I’ve been hearing and reading a lot on Twitter lately about people looking for quick magic answers on how to build a thriving online community, and people looking for advice on the “best way to reach our audience.” The two things are not the same – a community is a group of like-minded people who come together for various reasons, but always share knowledge, ideas and most importantly conversations. On the other hand, the audience receives this knowledge, these ideas, etc… The best way I can explain the difference is this: the community is engaged and interactive, whereas the audience passively receives information.
Community is something that will live with you throughout your brand’s lifecycle, when built and maintained “right”. They will contact you, and you will get to know them. You (and/or your brand) and community members ideally grow as a result of your relationships.
Like any other relationship in your life, whether online or offline, it takes work. Think about the friends you have offline – how did those friendships start? What keeps it growing, deeper and more meaningful? Do the same with your online community. There’s no reason being online is any different than you being offline.
If you’re building an online community as a brand, there are a few steps I recommend to get you started.
- See where people are already talking about you. If people are talking about your brand and more passionate about it on Twitter, start there. If you see more people mentioning you on Facebook, start there.
- Get to know the people in the community as you build it. Again, all relationships take time. Give yourself time to get to know each member. What do they want to do? What other brands do they prefer besides yours? Where do they spend their free time? What kind of work do they do? These are all the things I want to know about potential close friends, whether they are online friends or offline friends.
- As you get to know each member in your community, you may find certain members have more in common with others. Help make those introductions. Help them develop their own community!
- Become you. Have you ever been at a dinner party and there was that one guest who only talked about himself, bragging about things you couldn’t care less about? Don’t be that person. You represent your brand for a reason – your sparkling personality! Don’t be afraid to show it and let people get to know you better, as well as your brand. Don’t let the keyboard make conversation awkward or different than how you would feel if you were talking to a new friend in person. (For the record, I’m often awkward when meeting new people, but that’s okay! We’re human.)
- Consistent. What do you say about friends making plans, then canceling them, or seeing you on a date and then disappearing for 3 months? Honestly, we ALL have that friend. Alone? I call them flakes. And that’s not a good thing – it’s annoying, right? To never know whether or not you can depend on that person, or know if you make a plan, that they won’t fail at the last minute? Again? Maybe I’m repeating myself, but it’s one of my favorite movie quotes, so I’ll say again, “Don’t be that person.” Be reliable. It’s a good personality trait no matter what you do.
- Remember to keep things relevant. If you were reading this article, and knew from the title that it was going to be filled with tips on building an online community, and suddenly there was a paragraph about my dog’s fear of hurricanes, you’d be pretty confused, right? That’s because how my dog feels in the rain has nothing to do with community building steps. It’s something you might find yourself in community with, because I talk about my dog all the time, but it has no relevance here. You may get sidetracked every now and then, but try to keep your voice and message consistent and clear, and most importantly, relevant. People join your community for a reason – don’t give them reasons to leave, or feel that they don’t want to be involved in it when you get together.
- Be a person in the community. You are a member of the community just like anyone else. Don’t see it as something different – share community members’ successes, comment on things they share with you, join the conversation.
- Take it online, offline. As you grow and get to know your community, see if you can meet someone for coffee. Do you travel a lot for work, like me? Even better! Now you have the opportunity to meet even more people! I like to set up “Tweet-Ups” in every city I visit, so not only do I get the chance to meet more people in person, but the rest of the community get to meet each other as well. You’d be surprised how many people live in the same city and never meet. I love putting together, and it’s always so much fun!
- Try to have an attitude of gratitude. In the end, your brand is nothing without the people who love it and support it. So why not keep that in mind, and always try to make those people feel as important as they are? Surprise gifts are fun, but they’re not always necessary. Basically, people like to be acknowledged. No? I know I know. A simple thank you isn’t always simple for some people, it means a lot more than you think.
- Remember to keep an eye on the community. If you don’t pay attention to certain metrics, how will you know if your community is growing and thriving? How do you know what you do well in the community and what more people want to see of you?
I wish the Top 10 List was about 20 items longer. I am so passionate about the community I am fortunate to be involved in and have so much more to say! But for now, I want to hear what YOU found – what makes your community great? How did you start growing it? What have you learned from your community that you didn’t know before you started?