How to Build an Effective Online Community
Whether you use Facebook, YouTube or Reddit, you probably already know the feeling of being part of an online community. You may follow a particular celebrity, football team or an influencer, or have an intense interest in a TV show: the people you share your fandom with online are a community. Businesses are waking up to this more and more, as their social media presence becomes more widely accepted. In this article, we discuss how you can build an online community to receive and amplify your message.
For small businesses and creatives, using online content platforms to share what you’re working on helps your followers feel like part of the journey. They root for you, learn from you, share your work and encourage others to buy from you to support you. Fans of your work feel a personal connection with you and will often get publicly excited about your news. This excitement then gets shared, creating a lot of backlinks and buzz around product launches, for example, and exposing more people to your brand.
The Power of an Online Community
For larger enterprises, an online community often already exists around popular products. Gaming companies are great at building these communities, with dedicated sections on their websites to share content that interests their customers and forums to discuss the game and share gameplay videos.
Xbox Ambassadors Case Study
Taking Xbox’s online community as a case study, we can see the possibilities that come from motivating your followers as a group. The ‘Community’ page of Xbox’s core website greets visitors with a welcoming animated heading. We are invited to ‘keep up’, ‘participate’ and ‘connect’ because ‘here we all play together’. This initial page is essentially the Xbox blog, with regularly updated content such as reviews and gameplay videos. They also share upcoming sponsored events, and behind-the-scenes content from their game developers.
So far, it seems like this community is just great content marketing. But at the end of the page, there is an invitation to visitors to become Xbox Ambassadors. This is the true online community, an initiative designed to create a healthy, inclusive and safe space for Xbox gamers around the world. Xbox Ambassadors can socialise with other gamers in dedicated online spaces, such as Discord chats. They also participate in challenges and sweepstakes to win Xbox prizes.
The Benefit to Xbox? A Focussed Audience
This network also provides Microsoft with a motivated group that will share their content and complete their ‘Exclusive Surveys’, giving them focussed responses from dedicated gamers. Xbox Ambassadors can also to answer FAQs on Twitter as authorities, and get first dibs on announcements and new features. This drives a collective psychological response to share the news, both inside and outside the community, creating a serious buzz.
What does an Effective Online Community Look Like?
A brand’s online community is created when those with an existing interest in the brand share the experience. Most brands and businesses have a method of communicating with followers online, but the recipients are often disconnected. This is the difference between having 10K followers on Instagram and building an online community. Give your fans opportunities for connections with you and each other, as this is a motivating factor in their social media use. Connections lead to more posts around your brand, generating trending stories and more traffic for your site.
Social Media Following
Your followers are interested in the content you produce, either because they enjoy your photos or because they share your values and interests. If you can understand why your followers pressed the magic button in the first place, you’re halfway to building a community.
Social media should be social – this is the place for your interactive content, not just outward announcements. Ask questions, start challenges, go live! You’ll soon find out which followers show up for your brand regularly. Then you can start curating your content to spark connections with followers in every post.
Your blog is where you can publish any kind of content, including thoughts, how-tos and announcements. Content marketing drives the blog for most successful businesses, and it is extremely useful for driving traffic growth. Once you’ve got visitors to your content, you have a chance to build brand awareness and extend their interaction with your brand beyond a single article.
There are a number of ways to turn your blog readers into an online community. Use article series which really engage your target audience. Open the comments and respond to them. Give them an opportunity to subscribe to your newsletter or join your Facebook group in each of your posts, so you have a way to target those who are really interested directly. The best thing you can do with a blog is to talk openly about ongoing projects. Share progress updates, show readers what happens behind the scenes and bring them with you on the journeys you are taking.
These are the people that have opted for more information from your business. As with social media followers, understanding what kind of content your subscribers enjoy most can help you connect with a united audience. With the right approach, you can then position your newsletter to bond disconnected subscribers into a community.
Connect with them through personalisation, using tools like Dotdigital and Mailchimp to merge readers’ names from your database into the copy. Include calls to action, signposting fresh content on your website or giving them an opportunity to feed their opinions back. Your newsletter is the best place to reward subscribers for their interest. Invite them to industry events, workshops and webinars. Offer your readers exclusive access to your announcements. Above all, give them an opportunity to talk to one another, by directing them to a dedicated forum page.
While internet forums might feel a bit old-school in 2020, they are the prime spaces for building online communities – and always have been. Forums are moderated pages in which any user can start a conversation, posting their thoughts on a topic for other interested users to find and comment upon. Forums are the precursor to social media features such as Facebook Groups, in that users are posting in a subject-specific space to communicate with likeminded people.
Despite the notion that they are out of style, forums are still hugely popular among those with a special interest, and brands mustn’t overlook them. Reddit has over 430 million active users worldwide and is the sixth most popular social networking app in the US. While most of Reddit’s desktop traffic comes from the States, many of its 2.2 million subreddits or dedicated community pages are UK based. There are subreddits for sports teams, meme formats and most importantly brands. Branded subreddits, such as r/IKEA, are not so much fan-pages as forums for people to get support from each other, share tips and discuss products.
How to Turn Followers into an Online Community
The hivemind phenomenon is what happens when your brand engages people enough that they want to talk about you. Your online community develops as space for fans to creatively express their views on your work and share with like-minded people. No matter what platform it takes shape on, you can use it to communicate with your subscribers directly and encourage them to share their excitement and amplify your message on their own channels.
The best way we’ve found to harness this potential is by using wait-lists for your product launches. This encourages your community to buy into your project before it’s even finished. By getting people who are already attached to your brand to invest emotionally in your latest release, you can achieve far more responses than by announcing to a general audience.
Here’s an example of how you can build and mobilise your online community around product launches:
1. Offer Incentives to Subscribe
In the case of a product launch, you can build a buzz before you even unveil by setting up a waitlist. For your followers, a waitlist gives your launch exclusivity, drawing in those who enjoy being in-the-know. For example, you might use social media, a forum or newsletter to announce:
‘Our latest project is nearly ready for Beta-testing. Sign up below to be on the waitlist.’
Pair this with a simple online form; only a name and email address are necessary at this stage. The responses will give you a focussed audience, who will remember signing up when they next see your brand communications.
2. Create a Social Media Amplifier
From your waitlist, you can create a ‘viral loop‘ by encouraging subscribers to share your news on their own platforms. Offer a way to share their enthusiasm with friends, and reward them with priority access or more exclusive content.
Make it easy for your community with a template tweet that they can edit before sharing.
3. Reward your Top Community members
For the fraction of your community that did everything you asked, some recognition is due. Those who used their own platform to improve your reach are dedicated to your brand. We recommend rewarding this passion with a direct message, a shout-out or if your budget will stretch, some cool merch.
Our Top Tips for Engaging with Your Online Community
- Keep content regular, informative and entertaining, so people are glad they signed up for it.
- Encourage sharing with funny, emotive or purposeful content. The more your posts enrich the experience of your followers, the more likely they are to share them.
- Reward people for sharing your content. Interact with them directly, give them exclusive access,
- Engage with your community at large with live videos, webinars, quizzes – anything that lets them interact with your key players.
Communal Connection – The Key to an Online Community
The internet is so saturated with content that your online communications need to work hard to cut through. Your publishing output should include regular, high quality, SEO content to bring organic traffic to your pages. However, publishing this to a general audience can mean that you are mostly talking to Google’s algorithms.
An online community lets you know exactly who is invested in your brand and your products, giving you a lens through which to focus your content. With the right management, building an online community gives you a dedicated audience who know your brand and know each other. Your community can mobilise quickly to create excitement around the important moments in your business development.
Ingeniums are a brand new content marketing agency in Birmingham, creating ingenious content that cuts through.