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A Comprehensive Guide To Building An Online Community

The proliferation of the internet has connected people as more than buyers and sellers. All over the web communities have sprung up. These communities are made up of like-minded people who all share a passion for a particular hobby or other interest. Small businesses have been increasingly keen on taking advantage of this dynamic, building relationships with new and existing customers. If you have a small business, here’s how you can build an online community to garner more customers and connect with your clientele.

  • Know why you’re starting the community, aside from higher profits
  • Foster an environment of enthusiasm and shared knowledge
  • Don’t forget to moderate and manage the community as a leader

Find Your Key Motivation

If you’re ready to take the plunge and build an online community of dedicated users, you’ll first have to know why you want to build such a community. Growing your profit margins and using the community for better branding is one thing, but you’ll have to find an organic and honest reason to interact with your customers as well.

People who use the internet are passionate and can sniff out corporate pandering easily, so you’ll want to come from a place of honesty and integrity. You can establish the community to bring people closer together, find out the interests of your customer base beyond what they like to buy, or build up value to outsiders who are intrigued. Just remember to keep your motivations healthy and honest.

Find Your Users’ Motivations

Just as you’re motivated to create an online space, people from all corners of the web will be motivated to join and discuss key aspects of your business and other topics. It’s important to know what members of your newly formed community will be expecting you on day one and beyond. Just as you have to know your customers inside and out for a sale, it’s a great starting point to know your users inside and out too.

Having a firm and foundational knowledge about the people who will be using your community is a great way to get the bonding process started and attract new users daily. You can even go the extra step and build a user profile: what are they looking for, how can you help them find it, and will your company be able to solve their problems or offer valuable discussion?

Organize Your Virtual Community

Just as a business must organize its management and delegate tasks, you’ll find it important to have people managing your online community, at least to a small extent. You’ll want to identify people you can trust to operate and execute key functions, such as administration, management, technical, and the content department.

This organization may seem odd, but online communities are potentially huge spaces with thousands of users offering input and opinions. Keeping this space calm and collected will go a long way to garnering new users and ensuring your current users are having a fun time. At the very least, you’ll want a community manager and a content creator to give your users something to discuss every few days, or weekly.

Choose Where To Host This Community

Now that you have your staff ready and standing by, and you know why you want to host a community and what your members need, it’s time to choose the online place where you’ll host this community. There are a few different places to start a group, but there are two main categories: free and dedicated. Free platforms are those such as Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter.

Anybody can sign up for an account on these platforms and immediately being using them for free. These places are great for quick and widespread access for your group and are flexible in terms of size, as well as easily manageable. There are also dedicated community platforms. For these, users will have unique credentials and need to login before discussing with the group. Most platforms today are geared toward the free model, as it allows more widespread, and usually less expensive, use.

Develop Your Community

Once you’ve properly set up your space, it’s time to develop your community. There are many moving parts to this process, but the keys are to lay ground rules, build profiles, and create categories. Put simply, you need to ensure that your community will attract people of like-mind who will both engage with and within the community, as well as be attracted to what your small business has to offer in terms of products or services.

You’ll want to make sure everyone is one the same page and can input information which will be valuable for your company. This information will typically be input on the dashboard for other community members to see. Categories will help your members more easily organize into groups with the same interests.

Craft An Engagement Plan

Most small business owners make the mistake of ignoring or downplaying their community once it’s created. This severely limits the amount of discussion on the platform and may slowly “kill” the community. Engagement is key to countering this outcome. You should have up-to-date plans about what your community will learn and what content they can expect from your small business.

In addition, encourage your users to share their own experiences and connect with relevant people in their field. The more detailed your plan, the longer you can keep your community going and the more robust the conversations will be.

Time To Moderate

Along the same lines as managing and laying ground rules for your community is moderation. Remember, you are the leader of your community and it’s your responsibility to make sure your platform is a fun place to share and discuss anything worthwhile. On the way to this goal, you may need to kick out a few users who are not acting in good faith and don’t connect with the rest of the community.

There’s no shortage of miscreants online, even in a business-focused community, and it’s your job to deal with these rule breakers. Luckily, booting people from an online community is quite simple. Just make sure your members know the rules and the consequences for breaking them and try not to go overboard with your moderation.

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