Creating a community around your product/service – and engaging with that community – is one of the best ways to grow your business, spread awareness, and build a greater understanding of how to cater for your customers' wants and needs.
An engaged community, comprised of people who are receptive and interested in what you have to say, is an incredibly valuable asset.You'll become more relevant in your market place, have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of your audience, and your influence and reputation will be leveraged by the magnification of your community.
An example of this in action
Mumsnet was created back in 2000 by Justine Roberts and Carrie Longton. Since then they have grown a monster of a community here in the UK.In fact, they have become such influencers that Google hosted their 10th birthday party at their UK Headquarters, and the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech.In February 2013, the co-founders were ranked by the BBC as the 7th most powerful women in Britain. This is influence in action!Mumsnet makes money through a combination of advertising, market testing and sponsorship.It has built an engaged community of mothers, who generate most of the content organically – simply to help the other community members. This user-generated content, which is their biggest asset, doesn’t cost Mumsnet a penny!By sharing their content, and pointing their friends towards the site, the members play an active role in spreading the business's growth.Obviously creating your own community of brand promoters can give you massive influence in your market and beyond. Here are a few tips to help you engage your audience in the same way:
Building an Engaged Community
1. Be patientCreating a community isn't an overnight activity. You need to invest time, energy, and resources into creating a framework where people can come together, and a community can form naturally.Simply trying to trap a captive audience, and sell to them, isn't an effective tactic anymore, and it will prevent a genuine community from blossoming and your business from experiencing the benefits.2. Be trustworthyIt's difficult to be passionate about a product, idea, or company if you neither trust, or like the people behind it.If you want to create a passionate community of brand ambassadors, and get the most value out of every audience engagement, you'll need to be honest and open with them at all times.As I mentioned in this post, transparency is becoming the new currency in business, and social media means there's no excuse for failing to communicate properly.3. Create emotionAn audience needs a reason to engage with a product or service, and this reason is usually emotional.Companies like Apple, Samsung and Blackberry are able to generate millions of dedicated fans – who are incredibly loyal – because they give their customers something to be excited about, and to get behind.To engage people, it's essential to speak to their emotions. These emotions do not necessarily need to be rational, and all of the companies mentioned above are good at creating an ‘us v them' mentality amongst their customers.This further breeds natural loyalty, and a feeling of belonging that can lead to audience members forming a stable, long-term relationship with your brand.4. Make people careIf you're looking to build a community around your product or service, you need to make sure the members care about it.Helping them to create emotional attachments towards the product/service – or each other – is a great way to strengthen their feelings of loyalty.Creating a discussion forum on your website is one way to do this, but it will need to be monitored, and fill a niche if you want to start building a tightly-knit community.Alternatively, you could allow individuals to post their own content on your site, or simply encourage audience members to interact with each other through social media groups. 5. ExclusivityAnother way to draw customers in – and prick their ears up – is to give them access to a resource or community that other people are excluded from.Everyone likes to be one-step ahead of the crowd, and the idea of being a little bit superior, and knowing something others don't, is secretly very appealing.For this reason, adding a small element of exclusivity to your community and brand can be very beneficial. Achica – ‘The members only luxury lifestyle store' – does this very well.6. Introduce your offerings at the right stage of the funnelPeople naturally build walls to protect themselves from the barrage of advertising and selling they're subjected to on a daily basis.To engage your audience, you need to get them to actively listen to what you have to say. So leave the pushy sales techniques out, and bring the patient nurturing techniques in.I've covered this in a previous post, where I explain why educating prospects is far more effective at creating long-term engagement – because audience members see how you can provide them with value naturally.7. Understand your customersI may sound like a broken record, but it's a point that's worth labouring – you simply must understand your customers' wants and needs.Returning to the Mumsnet example, the site took off so well because it catered to the needs and wants of mothers across the UK.As a result, an engaged audience grew because they were able to gain real value out of their use of the site – it catered to their needs perfectly.8. Lead by exampleIt's important that you set a good example – this means you need to take an active role in your community, and engage members in discussion.If you can't make the effort to participate, why should anybody else?Leading by example, and interacting with others within the community, is the best way to demonstrate your enthusiasm and passion – and to generate real trust.9. Use your personal experience and storiesPeople naturally tend to connect with stories and real life events in a way that they just don't with dry facts.Personal experience is a great way to engage your audience, and give your company a human face that your audience can relate to and understand.It’s that emotional button again!10. Don't be afraid to make mistakesAgain, this is part of building trust within your community. People are wary when others portray themselves as perfect. No human is 100% perfect, so don't pretend to be.Publically admitting to any mistakes – or errors of judgement – can actually endear your audience to you, because people are so used to receiving generic responses to problems and having the truth hidden from them.Showing that you are accountable for your errors will generate trust and engage your audience.11. Make it worth their whileTo keep your audience engaged, you need to be able to offer them something that makes it worth the time and energy they spend giving you a chance, and listening to what you have to say.Providing valuable content through blog posts, videos or downloadable resources is a great way to do this. Don't just chuck anything out there, put effort into making it worthwhile, and give them your best content.12. Don't be afraid to engage publicallyEven if your community is based solely on your own website, it makes sense to use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to promote your brand, and the community, to others.As an example, be sure to answer any questions you receive on your Twitter account, as these will be exposed to a wide audience. All your followers will see them, and all of the question askers' friends will be exposed to your brand.13. Involve your community in the businessIf you create a community solely to promote your business and sell to, it will be obvious and ineffective.People want to be valued and appreciated. Yes, it's that old story, we all want to be loved…One way to do this is to involve them in the very fabric of the business. Gauging their opinions on proposed changes, and asking for feedback about the future direction of your product/service can be a great way to bring them in, and show them that they are more than just a pay cheque to you.Creating a community around your product or service may not be a straightforward task, and will require commitment and effort, but the results can take your business and profits to the next level.