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Tips & Bits #43: Building an Online Community

Building an online community begins by discovering a common bond that is shared among a group of people. Experiences are often the common interest about which a community is created. Another example is a passion for collecting a specific item – say vintage post cards.

And while a community appears to be close knit, when looked at on an individual level, it members can be vastly different. However, the unifying trait is that every community has a “heart” and to plug into that core in a meaningful way can coax it to let down its guard and invite you (and your brand) inside. 

Authenticity is important to all, but it is particularly essential for members of Generation Y. And marketers smart enough to recognize and respond to the emerging importance and spending power of this consumer segment will be rewarded handsomely. The key to understanding them is realizing that they will not tolerate dishonesty. Once you earn their trust, they will be loyal and more often than not become vocal advocates.

Think about the characteristics of a community. Brands are obliged to act small, even if they’re huge. Marketers need to treat their customers as peers – a two-way dialog is the preferred mode of communication. The previous style was a one-way message that is in opposition to the concept of community.

The truth that must be considered is that communication is endowed with a greater degree of believability and acceptance when it comes from a peer in a community. It carries the voice of someone who is trusted and not simply focused on monetizing the relationship.

To fit into this new paradigm of marketing, every brand has to embrace and continuously engage the community it serves. Below are five lessons brands must learn about building communities:

  1. Take an interest in their minds, not just their bodies. Focusing on gender or ethnicity is out. Consumer groups with common interests are the goal. When you provide an experience that relates to something they’re passionate about, they’ll share with their community and spread a brand movement. 
  2. Express humanity. One of the more human characteristics that rates highly is a sense of openness. When brands can be honest and open about who they really are, they will attract strong devotees. 
  3. Remember who gives you your paycheck.  Brands must always put the consumer first. Make their dreams your mission and they’ll rally around, creating a powerful community. Make it your job to understand them, and keep up with how they live.
  4. We’re all in this together. Twitter and Facebook let consumers feel like they are part of a larger group that respects one another. It’s all about being a peer – there is no place for hierarchy.
  5. Accept feedback gratefully and humbly. Every company’s mission should be to become a better company by listening carefully to its customers and community. Never throw up a wall of excuses to deflect blame if and when it is due.

The internet brings another dimension to the world of marketing communications. It provides an opportunity for companies to engage with customers and prospects through an online relationship that is in the form of a community.

And as a member of a community, a company must behave like an individual. A human being that is capable of the give and take that is expected of every member of a community. Keep these points in mind and your community will grow and prosper.

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