Customer communities have tremendous potential to help you build your business. Stronger customer communities can attract new people to your brand, encourage loyalty for existing customers, and even relieve some of the burden of customer service.
So how can you build a thriving customer community from scratch?
The Value of a Customer Community
There are many different ways to build a customer community. You could encourage customers to share their personal experiences with your product or show how it can be used in novel ways. You could use it as a help and assistance forum, where people can exchange ideas and provide each other help. You could even use it as a networking and meetup opportunity.
In any case, an online customer community can help your brand in several ways:
1. Marketing and visibility
For starters, an active customer community can support your marketing, advertising, and visibility efforts. For example, if you have thousands of customers creating new content on your forums on a daily basis, you’ll benefit from higher search engine results page (SERP) rankings and more inbound traffic.
2. Customer retention and brand engagement
Customer communities also foster more brand engagement. Your new and existing customers get more opportunities to engage with your brand name – and they’ll be more loyal and more likely to purchase from you in the future as a result.
In some cases, customer communities can function as a kind of self-service portal. Customers can resolve problems and creatively brainstorm amongst themselves, rather than requiring an active customer service presence on your end (though you’ll still need some customer support in place).
How to Build a Customer Community From Scratch
So how do you build a customer community from scratch?
1. Choose the right medium and platform
First, it’s important to choose the right medium and platform for your brand. Consider your target audience and pick a location that’s going to be accessible, convenient, and attractive to them. Is it better to create a forum on your brand’s website? Or should you create a social media group? Or maybe both? There are many options to choose from, each with strengths and weaknesses, so choose something that’s a good fit for your brand.
2. Make it easy
The easier it is to post and engage with other people, the more engagement you’re going to get. If it’s difficult to make a post, people won’t be interested. Make it as quick and easy as possible to create a user account and draft a post – and get feedback from existing users to determine if there are any roadblocks in this process.
3. Seed the community with content
Most online communities don’t spontaneously generate themselves. Instead, they’re seeded with content from the outset, and only later do actual users start contributing material of their own; for example, this is how Reddit started. Make an effort to draft helpful instructional posts, written guides, and possibly even simulated user discussions; it will make your platform seem livelier and more attractive.
4. Call upon your best customers
Talk to some of your best customers about the existence of your customer community, as they’ll be some of the likeliest people to take early advantage of it. You can even incentivize them to start making posts and stirring discussion, possibly compensating them for their contributions.
5. Get the brand active
This may be a customer-driven community, but that doesn’t mean it should be exclusive to your customers. Your audience will be much more likely to participate if your brand is regularly and actively engaging with them. Make sure you have brand ambassadors posting new content and talking to users in comments at least some of the time.
6. Reward your best contributors
Pay attention to your best contributors – the customers making highly popular posts and making hundreds to thousands of comments. Go out of your way to show appreciation to them, offering them rewards and special privileges; it will keep them contributing and encourage other customers to follow in their footsteps.
7. Market the community
Don’t forget to market and advertise the community itself. Spending a bit of money on content marketing, paid ads, or even simple email blasts can raise awareness that the community exists and bring more people into the fold.
8. Consider offline meetups
Go beyond the online forum to connect with your customers. Consider throwing periodic customer appreciation days (or similar events) and meeting in person to strengthen those bonds.
With a strong customer community in place, your brand will be in a much better position to retain customers, attract new customers, and grow. The bigger your business becomes and the more influence your brand carries, the easier it will be to keep the community alive.