While it might seem like growing a business is all about advertising, marketing, promoting products and making sales pitches, there are alternatives for establishing your brand. One of them is building community.
Building community around your brand, product, service, or solution is a powerful way to boost your business by making authentic, lasting connections and relationships with your ideal audience.
Here are a few reasons why building community should be on every entrepreneur’s list of things to do, and how you can create a group to help build your business.
Why you should prioritize building community
Building community is a non-salesy way to promote your brand, meet new potential customers, and best of all, feel more pride and satisfaction with your business. Managing a community and connecting with your ideal audience helps both you and your customers because it allows you to:
- Offer help and support. Because building community isn’t focused solely on selling, you get to show your helpful side and offer advice, support and guidance. You get to helps your customers in more personal ways that your products and services can’t.
- Teach and share knowledge. One of the ways you get to help your audience is by using your expertise to share unique knowledge that helps your community solve problems.
- Differentiate your brand. Building community around your offerings and brand allows you to stand out from your competitors. A similar offering with no support or group will fail to compare to your community offering.
- Build loyalty. Because you are taking it one step further and offering your customers an authentic experience beyond your products and expertise, you are able to build lasting brand loyalty and affinity.
- Learn about customer needs. While interacting with your audience, you learn a lot about your ideal clients and customers. You find out what they want and need, and then you can use that knowledge to improve your offerings and/or create new products and services.
- Grow your business. Your community building also eventually leads to a better business for you. Building community creates opportunities for you to sell more, attract new audiences, and build lasting relationships with loyal and engaged customers.
There is a huge value in community. Along with these benefits, being part of a group also brings satisfaction to your personal life. You get to surround yourself and make connections with people who have the same interests, experiences and passions as you. These factors can make you happier, smarter and healthier.
Types of communities you can create
Now that you know the benefits of building community, let’s talk about what types of groups you can create.
The best communities have boundaries that clearly explain the purpose and mission of the group and help people identify with those details. In an article about community building on Moz, they explain that successful communities typically align with people in at least two of the following ways:
- Who the audience is
- What the audience does
- What the audience thinks and feels
A community works best when it connects with more than one category that a person identifies with. Some examples of those group categories might include:
- Problem-solving groups are all trying to solve the same problem or achieve the same goal.
- Industry groups are all involved in the same professional industry or vertical.
- Interest groups share an interest in the same hobby, passion or pastime.
- Belief groups have a strong belief in a particular structure, system, ideology or philosophy.
- Regional groups are all located in a specific geographic region.
- Demographic groups share similar demographic characteristics. This identifier could be related to gender, age, race, income, etc.
- Shared experience groups have all gone through the same unique experience.
Often, the more specific the group, the more likely it will be to resonate deeply with people. So if you are building community, consider creating a group that uses a qualifier to segment an already existing group.
For example, if you are in a community of freelance writers, you could create a group that is only for freelance writers in their first year of business or located near New York City or for writers in the finance industry.
Where to build your community
Once you have an idea of how to target a segment of an audience for building a community, it’s time to actually set up the space to house your group.There are multiple options for hosting your community.
A community can be as simple as a group of people who all sign up to receive the same email newsletter. While the communication is more one-way (you to the audience), an email newsletter can effectively create a sense of community with a group of people by regularly sharing information that interests and relates to them.
Like an email newsletter, starting a blog is a way to regularly share information to a group of people. The difference is that more of your community can engage with the content through comments and sharing the post on social media. Plus, blog content is curated on one platform over time, unlike email newsletters.
A membership site takes it up a notch from a blog. Membership sites typically require users to sign up to read and access content that is for members only. There are a variety of options for membership site plugins and software you can add to your website to create this type of platform.
Online forums are a way to get your audience more involved. You can create a space where your members can ask questions, start conversations, and provide answers and feedback among themselves.
One of the more popular tools for building community is Facebook Groups. You can create public groups (so people can find you via search) or private groups (exclusively for your invited members) and use the space to share posts, create pools, and stay closely connected.
While Slack is typically marketed as a workplace tool, it also functions well as a homebase for smaller groups that need to share progress, resources and messages. You can create a private workspace for members.
An option for a one-stop software for building community is Mighty Networks. The platform is built specifically for building community, so you have a suite of features to help you stay in contact with your members. Plus, you can customize Mighty Bell and use visual branding to make the community look and feel just like your other platforms.
Don’t forget that communities can come outside the online sphere. In-person meetups — whether professionally planned or informal — can be a great way to get to know your audience and help your community form connections with each other. If you want to grow your community, post event listings on Eventbrite, Meetup and Facebook to help attract audiences who might be searching for an event or group like yours.
Tips for building community
Now that you know why building community is important and where you can start and grow your group, it’s time to get to work. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you develop your community.
Always make it about the people
Even if you have intentions to use your group to build awareness around your brand or sell your products, that cannot be your primary goal with building community. The main focus of your group should always be about members and offering them value. Being overly promotional or salesly feels inauthentic and will likely push members away.
Encourage the group to share
Because members are at the core of your group, make sure you get them involved. Don’t be the only voice sharing information, thoughts and perspectives in your community. Invite your members to share their opinions, wins, projects and information about themselves to make it more like a group and less like a one-way sounding board.
Recognize group members
Even if group members share on their own, use your authority as a leader to highlight individuals in the community. Feature members, highlight their projects, celebrate their successes, and use every opportunity you can to make members feel special and included.
Set the tone of the culture
As the founder and leader of a group, you must accept the responsibility of setting the tone of the culture in your community. How you interact with the group will likely be how members of the group act as well. For example, if you post regularly and are always positively engaged, they will be too. On the flip side, if you don’t prioritize your community or act disinterested, your members will start to distance themselves as well.
Share regular content
Members are the most important part of a community. The second essential element is the content you share. Building community is often shaped around the articles, social posts, videos and information you share. People join the community to meet people, but also to get content that helps, educates, and motives them. So create an editorial calendar and deliver content regularly so members get what they want and know when to expect information from you.
A fun way to get your community engaged with the group and your content is by offering challenges. These can be an assignment or outlined plan to accomplish a goal or make progress in some way. They are fun because the whole group can participate in the same activity even if they aren’t in the same place. You can even assign accountability partners to encourage your group to interact with each other.
Have rules and policies
A community is usually designed to be a safe place where members can comfortably and respectfully share ideas, experiences, thoughts and inspiration. That foundation has the potential to be broken if there are disruptive members in your group.
So before you start building community, create an outline of the behavior you expect out of your group and set standards for actions.
Publicly post your policies where all members can see them and use them to remove members if their actions take away from the core mission of your group.
Building community and managing groups take work, and that work grows as the size of your membership does. Know that you don’t have to do all of it on your own. If your group grows and becomes too difficult or time consuming to manage on your own, seek help. Choose a member of your group or hire a community manager. You can still be a leader and closely involved with your group while outsourcing some of the management.
Choosing barriers to entry for your community
We already discussed that it’s essential to have qualifiers and boundaries that define your group and help attract ideal members. Those are the characteristics that define your community, but they might not necessarily be requirements for who joins your group.
The barriers to entry — or what members must do to join your group — are up to you. You could leave your community open to anyone who signs up. Or, you can use the following qualifiers and requirements to gain membership.
- Concrete qualifications — Members have to meet specific requirements to join. Those requirements could be related to job experience, participation in an event, demographics, etc.
- Open-end qualifications — Instead of setting requirements in stone, you could ask open-ended questions or perform an interview to gauge whether or not someone is a good fit for your community.
- Cost — Your group could be free (open to anyone who signs up), paid (available for a recurring or one-time fee) or a mixture of both (features are available for free while others are open for only paid members).
Examples of successful communities
The best way to see what is possible with building community is to look at what other brands and individuals are already doing. Here are few groups that have excelled at using a community to support a target group, reach their ideal audience, build authentic relationships, and also promote services and make money.
- Unstoppable Basecamp — Facebook group for freelance website developers
- Inbound.org — Free membership site for digital marketers
- CoCommercial — Mighty Network group for small business owners
- The Hustle — Daily email newsletter for tech and business enthusiast
- Lean In Circles — In-person groups (that take place around the world) for working women
Building community to grow your brand
Building community gives your brand a way to bring a human element to your business. Creating and managing a group helps you get to know your customers, make relationships with potential customers, share what you know, learn, get inspired — and yes, build your business.
So, what are you waiting for? Start building community today.
Image by: Ingo Joseph from Pexels