5 tips for building a strong community authentically
An online community can empower, inspire or create a sense of belonging. Sarah Neill shares five tips for brands looking to build a strong community.
We all know that a strong community is a powerful asset for any business. They allow you to engage with customers and get real-time feedback, they can provide a powerful amplification of your messages and they can add perceived value to your brand as you provide a place for like-minded people to connect and engage directly. And, if value grows with members, then you’ll have tapped into the holy grail – network effects.
Almost every brand has its own online community. With consumers getting bombarded with options, you need to find a way to cut through the clutter. And while there are low barriers to joining a new community – when you get their attention – there are even lower barriers to tapping out. So not only do you need to consider how to attract members but you also need to think about ongoing engagement.
Here are five tips for building a strong online community authentically:
1. Have a clear value proposition
It’s important that you are building the community for a reason better than ‘it’s good for business’. You need to think about what value you can deliver to the community and it has to be reciprocal. Will you educate, inspire, empower or connect? Why can you do this in a way that others can’t? Are you a subject matter expert, are you skilled at curation, do you have content that people can’t access elsewhere and do people want to connect with you? Whatever the objective for the community, and the value proposition, it should be aligned with your brand’s greater purpose, so make sure you have that crystal clear.
2. Choose the right platform to host your community
There are lots of choices for where to host your community. Consider how users engage on each platform and how that aligns with the information you want to share and your objectives. Then think about the demographics of your target members – it’s easiest to go where they already are. Finally, don’t get tricked into thinking you need to be across them all. My advice is to pick one and start there. Are you sharing things you’ve found (tagging on Instagram), creating conversations about articles and research (linking on LinkedIn or Facebook), being your own thought leader (driving your own narrative on Clubhouse) or are you looking to create your community offline and in real life? You may find that you need more platforms for different tasks over time but add them incrementally.
3. Grow organically
It can be tempting to pay for early followers, but quick gains can become a blocker for growth and set a tone that is less aligned with your intrinsic value. It can also trick you into thinking you’ve got something of value when you don’t. Don’t get me wrong, the first users on anyone’s new platform will be the mums (in my experience dads less so), siblings, cousins, friends, friends of friends all who are following the obligatory follow requests. But from that point, you want people to opt-in to choosing you. If you pay, these followers may not stay, and they may devalue your community for others joining free – ‘why would I join free, when others are getting paid’. It doesn’t matter if you start small, you just need to see that spark of engagement, when you have that, you can focus on growth.
4. Deliver content that inspires, educates or empowers
You want a community that is engaged. A good community will do most of the work for you. But you need to ignite the conversations and content is a powerful way to do this. Great content can inspire, educate and empower – it can also just be funny. It can start discussions and make people consider new points of view. When creating content, think about your desired reaction – how do you want people to think and feel when they engage with it?
5. Be authentic
People love to get to know the people behind the brand or see ‘behind the scenes’. The more transparent you can be, the more relatable you become. People connect with people and they relate to challenges, so share your stories and they’ll join you on your journey to celebrate wins and cheer you on when you stumble. As a startup, we are extremely transparent, when people know that you’re a small team, and can see you working hard behind the scenes, they become much more forgiving of imperfection. It’s a real opportunity to develop that loyalty as people feel like they are on the ride with you.
Growth hacks for building your audience
- Follow people who you think might be interested. They may be curious to see who you are and this gets their attention – if you were right, they may sign up.
- Give people a reason to share with their friends. We’ve all seen the ‘tag a friend who is XYZ’.
- Run a competition. This one you need to do carefully – it’s a great way to get people sharing, but you need to ensure they’re sharing with the right people.
- Tag people, locations, brands and places in your posts.
- Content, content, content. The more you create, the more people you can reach. And if you’re limited with the ability to create content, be a curator, find interesting content and then serve it up – ideally with your own take on commentary.
- Ask for feedback. This is an easy way to get your community engaging, a simple way to do this (less intimidating than open answers, or surveys) are quick yes/no polls on Instagram stories. Make it easy for people to tap a button and engage.
Building a community is an investment, it will take time, energy, focus and potentially money, so don’t start building until you know what you’re getting into. And if you’re going to do it, do it properly and authentically.
Sarah Neill is the founder and CEO of Sydney startup, Mys Tyler.