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The only guide to starting a community you ever need to read

community building

In this guide we’ll teach you everything you need to know to ensure you become a pro at community building.

What is community building?

So what exactly is community building and why should you care? An online community is a group of people with a specific passion or interest. They use platforms like social networks, forums, and question-and-answer websites to share information.  Community building is the actions you take to create a space for your fans, followers or customers to interact, share the love and talk about what matters to them.

What are the benefits of community building?

Now that you know what community building is, let’s discuss the benefits of investing your time and energy into community building. First off, online communities help build trust and loyalty by giving you a new and engaging way to promote your brand. They also provide you with an opportunity to up your customer support game by giving people a space to support each other. You can also use your online community to engage your customers and ask them for feedback. Not only that, you can also find plenty of ways to monetise your community with premium events, subscriptions and courses.

The problem with social media

Everywhere we look, we’re bombarded with adverts vying for our attention. Social media is one of the biggest offenders. At best, it’s an overcrowded space where you have to put in a tireless effort to make yourself heard. At worst, it’s a haven for loud and obnoxious behaviour, and scandals. Anyone remember Cambridge Analytica? It hardly sounds like the best place to invest your community-building efforts, does it?

Now, we’re not suggesting social media doesn’t have potential. It’s still a good place for finding your customers and getting your fans together. The problem is, organic reach on Facebook has been declining since early 2018  and we’re going to assume you don’t have an endless pool of resources to spend their days trying to figure out the latest Facebook algorithm change at your disposal. 

We’re passionate about helping you to build a thriving community that will actually help you grow your brand by bringing your fans together in a safe space that you own and control. That’s what Disciple is all about. But we’re not going to lie to you – it takes effort, dedication, and passion for what you do. But believe us – it’s worth it! And, we’re here to help you with the tips and tools you need to make it happen.

Why do you need your own online community?

The familiar social networks are less about community and more about businesses and individuals alike fighting for attention in a noisy and overcrowded environment. The average number of friends someone on Facebook has, for example, is over 300. But science tells us that we can, on average, maintain a maximum of 150 meaningful social connections at once.

Still, humans are social creatures. 42% of people use social media to keep in touch with their friends and relatives. A third of them use it for finding new products to buy. Over a quarter use social media to meet new people. In other words, people turn to social media to improve their social lives and share advice with their peers. But none of these things are easy when you’re trying to compete for attention alongside so many others. Instead, we end up feeling lonelier, because there’s little or no sense of belonging. 

Building a community of your own can change that.

Networks like Facebook are designed to encourage people to add as many ‘friends’ as possible and it’s easy to get lost focusing on vanity metrics such as likes and followers. In other words, there’s a lack of community, and that’s exactly the problem we want to solve. Real relationships, including those between businesses and their customers, are defined by engagement.

Community-building isn’t about numbers. It’s about bringing people together and uniting them with a common passion or point of interest. That can really only happen when there’s a clear focus, and that’s a lot easier to maintain when you use your own community building platform, instead of relying on the big social networks. Here’s a perfect example from one of our clients:

Action for Happiness is a leading mental health charity in the UK. Although they started out using social media to connect with their community, they soon discovered members didn’t feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics in such an environment. So, they used Disciple to build a safe space far away from the negative impact social media was having on their people.”

Community building is all about fostering real connections between real people. There’s simply no better way to help your customers achieve their goals and make a meaningful connection to your brand. Whether it’s engaging your community with live-streamed events, chatting about the latest trends or sharing the next big product ideas, a brand community helps people focus on a common purpose.

And that helps your business grow as well. It helps you make a real and lasting impact and, with that, comes loyalty. It gives you, and your customers, a space to support each other and grow together.

What turns a customer into a super fan?

When people are looking for something to buy, they don’t just think about product and pricing anymore. They also buy because they actually like the brand and the way it does things. 

Low prices don’t always mean lots of sales. Just look at the fashion industry. Things that cost the same to make (and are probably even made in the same factory) can suddenly cost ten times more as soon as a high-end brand label gets stuck on it. Often, the quality is no higher than similar products that are much cheaper. But it doesn’t stop people from forking out more to get the latest fashion labels. It’s all about the reputation and the feeling of exclusivity that comes with having a huge fan following.

These days, loyalty revolves around community, so the best way to get started is to give your fans a place they can call home. Give them an environment that offers real value. We’re talking about things like boundaries, exclusivity, emotional wellbeing, the opportunity to connect with others and further their personal goals. People want to be united under a common mission and relevant interests.

How to create a highly engaged community

Define your purpose and what you stand for

Big Social tries to be everything to everyone. Even though you can try to build a community on Facebook, it’s easy to end up being washed out by Facebook’s own branding and of course, all the advertising from other companies. Exactly the same applies to all the other major networks. But with your own community building apps, you get to choose your mission and keep it on the centre stage.

Know what you stand for, and make sure your mission is clear every time someone engages with your community. Don’t try to be something you’re not just to get more followers. Learn from the best, but be unique. Remember, less is more. 

For example, a fitness instructor may want to help clients get into shape with online training sessions which are accessible from anywhere. A consultancy firm may want to build an exclusive community to build stronger and more valuable connections. A professional photographer may want to help others learn via a community platform with access to workshops and courses. What’s your mission?

Stop broadcasting, and start engaging

You know another big reason why social media marketing often results in disappointment? It’s because a lot of brands talk at their potential customers. Fair enough, we can’t exactly pin this on the social networks themselves, but it’s a serious enough problem to mention. Talking at people won’t resonate, especially given how we’re being bombarded with ads all the time. In fact, it’s a sure-fire way to get unfollowed.

So, stop contributing to the noise, get your people over to a quieter place (like a community of your own), and spark a conversation. 

Today’s consumers absolutely love brands where employees act like customers themselves. With some companies, it’s even hard to tell the difference! 

People engage with brands on social media because it’s less formal. It’s less intimidating. It’s about real people addressing real day-to-day challenges and topics.

Community-building is all about putting yourself in your customers’ shoes by speaking to them not as a leader, but as an equal. Instead of trying to sell them something, you should be trying to ignite conversations about their interests, needs, and desires. 

Listen to your people, and show you value their opinions. Who knows, it may just be a fan who comes up with the next great idea for a new product!

Be helpful, and lead by example

Marketing and customer support were once two very different things. Now they’re so closely intertwined that you can’t really have one without the other. In fact, the best way to build a following of loyal fans is to offer solutions. Empower your audience by educating them. Help them get more out of your products and services, and meet their goals with flying colours.

That doesn’t mean marketing people need to become technical support people, but it does mean they should be ready to help where they can. 

Everyone who takes part in your community-building efforts should help fans uncover their challenges by sparking the right discussions. Ask your community what they like and dislike about your products and services. Publish and share content that gives people something to talk about. Organise online social events. Run polls and surveys. The possibilities are endless!

This approach will set up the floor for finding creative ways to help and support your people. And, even more importantly, it will inspire them to help each other. 

As a modern, people focused brand, your goal is to help people. Your brand mission should be to empower your community through education. Take personal training and coaching services, for example. They help people meet their personal or professional goals. If you lead by example, then your community members will follow that example and start to help each other too. They’ll support each other with accountability. They’ll find partners who can learn with them and maybe even make life-long friends. 

With your brand mission to guide you, set an example for your community to follow. If you want to encourage certain behaviours, then there’s no better way than by exhibiting those behaviours yourself!

Yes, you need rules and guidelines too 🔨

Setting a good example will make it a lot easier to moderate your community and maintain a healthy environment. But there will always be a risk of less desirable elements creeping in. It’s an unfortunate fact of building any online community, but it needn’t threaten all your hard work.

Why you need community guidelines

Creating a safe space for your members is a lot easier when you use your own community-building apps. With regular social media, it can end up feeling like you have to moderate the entire network. Good luck with that on Facebook! But even smaller communities can attract bad behaviour on occasion. That’s why you need to be clear about the rules and be ready to enforce them where necessary.

Community rules and guidelines help set the standards. They also support your efforts to keep your community in check if things go wrong. They’re a foundation for creating a safe space but, remember, they’re next to useless if they’re not enforced.

How do you communicate the rules effectively?

You can’t expect people to wade through reams of user agreements and legalese, even if you do have to publish it for the sake of compliance. Make sure your most important rules are easily accessible to anyone who joins your community. Keep them as short as possible, and consider having a more in-depth set of community guidelines you can refer to if you ever have to justify wielding the old ban hammer.

In the end, the most effective way to moderate your community is to let members moderate each other. Give them a way to report any offensive or inappropriate content, and make sure you’re there to oblige their requests.

How to grow your community into a loyal fanbase

Brands usually use social media boost their reach and keep their customers up to date on the latest events and product launches. Of course, these things can help a community grow. But a company’s Facebook page rarely offers much value to customers. It’s not likely to help them get more out of your product or services.

Having your own community is different. It can become a main part of the value you offer your customers. It’s a product in its own right. 

Just consider, for example, how Disciple is loved by educational institutions, professional coaches, and fitness trainers – it gives them a whole new way to teach and engage their target audiences. 

If your community becomes an inseparable part of your brand, then growing your community will grow your brand as well.

When you’re rolling out a community platform of your own, building up a thriving audience may seem a long way off. It may even seem impossible. 

But here’s the good news – you already have a community!

Yes, if you have a brand, you already have a community. You just need to find it. Look at what your existing customers are doing, and bring them into your club. If you have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, let your followers know you’ve now got a community of your own. 

Open up your mailing list, and tell your past and present customers about your new community app. Tell them what it can do for them and, chances are, they’ll move away from social media and sign up.

Final words

Community-building gives you a whole new way to communicate with your fans, deliver your services, and strengthen your brand. But with the right community-building activities and the right software to help, you can rally your people together and turn your customers into loyal fans. Just be sure to follow the most important rules:

  • Know what community is… and isn’t
  • Understand your mission
  • Engage; don’t broadcast
  • Lead by example
  • Lay down the rules
  • Grow your community
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