the value your community brings to people’s lives. They’ll come to learn, stay connected, and eventually invest long-term because there’s always something more to gain.
This factor is two-fold. First off, make sure there’s a clear and easy way for people to contact you. There’s nothing worse than a heated discussion about an issue with your product happening right under your nose without any input from your team.
Stay up-to-date with what’s being talked about on all corners of your community, so you can chime in when needed, and make sure that people know how to message members of your team directly. This keeps everything human and approachable.
The other side of accessibility is how diverse your community is able to be. Having guidelines for community engagement in place prevents any disconcerting chatter from scaring people away.
You’ll also want to ensure that your content has things like captions, image descriptions, and a font that is accessible to anyone with visual difficulties. These points of accessibility are often overlooked, and taking the time to make your content easy to engage with will help your brand stand out as open and caring.
This is probably the most important - and most difficult - factor in creating a successful brand community. If people aren’t showing up right away, you can not give up.
Each time you connect with someone, even just one person, you’re strengthening the community. Always showing up for your customers develops trust and momentum.
You’ll also want to keep the tone of your interactions consistent. Decide as a team how formal or informal you will be with members of the community, and stick with it. Presenting a unified front will help cement your place in people’s minds.
The Bottom Line
Being willing to engage with your audience on a human level takes time and resources. It can be difficult to get the ball rolling, and you’re not likely to see results right away.
However, when you take the time to engage with people and show them how knowledgeable and approachable your company can be, the rewards are staggering. Loyalty, brand ambassadorship, and innovation can help your team weather any storm.
Ultimately, growing a community along with your business is a sure-fire way to stand out from the competition, and connect with the people who matter most, your user base.
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