Living and working in a post-COVID world has shown us that connection and online community are more important than ever. More and more, people are turning to virtual communities for support, advice and recommendations.
This is a great opportunity for businesses to grow followings for their products or services.
So how can you harness the power of a virtual community for your own business? The good news is you don’t have to be a huge global company. You also don’t have to have a large marketing budget in order to build relationships with your customers.
Whether you’re a sole trader, have a brick-and-mortar store or only offer one product or service, you can start small and grow from there.
Here we’ll take a look at how you can start building a virtual community around your small business and turn your customers into your biggest advocates.
What is a virtual community?
A virtual or online community is a group of people with a shared interest or purpose who meet online, often on social media platforms, to connect, ask questions and share ideas.
Building a community among your customers pays off in loyalty and referrals.
The online community might be created around a course, a product or a common interest or niche. Members might be looking for answers to questions or tips and tricks on using certain products — or simply want to connect with like-minded peers.
How to create a digital community
So where do you start? Let’s go through the six key steps to creating a successful virtual community for your business.
Step 1: Define your purpose
The first step is to get clear on the purpose of your community. Make sure to ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the group for (i.e. generate a sense of belonging among customers)?
- What are your business’s goals and priorities?
- Is there a gap you can fill?
Defining your purpose will help you understand how a community fits in with your business goals and how your virtual community can help achieve them.
Step 2: Define your ideal community members
A successful community is one that appeals to its users — it needs to feel like it belongs to them.
Remember, your users and their needs come first.
Think about how your users will access the community, what kind of content they will engage with (e.g. videos, contests, etc.) and how they’ll communicate with each other.
Step 3. Choose your community platform
The platform you choose will be the foundation of your community. So, when it comes to selecting the right community platform for your needs, there are a few important things to consider:
- What features do you need?
- How big do you expect the community to be?
- Where does your audience already hang out?
Community platform options can range from free groups hosted on social media platforms (such as Facebook and LinkedIn) or followers using a specific hashtag on Instagram. They can also be paid third-party platforms such as Mighty Networks, Circle or Slack.
Step 4. Create your content and resources
Now it’s time to think about the kind of content and resources you can provide to help your members get the most out of their community. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Think about what they need more information on or what problems they need solved.
You’ll also want to think about creating handy guides, video tutorials or webinars. Try running an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session or invite and interview experts on a topic of interest to the group. Make sure the resources are easily accessible and that all the members know where to find them.
Step 5. Launch your community
You’ve chosen your platform and you have content ready to go. It’s time to open the doors and start welcoming members!
But first, consider the following:
- How smooth is your welcome process?
- Do you have a good sales page to attract the right people?
- Do you have an email list of customers you can reach out to?
Consider creating a welcome sequence of emails to guide members into the group and point them to the resources they might find useful.
Editor’s note: Manage your email, Facebook and Instagram communications with customers from one screen with GoDaddy’s Digital Marketing Suite.
Step 6. Manage and grow your community
The best way to ensure the success of your community is to engage, respond and be helpful. Encourage new members to take action on the platform from the moment they join to break the ice. You can also nominate brand ambassadors and reward users who are helpful and supportive to the community.
Making sure your community feels safe, enjoyable and inclusive is essential for success.
Set up community guidelines for your members, detailing what is and isn’t okay to post in the community. Group rules are important to keep things in order and keep the nature of conversation respectful and harmonious — this is where community moderation comes in.
Enlisting the help of a moderator will not only keep check on discussion and debate in the group, but will also ensure a safe and fun environment. They can also help cultivate a strong community around your brand.
Stay curious and experiment with what works. Make sure to focus on:
- Being present and active
- Stimulating engagement
- Responding to posts and questions
- Valuing every member
It’s also important to be helpful and giving, without the expectation of anything in return. Remember, respect and reciprocation go a long way to building trust and brand loyalty.
The benefits of a virtual community for your business
The benefits for your business are undeniable. An engaged and active online community of loyal fans can become one of your biggest assets. A virtual community can:
- Position you as a leader in your field (aka thought leadership)
- Spread awareness of your business
- Bring in revenue
- Provide valuable insights into your target market
Think of it as a resource for your customers, a place where they can ask questions, compare notes, share tips and ideally point each other in the direction of your outstanding product or service.
It’s also a golden opportunity for you to show your customers that you care about them and that you can solve their problems.
Brands that are leading the way
If you’re looking for inspiration, there’s no shortage of businesses that are doing it right and creating buzzworthy online communities. These guys may be big guns, but there are successful elements you can adopt or incorporate on a smaller scale in your own community.
Apple has long-established Apple Support Communities, designed as customer support channels for their individual products. Users can ask questions, find tips and tricks and share their love with other Apple enthusiasts around the world
The Spotify community is another great example of an engaged and thriving virtual community.
Spotify does a great job of bringing users together to share music and ideas.
The most active and helpful community members (identified as Rock Stars) are recognised for their contributions. They can earn points redeemable for rewards such as headphones, speakers, T-shirts and more.
Lego Ideas is a global community of LEGO enthusiasts, where users can submit their own ideas for kit designs and vote on others. Select designs are then chosen each year for development with the original designer receiving 1% of the royalties. By opening the doors to collaboration and inclusion, LEGO makes its fans feel a part of a global family.
The T2 Tea Society is a community of enthusiastic tea-lovers that is over two million strong. With a focus on inclusion, they offer everyday rewards, personalised offers and tea-brewing events (among other insider benefits). In exchange for their passion and brand loyalty, members are often rewarded with T2 tea products.
An online community is stronger in numbers
Being part of an online community makes us feel like we belong to something bigger than ourselves.
We can connect with other like-minded people, grow our network and get valuable advice.
As a business, investing the time and effort into building a virtual community has the potential to pay dividends. Focus on building real relationships and providing value, while always looking for opportunities to help and support your customers. You’ll soon turn your virtual community into a thriving destination.