How to Implement the Online Community Your Business Needs

How to Implement the Online Community Your Business Needs

Online communities have become a standard in the content marketing world, even if it is a standard that many online companies are slow to adopt. While it is true that as many as 40% of online companies still don’t have a community, customers have come to expect a community, and usually consider a lack of a community to reflect negatively on a company.

As important as an online community is, it only truly has value if you understand the benefits of an online community and properly implement an effective one.

Keep reading for just that advice.

The Basics of an Online Community

In the 90s, if a business had an online community, it was probably just an e-mail list where the business published an electronic newsletter once a month. Since then, online communities have grown with technology. Today, online communities often include forums, social networking, surveys, YouTube groups, and much more.

But online communities are more than just the technology involved. The people are also a key part of those communities. Online communities are comprised of customers, employees, potential customers, and even anonymous strangers that will never purchase your product or service.

Every one of these groups add value to your community and need to supported, even the final group.

Why is an Online Community Valuable?

There is no simple answer to this question, but there are a number of metrics in which an online community offers value. The first metric is exposure. Online communities effectively offer low cost advertising.

This is especially true on platforms like Facebook where a comment made on your online community can be seen by friends of the commenter. That is literally free press.

Another important metric is engagement. An online community is a way for people to essentially engage themselves. When someone takes the time and effort to post a message on your community, they are likely to be interested in the responses they receive.

Each time they return to your community, their engagement increases, until it is likely that they will continue to return to your community even after the first topic has exhausted itself.

The last major metric is resource savings. Many content marketers have discovered that online communities reduce their costs when it comes to customer interactions. Often online communities can provide succinct and helpful answers to questions that otherwise would need to be answered by a company employee.

In fact, Google has embraced this concept so well that the Google Support Forums literally are designed to “allow you to collaborate with other users and get help quickly.”

Build a Community Sooner Rather Than Later

While there is some value to waiting until you have a critical mass of interest before creating a community, it is generally best to build one sooner rather than later. If you wait too long, there is a good chance an independent group will build a community for you.

This does provide free publicity, but it doesn’t give you control over the community.

A good example of this is the Best of Disney Art Facebook page. This group is not associated with Disney, which means the company can’t benefit from it as much as if it were.

Once you have been pre-empted on creating a community, even if you do build one, it is nearly impossible to overtake the original. This doesn’t mean you should give up on creating a community, but it does mean that you should take action to benefit from the competing community.

What Your Company Should Add to a Community

Even though a community is primarily directed by community members, you still want to be involved, in order to best benefit from the community. Online community members appreciate visible and transparent company interactions.

The best way to be visible is for people associated with your business to regularly and publicly respond to community members, especially when community members are upset.

how to online community

You should also make sure that your business occasionally introduces surveys, contests, forum topics, or announcements that community members can respond to or interact with.

In order to maximize this communication, you need to make sure that all employees understand your brand voice. This doesn’t mean that individuals can’t have different personalities and quirks (in fact, they should), just that there are ground rules about how your brand is portrayed.

The best way to enforce these ground rules is to have an online community manager that directs the content your company adds to the community.

More is Better

If one of something is good, then two of something is better. In the case of online communities, this generally holds true. In general, it is better if you can let people interact with your community in the way they prefer. This means it is valuable to have a forum, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a Google+ page all at the same time.

If people can access your community in the way that makes them most comfortable, they are more likely to have an initial positive view of your business. You can then easily link between your various communities, allowing community members to explore them freely.

how to online community

It is even possible to set up your forum so that people can log on through their Facebook, Google, or Twitter account, encouraging greater exploration of your community by making it easier to switch between multiple platforms.

Best Community For Your Content Marketing

Every company has a different online community. One company may choose to only have a Facebook page, while another may use a forum on its website supported by Tweets. While these two approaches may look as different as night and day, the differences are actually mostly cosmetic.

No matter the chosen platform, online communities are all places where everyone with an interest in your company can interact publicly.

The decision of what type of community you choose to use should be based on two primary factors: your community members and your online resources.

The easiest way to determine what your community members want is to ask them. Engage in a few polls or surveys and try to incorporate as much of the wishes of the group as possible. The limiting factor here will be your online resources.

If you don’t have access to a reliable server, for example, you probably shouldn’t run a forum. If you can’t devote enough manpower to monitoring communications 24 hours a day, Twitter probably isn’t a good choice.

Once you determine what type of community you can support and what type of community your community members want, all you need to do is create one.

It isn’t cost free, but since you already have an online presence, it should be relatively inexpensive to implement. And, if you implement a good community, the benefits you receive from an online community should more than pay for itself.

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Mickey has degrees in linguistics and logic from a top 25 university. He has been writing online for the approximately five years, specializing in gaming, hobbies, and media. He has never missed a deadline. Quality and speed are equally important to Mickey and he'll never sacrifice one for the other.

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