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How to Leverage Online Communities to Grow Your Business
April 9, 2020
John Vuong
Business advice, Online marketing

Online communities can be very powerful. Stories shared on social media have gotten people fired on one hand and helped them fulfill their dreams on the other.

The power of social media and online community is great news for your business. It means that you can build relationships that really matter remotely and spur people into action. When you use the ideas behind a strong online community to grow your business, you’re positioning yourself for success.

What do you need to create online in order to have a strong community that builds your business? From online community platforms to online business marketing, here are a few things that will help:

Decide on Your Community Platform

Decide on Your Community Platform

The easiest place to build a community is on an existing online platform, especially on social media. Many times, these sites already have community features built in, such as Facebook’s Groups. Additionally, your target audience probably already spends time in these places.

However, there are drawbacks to using existing platforms. You’ll want to make sure you have a plan in place to handle these concerns.

The first concern is competition. You can create a community group on Facebook or LinkedIn, but how will you stand out from the thousands of groups that already exist? You’ll need a way to promote your group and make it unique.

Secondly, when you use an existing social media outlet you have to abide by their rules. And these rules can change anytime. For instance, Facebook has rules on how promotions can be administered.  There are also guidelines on creating groups, although Facebook (currently) welcomes them being used for business.

Of course, creating your own online community platform is challenging as well. It’s hard to get an audience and people have less reason to spend time on your platform than they do on other social media.

Many businesses solve these problems by creating a group on an existing social media site but also encouraging users to engage with them off the platform. For instance, you might encourage community members to join your email list so that you have more control on how you communicate and make offers.

Start by Joining Existing Communities

Start by Joining Existing Communities

A lot of businesses dive right in by creating their own social media community and trying to get as many members as they can. However, you’re missing an important step – being part of existing communities and seeing how they operate.

Focus on finding a group your prospects are likely to be in. Consider joining using your business page. You can also join using your personal profile and direct people to your business as they get to know you. Either way, you want to pay attention to the interaction.

Of course, this won’t work very well if you don’t join active, vibrant groups. A group that’s nothing but crickets won’t teach you anything! Remember that the largest groups are not necessarily the most active, either.

Often, you need to join several groups your prospects might enjoy and then see which ones are best. Having a variety of online communities as examples is important. Don’t be shy about leaving groups that aren’t teaching you what you need to know, though.

Once you find an ideal community or two, pay attention to what your ideal customers want. What do they ask for, talk about, and more? What language do they use to describe their needs? What solutions are they looking for?

Jump into the conversation and share helpful, honest, and useful advice. Don’t just sell – in fact, many groups prohibit selling by anyone other than the group owner. Instead, build relationships and help people find answers.

What you learn and the relationships you build will help you craft a great group of your own. Building an online community is challenging, so be sure you’re taking notes!

Focus on a Niche

 

Focus on a Niche

When it’s time to create your own group, you’ll be able to set the rules the way you want them. You’ll have already seen several groups in action, so you should have a good idea of what you like and don’t like.

For your own group, think about how you’ll stand out from the other communities out there. One important way to do so is to focus on a niche. For instance, let’s say you run a sporting goods shop. Consider starting a fishing group, or a group focused on hiking. You can even get a bit broader and focus on outdoor activities overall.

You want online brand communities that are broad enough to appeal to a lot of your customers, but not so wide that you’ll get a lot of folks who have no interest in your products or services. After all, if you try to appeal to everyone you’ll appeal to no one.

Think about what niche exists that you could serve with information and tips online that would lead to marketing and an invitation to buy down the road.

Understand What Prospects Want From an Online Community

Understand What Prospects Want From an Online Community

In a Twitter chat in 2018, Shout Me Loud explored what people feel are the benefits of being in online communities and forums. Answers included connecting with other like-minded people, learning more about a topic, and staying up to date in their niche.

As you consider how to leverage online groups – your own or ones that you belong to – think about how you can provide these benefits. What can you do to draw in experts or other like-minded folks? For instance, in the outdoor activities group we mentioned earlier, you might have someone who’s a trail runner do a live video or Q & A.

Another time, have a parent share about keeping kids engaged and safe during hikes, or while visiting a state park.

By providing people with information they’re interested in, you’ll be establishing yourself as an authority and a trustworthy source of information. This will help people know, like, and trust you enough to buy from you over time.

You can definitely post sales and deals in your group, but you really want to focus on building community and providing information.  If it becomes a giant sales letter, people will leave quickly.

Use Communities as Part of Your Online Business Marketing

 

Use Communities as Part of Your Online Business Marketing

Online communities are an important part of your business marketing. They are places you can build relationships while cultivating a customer base for your business.

Over time, these folks may become your most loyal clients and brand advocates. That’s certainly the result every business owner dreams of. However, keep in mind it’s a long-term strategy with a lot of ups and downs.

The key to succeeding with online groups is to be consistent and to use a group as one part of your marketing mix. You also want to have other outreach avenues, including an email list, search engine optimization (SEO), print marketing, and a professional website.

When you’re able to connect prospects who trust you to your other marketing materials, you’ll have a much better chance at getting the sale you’re hoping for. After all, you’ve nurtured them a long time – they aren’t a cold lead!

If you’d like help getting a strategy in place for your online business marketing, Local SEO Search is here to help. We’ve worked with over 10,000 small businesses and helped them reach the success they were looking for. We’d love to do the same for you.

Contact us today for a free consultation!

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