The Benefits of Building an Online Community

Engaging with customers has always been important, but it has arguably never been easier than it is today in an era where we have a myriad of online communication channels and means to engage with our audiences. Whether they’re across town, or on the other side of the globe, electronic media allows for forum for marketers to listen to, learn form and leverage their online communities in a variety of ways.

How can building an online community help your brand?

Building an online community is a very inexpensive—and effective—way to build awareness, preference/credibility and, ultimately, drive desired business results online.

The Internet has opened up channels of communication to business professionals and business owners that didn’t exist in the past, allowing them to connect directly with their audiences instead of having to rely on gatekeepers (e.g. the media, advertising, etc.) to get their messages to the masses.

Applying content management/marketing principles to their online communication activities (in alignment with traditional communication activities) can help business professionals engage with various audiences by positioning what they have to offer and who they are, relative to potential competitors, in ways that really resonate.

What are the steps to building an online community?

The steps are the same as when engaging in any marketing communication activity:

  • Clearly identify your desired target market; the narrower the better. Effective marketing communications requires segmenting a large audience into discrete segments that represent opportunity for the business/business professional.
  • Research and learn about the needs, preferences, values, etc., of your target audience segments. Understanding who they are and “what makes them tick” can help you both identify the specific communication channels you will use to reach them and create messages that resonate with them and compel them toward some desired action.
  • Determine which combination of online (and offline) communication channels will be most effective (from a cost and impact standpoint) in reaching your target audience segments.
  • Develop key messages and content calendars/schedules to identify how you will purpose—and cross-purpose—content across these various channels.
  • Measure and monitor results, refining and changing your specific tactics based on what you learn.

Where can businesses–especially small businesses–find the time to effectively engage with these online communities?

It can definitely be a time-consuming endeavor, but there are ways to make online communications manageable. Some of the best practices we’ve discovered and implemented with our own, and our clients’, online activities are:

  • Have a clear, specific plan(s) directly aligned with your target audience segments, their needs, and your key messages.
  • Create once—use multiple times. Much of the content that is disseminated online is “there and gone.” Online communications are fleeting so it’s a good idea to share messages multiple times across multiple platforms. Starting with a blog post, for instance, can generate content for social media channels, serve as the basis of e-letter content, etc.
  • Develop a schedule, not only for when your content will run, but for when you will produce and distribute it.
  • Work with others to create content for you, whether interns, freelancers, agencies, etc. We work with a variety of interns, and contract writers, to create content. Editors review the content before it is pushed live to ensure quality control.

One final key takeaway: even though the tools and channels may be new, the basic principles of effective communication remain the same. Know your goals and objectives, know your audiences and deliver value to them based on their needs.

Do that consistently and you’ll build a community that is engaged and loyal!

Our thoughts on this topic were also recently included in a Network Journal article.

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement  

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