Do you have an online business? Or, maybe, you are held responsible for managing a business. If that’s the case, you already know why having a customer community is essential for a business.
Modern businesses are operating in the age of the consumer. The advent of social media and the accessibility of the internet has further shifted the balance of power towards customers, who can interact with brands and make their voices heard easier than ever before.
This isn’t something a new online business should fear though. Interaction with customers and presenting yourself as approachable are essential elements you should look to harness. In return, you can build a thriving community based around your business, helping to boost exposure and present yourself as an organization willing to accept criticism and grow from it. If harnessing the power of a customer community is so vital for new online businesses, then how do you go about doing it?
This is a guest post.
What is a customer community?
Customer communities are platforms where customers, partners, and business representatives come together to discuss and share opinions on products, services, and outside activity. They generally take shape on social media platforms, forums or chat software such as Discord.
These communities are the natural evolution of customer service and the power of the customer’s voice. They’ve played a huge part in developing how discussions are had around businesses online, both making them more honest and returning a degree of control.
Rather than businesses shutting down negative information around themselves, they have embraced using customer communities as a place to publically solve these problems and discuss their shortcomings with the people most invested in them.
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How to create a customer community for your online business
Building a thriving customer community is about preparation and self-aware application. So, what are the key steps you need to take to find immediate success with a customer community for your new online business?
1- Be customer-centric
The first step in preparing to launch a customer community is making sure your business has a pre-existing customer-centric attitude. This is actually much easier for a new business to do than a well-established one. Here you can start fresh, presenting yourself as positive and approachable in regards to customer concerns from inception.
Failing to capture this sentiment can result in your customer community launching amongst a cloud of negativity.
The last thing you want as a new business is to find your platform or social media flooded with complaints from disgruntled customers. This will cast your community as a negative place to be, pushing prospective customers away and potentially marking you as an untrustworthy business fundamentally uninterested in helping their customers. Future-proof the way you interact to ensure your customer community doesn’t get hijacked by negativity.
2- Start discussions amongst your customers
As a new business looking to build an online community you will be expected to kick start conversations with engaging and interesting content. You need discussions to entice the people who will drive your online community in the future, giving them a starting point to talk amongst themselves.
Even if you’re planning to launch a new platform for your community to keep things centralized and moderated, it helps to make use of existing ones. Begin discussions and release content onto forums and social media to show your worth, before slowly transitioning the community to your own platform.
Hint: You can use twitter or Facebook groups to host conversations.
Engage with consumers over these platforms and monitor your existing fan base to help define what discussions and topics work, and what they would likely want to see in the future.
Try to start discussions and build your own community by latching onto pre-existing ones. These can be either online or offline, depending on what you learn about how your audience currently engages with one another. Take inspiration from high street retailers, who have developed their brands and forged discussions amongst their communities using intelligent targeting of existing groups online, specialized media and through sponsoring industry events.
3- Give customers power and provide answers
Before you launch a community you need to give your audience a worthwhile reason to be a part of it.
A major reason consumers engage in online communities is to have their problems solved. Give your customers power and voice, and make sure they know they’re heard. Discussing your business and the culture around it won’t be interesting to your audience if they feel they’re shouting into a void.
Just as you need a good stream of quality content to initially hook your community, you need to publicly provide answers to customer queries to help build the impression your business is approachable and willing to help. Don’t deflect away any criticism in fear it will damage your brand, it helps to own your mistakes as a business.
If your brand feels closed off or resistant, customers will see engaging with you frivolous and your community launch will be stopped dead in its tracks. Engage with your customers and make yourself (or members of your marketing team) familiar faces around the community, solving queries and offering advice.
Your customer community needs to be built on the suggestion of ideas from customers that you then embrace as a business.
Tip: You can start using Quora to make conversations. Get started with this post on using quora platform for building engagement.
4- Find the right platform
Making sure you’re using the right platform for your customer community is just as important as the content and discussion on it. If you select a platform unfamiliar or uncomfortable to your customers, you will struggle to find a sizeable group willing to use it.
Think about how and where your customers currently interact. Would they be comfortable using a forum or chat platform or does it make more sense to confine your community to existing social media?
Consider who will be using your community and if they’ll be able to find it in the first place.
- Are they primarily online or offline?
- Do they want to communicate over mobile or desktop?
- If you do opt for mobile will it be over an app or through browser?
This is the time to research your current base and explore how other businesses have been able to develop interesting platforms. Accessibility and ease of use can determine whether or not your community becomes a part of your audience’s browsing habit or an annoyance they have to contend with to get a solution.
5- Consider the community’s sustainability
While it’s easy to get carried away, pragmatic thinking is required to produce a thriving customer community. Ambition is an essential part of business, but you have to be realistic about the size of your existing community and its potential for growth.
There’s no point launching a forum or chat function if it can’t sustain itself and prove using it is worthwhile. It can take a long time to build a community around a brand. If you’re only seeing very marginal growth the process can feel worthless and your output will ultimately suffer.
A new business also needs to consider the cost of managing a customer community, both in terms of finance and labor. Keeping it active will require a consistent output of high-quality content, putting a strain on your creative and marketing teams.
You’ll also need to keep your visibility high on these platforms, solving queries and regularly interacting with discussions. How much will your consumers want and can you keep up with the demand?
Customer power isn’t going away any time soon. Businesses will be forced to evolve, becoming more customer-centric and taking inspiration from their audience. Even if you’re a new online business barely getting off the ground, consider developing a customer community to drive interest and build brand loyalty early.
This guest post is written by Rodney from ecommerceplatforms.