A thriving branded online community can add enormous value to every facet of your business. It’s a one-stop shop for everything from product ideation to customer success to peer-to-peer support, all wrapped up into a convenient platform that you’re in control of. With proper care and planning, your community will fast become your most important asset. Depending on what stage you’re at building up your customer community, there’s always work left to do to make it even better. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of proven tips for establishing, growing and nurturing your community and turning loyal customers into brand advocates. So, without further ado, let’s get started with our community marketing mega guide!
Part 1: Planning for success
Online communities comprise many moving parts. By their very nature, communities are alive and ever-changing, always adapting to the evolving needs of their members. You can’t expect to build a thriving community overnight, but careful planning will help prepare your community for future success. So, let’s start with some community marketing planning ideas.
#1. Give your community a purpose
Brand communities can serve many purposes, and many serve more than one. It’s important that people can immediately identify your value proposition from the moment they first visit the landing page. Common community marketing goals include peer-to-peer support, product ideation, and fan clubs.
#2. Talk to your customers
No doubt, you already have some key business goals in mind, and you’ll want to match them with your community marketing goals. But, by talking to your customers and asking them outright what they want from your up-and-coming community, you’ll be able to unveil insights from the people who matter most.
#3. Plan for software integrations
Many companies rely on a whole raft of different apps and processes, some of which don’t sit well together. By choosing a community platform that comes with an API, you can integrate third-party applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) to more efficiently share data and keep track of customers.
#4. Make your community accessible
If your community is only accessible through a desktop browser, it’s not likely to attract a lot of members. To make your community open to as many people as possible, you need to think mobile-first. A mobile community app, ideally accompanied by a web view for desktop users, will let members participate the way they prefer.
#5. Develop a launch framework
Launching a brand community is one of the most important steps of all. Get it wrong, and you risk failure before you even get started. A launch framework serves to ensure that the platform only goes public once it’s ready. After testing it internally, you may want to enrol a select group of your best customers to give it a test run.
#6. Choose your community manager
Every successful community needs strong leadership driven by people who know how to work well with others and lead by example. For many businesses, community management is a full-time job, so you’ll want to choose someone with the knowledge and experience to make sure your community gets started on the right track.
#7. Get your team on board
Without consistently regular participation from the brand behind it, an online community will be dead on arrival or worse, descend into chaos. Communities aren’t just the responsibility of your managers, but every customer-facing member on your team. Getting upper management and employees on board will help keep your community healthy. This is often an overlooked part of community marketing planning.
#8. Create an introduction video
People are visual creatures, and there are few better ways to introduce customers to your new community than by publishing a short introduction video. You can even do this in advance of launch day. Make sure your video is short and concise, preferably no more than two minutes. It should clearly state the value proposition from the start.
#9. Establish a moderation procedure
A responsibly moderated community is a healthy community, one that isn’t marred by trolls or spammers. Once you’ve established your community rules and guidelines, you can implement peer to peer moderation to allow members to report or downvote inappropriate content. You’ll also need some human moderators for more complicated cases.
#10. Brand your community
Whereas mainstream social media provides limited opportunities for preserving your branding, an owned community platform has no such restrictions. To keep your brand in the forefront of people’s minds, be sure to customise your platform with your brand’s logo, colours, typefaces, backgrounds and menu structures.
Part 2: Building up the numbers
Easily the biggest challenge of building an owned community is building up the numbers in the first place. Since you’re starting from scratch, rather than relying on existing platforms and their hundreds of millions of users, you’ll need to put some extra work in to get people to come. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need lots of members to build a great community. So, let’s look at how community marketing can help you with this.
#11. Consider a soft launch
Among the most nerve-wracking parts of building a community is actually launching it. There’s a lot that can go wrong. A soft launch helps you manage risk more effectively while gradually building up your member count. It’s similar to a closed beta in software development, where you mobilise a select few of your best customers to help you test run everything first.
#12. Get on social media
Making a beeline back to mainstream social media might seem counterproductive when we’re talking about building an owned community platform, but that’s undeniably where the numbers are. If you already have a substantial following on social media, now’s the time to reach out to tell them about your new community.
#13. Partner with influencers
Influencers are people who have the power to affect the decisions of others, usually because they’ve developed high degrees of fame and authority. If you already have influencers in your customer base, ask them to help you promote your new community. If not, consider reaching out to high-profile influencers in your industry.
#14. Send out email announcements
Email marketing might be old school, but it’s still a favourite way to keep in touch. Since you probably already have email addresses for most of your customers, sending an announcement this way will help you reach dormant customers. Just be sure that you have permission to do so, and always provide an unsubscribe link.
#15. Create a community landing page
Every community needs a landing page. A list of forum posts is only going to confuse new and existing members alike. Your landing page should keep all the important stuff above the fold so that people don’t have to scroll down to find it. The main benefit of joining and participating in your community should be the first thing visitors notice.
#16. Encourage referrals
Many people are happy to dish out small favours, which is why you should ask your community members to spread the word. You can even offer them a small incentive for doing so, whether it’s a discount coupon or something as simple as a mention on the landing page. Word spreads fast in the online world, and referrals often turn out to be the biggest source of new members.
#17. Integrate your loyalty program
Online communities originally grew out of loyalty programs, which have been around since the dawn of modern commerce. By tying them both together, you can provide an incentive to new and existing customers to sign up and participate in your community. After all, few things beat a solid financial incentive.
#18. Publish a community newsletter
Building a community doesn’t start from the moment you’ve got it up and running and told all your customers about it. It requires a consistent and permanent effort to keep the numbers up and the participation regular. Publishing a community email newsletter is one of the most basic community marketing strategies that give you the chance to remind members about upcoming events, new content, and more. It is one
#19. Simplify the registration process
In today’s data-driven economy, businesses want to know as much as they possibly can about their customers, but this hunger for data can fast turn to greed, and no one want to spend their time filling in online forms. Give members the option to create complete profiles, but don’t force them to disclose any more than you absolutely need during the registration process.
#20. Keep it public
This one should be obvious, but a lot of owned brand communities are entirely closed, open only to invitees. For certain highly exclusive brands and insider communities, that might be a good thing. In most cases, however, you’ll want to keep at least a portion of your community open to the public if only for the sake of increasing search visibility.
Part 3: Encouraging engagement
Many online communities, particularly those which depend on mainstream social media, are often lamented for their lack of engagement. Beyond a few likes and shares, many business pages on Facebook, for example, don’t see any real interaction with customers. With your own community, you have many more opportunities to encourage engagement.
#21. Allow members to create profiles
When there’s a face behind the name, people are better able to make an instant connection. Add the ability for members to write short biographies or taglines, and you can also gather valuable insights about your members. While you should never try to force members to give away any more than they want, it’s always better if they have options.
#22. Add mentions and hashtags
People are much more likely to engage with online communities if they receive recognition for their participation. By allowing people to include @mentions in their messages, the member mentioned will know that people are referring to them. #hashtags are another useful function, since they help categorise content and enhance searchability.
#23. Implement live feeds
Livestreaming is one of the most powerful ways to engage your target audience directly, as though you’re sitting in the same room with them. If your business provides training services, online seminars, presentations, or any other live events, there’s no better way to get customers to engage with your community.
#24. Let members send direct messages
Just because people are prepared to join your brand community doesn’t mean they want to surrender their privacy. Giving members the ability to send private messages to one another provides the opportunity to forge closer relationships. Members should also be able to follow and friend one another, much like on any mainstream social channel.
#25. Enable specific interest groups
Unless your brand and its community have a very specific focus, chances are you’ll have a wide variety of members from different backgrounds with different hobbies and priorities. To ensure that everyone has a voice and a place they can call home, facilitate special interest groups where members can keep on topic.
#26. Use gamification tactics
Gamification refers to the use of video game features, such as points, ranks, and badges, in non-game contexts. It’s proven to be an extremely powerful tactic for increasing engagement in everything from learning to social networking to online forums. It also adds some fun into the mix and helps encourage constructive participation.
#27. Lead the conversation
Community marketing is all about two-way communication. You can’t expect people to participate in your brand community unless your internal team is also consistently present. Community managers and other representatives of your brand need to lead by example, rather than by authority, to drive and inspire conversations by talking and listening in equal measures.
#28. Recognise constructive participation
While everyday social media features such as likes and shares can help give visibility to the most popular content published by your community members, sometimes it’s a good idea to go that extra mile. If, for example, a member publishes a particularly useful piece that drives customer success, consider featuring it on your community homepage.
#29. Give preference to user-generated content
One of the most common mistakes brands make with community marketing is that they’re the ones doing all the talking. While they’re busy publishing their own content, that generated by community members often takes a back seat. Show your customers that they matter by giving them the visibility they crave and deserve.
#30. Go easy on the memes
Memes have come to dominate many branded social profiles to the extent they’ve become annoying clichés to many. While memes used to portray abstract concepts, they’re more often nothing more than images we’ve all seen before with some text overlaid on them. Keep the memes to a minimum to avoid coming across as lazy and repetitive.
Part 4: Growing your customer
To grow your business, you need to grow your customer. Customer success is about making sure your customers get the most out of your product or service. By providing a space for peer to peer support, product ideation and feedback, online communities offer many opportunities to help customers achieve their goals.
#31. Focus on relationships
A brand is the personification of a company, yet many brands are faceless and focus too much on things like headcounts alone. It’s time for social media to become social again, which is one of the main reasons why owned community platforms have become so effective. Instead of focussing on your business, focus on human relationships and customer wants and needs. Strong relationships between a brand and customers is a key success indicator of any community marketing plan.
#32. Listen to feedback
Most customers use online reviews and recommendations on social media to shape purchase decisions. Having a community of your own gives you a direct line of sight into the pain points of your target audience. By listening to feedback and thanking people for their involvement, you’ll be able to turn almost any kind of feedback into a valuable asset.
#33. Spend extra on onboarding
Enhancing customer success is one of the overarching goals of almost any online community, so you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure they can see the value of signing up. If you spend some extra time and money creating a refined onboarding process, your new members will have a great head start becoming engaged members of your community.
#34. Publish value-adding guides
Too many businesses think that their relationship with a customer starts and finishes when a transaction is made. However, customer success depends on that transaction going above and beyond expectations. By publishing how-to guides and lists of tips and tracks (as well as sharing those created by members themselves), you’ll add greater value to your customers.
#35. Highlight proven resolutions
An effective self-service customer support community not only deflects tickets from the support department – it also helps people resolve problems faster while empowering them to do things for themselves. To make that happen, you need to ensure proven solutions are highly visible by allowing members to upvote them.
#36. Put your members first
An important part of community marketing is that it should be customer-centric. It is far less about the business behind it and more about the members who support it. That’s why you need to put your members first when it comes to sharing and publishing content, creating a streamlined user experience, and building customer success with value-adding content. That’s not going to happen if promotion is the sole focus.
#37. Distil data into actionable insights
Every digital activity generates a huge amount of data. With data overabundance now being a significant business challenge, brands need a way to distil this digital noise into actionable insights that drive smarter decision-making. Ensure your platform offers a visual, data-based overview of the health of your community.
#38. Sell to your community
Naturally, increasing customer lifetime value (CLV) ultimately boils down to how much they spend. When people are actively participating in your branded community, they’re much more likely to be in ‘buying mode’ than when they’re using the major social networks. You can take advantage of that by integrating online purchases with your community.
#39. Offer a subscription plan
Providing a paid subscription plan presents another great way to monetise your community in an unobtrusive way, so long as the plan comes with a clearly defined value proposition. For example, a paid plan might come with access to exclusive discounts, priority support, or other extras that encourage members to spend more.
#40. Provide discount codes
Brand communities and loyalty programmes are often inextricably intertwined. By providing discounts, you can draw new members to your community, increase engagement with existing members, and sell more to your community. With a mobile community app, you can even use push notifications to alert members to fresh promotions.
Part 5: Inspiring brand advocacy
Every brand wants to have loyal customers but, believe it or not, there’s something even better – brand advocacy is the holy grail of community marketing. By leveraging your brand community to turn loyal customers into brand advocates, you can build an army of superfans who will happily spread the good word and supercharge business growth.
#41. Identify your superfans
Your superfans are the customers with the social following to influence purchase decisions and drive more members to your community and, therefore, customers to your brand. You can use various third-party social media analytics apps, such as Quintly or Socialbakers, to quickly find your biggest fans.
#42. Highlight your most valuable members
Your most valuable members are those who drive purchase decisions by posting great content that helps fellow customers get more out of your product or service. They’re the most valuable members of your community, and they deserve to be recognised as such. Many brands have an MVP (most valuable person) programme to reward exceptional community leadership
#43. Personalise the relationship
No one can reasonably expect you to thoroughly personalise every communication with every customer, but your brand advocates deserve some special treatment. Personalising the way you approach your fans will make them feel like they’re part of your team, and they’ll appreciate your going the extra mile.
#44. Develop your loyalty programme
If you already have a brand community, you probably already have a loyalty programme. But, when it comes to turning loyal customers into brand advocates, you might need to take things a step further. Consider developing your loyalty programme to add a new rewards tier for your most valued customers.
#45. Give your fans an inside look
When people become engaged members of your community, the line between businesses and customers starts to blur, and the whole entity becomes a collaborative effort to the benefit of everyone. There are few better ways to make your fans feel like they’re a part of the team than by giving them an inside look into the development of your products and services.
#46. Invite them to exclusive events
In the digital age, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the importance of real-world events. By adding an offline element to your community marketing strategy, you can bridge that gap and give your members the chance to enjoy a whole new level of belonging. Use your community to publicise offline events too, such as trade fairs, fan meetups and workshops.
#47. Provide a holistic customer experience
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to communicating online, and there are more options than ever. You should never attempt to force people into using one platform over another. Instead, provide a holistic customer experience in which your brand advocates can enjoy the privilege of being contacted the way they prefer.
#48. Act on their feedback
All constructive feedback can add value to your brand, whether it’s positive or negative. But, no feedback is more important than that which comes from your leading influencers. If one of your superfans has a great idea for a new product or service, and they’re sharing that idea with other members, then you should act on that feedback whenever possible.
#49. Integrate a referral programme
Asking for referrals is a great way to start building your community in the first place, but when it comes to nurturing brand advocates, you’ll need a more sophisticated referral programme. Advocates should have greater incentives to refer new customers, such as access to exclusive discounts or private communities for brand ambassadors.
#50. Be wary of automation
Last, but certainly not least, approach automation with caution. With machine learning and artificial intelligence being among the hottest topics in technology right now, a lot of companies are hoping to take as many shortcuts as possible when it comes to building their brands. Automation certainly isn’t always bad, but remember, communities are all about people first.
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