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Tips & Bits #44: Can You Sustain a Relationship with Your Online Community?

Often people think that a healthy relationship “just happens.” Unfortunately, what your mother used to tell you, “just be yourself and everyone will love you,” isn’t always true. So if you’re responsible for the care and feeding of an online community for yourself or your business, here’s some advice that will help you attract and retain members rather than being a lonely community of one.

[1] Pay it Forward
You may not have seen the movie, but the principle it brought to life is valid. Instead of practicing the usual “quid pro quo” from the Latin “what for what” ­­– meaning a more or less equal exchange for goods or services, the best approach is for you to give first without expecting anything in return.

Only after you have proved to be a source of valuable information, or at least an enjoyable or entertaining spot to visit, will you begin to see guests reciprocate and offer you their loyalty and their business.

Example: There’s a company that sells earthworms to people who compost at home. The company has an incredibly informative website with videos that explain how to set up composting installations, how to get the best results, and so on. They make it fun and easy to learn and have earned a tremendous following. When they send out emails announcing special sales promotions, their community members respond with gusto thanks to the relationship that has developed over time.

If your reader can put your advice into practice and get a positive result, you’ve made progress.

[2] Establish a Parallel Universe
For communications to be effective, they must be believable. And to overcome the inherent mistrust people have in marketing messages, the audience has to feel connected on some level with the person offering the advice or selling the product.

Example. Weight Watchers has done a fabulous job with their long-running campaign featuring singer/actress Jennifer Hudson. Just about everyone remembers Jennifer when she made her debut and was overweight. Her campaign followed her progress as she shed the pounds and demonstrated the effectiveness of the program while making it believable because she was a person her audience could relate to.

The most common sales objections is: “That may work for someone else, but it’ll never work for me.” More than anything, people hate to look and feel like the fool. It’s easier to say no than to try and fail and have people make comments that remind us of our failures.

By establishing a parallel universe in which the audience can identify with and come to the conclusions that, “if it worked for that person, it surely will work for me!” Then the sale is virtually a done deal. This is the principle behind peer-to-peer selling.

[3] Mind Your Manners
Every kid knows that there are two ways to get attention:

  1. Behave, make yourself useful, be nice, friendly, and always say please and thank you.

  2. Be loud, annoying, argumentative and a troublemaker

They both work — if the goal is merely to get attention.

However, your goal is to do more than that. You need to grow your community and turn followers into customers. Being kind and considerate is a better way to accomplish this goal.

The more you respect the members of your community, the more they will respect you and that’s what builds loyalty.

[4] Be Old Faithful
Some marketers only send out emails when they want to introduce a new product, or boost sales with a special promotion. If this reminds you of one of your acquaintances who only calls when they need your help or want to borrow something, you can see why this approach doesn’t engender a relationship

Building relationships is like building a brick wall the slow way. Everyday a new brick is put into place – over time a wall takes shape. Providing valuable content on a regular and reliable basis is the best way to build a strong relationship.

Follow a steady, predictable schedule with content.  Keep on providing high-quality content and people will come to rely on you. Be predictable – like Yellowstone’s magnificent geyser, Old Faithful – and your audience will feel comfortable with you. They’ll put a great deal of trust in you and your company.

[5] Don’t Undermine Your Authority
Just because you’ve created a community that has warmth and humanity, doesn’t mean you can air your dirty laundry.

Your audience should feel comfortable with you; they should know you really care. They should feel that your communications are open and transparent. However, you need to maintain a professional attitude and conduct.

Your position as an authority on your specialty will be weakened and possibly toppled by behavior that crosses the line of ethics, common sense and polite conduct.

You can share too much. Keep your personal life personal. Never insult or bash others. Constructive criticism is acceptable. Being a “hater” is not. You want your reputation to be unquestionable and beyond compromise.

Follow these five guidelines and you’ll be able to nurture a community that will help you build a successful business.

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