Why should we build communities for our businesses? What is a community and what value do they have?
I’m part of a long standing online community. Although I’ve been a part of it for 10 years or more I still feel like a newbie. The community was built around a common interest in a British comedian.
It started as a mailing list in tandem with an online forum. The forum died, the mailing list still exists althugh is less active now as we have brought our friendships onto Facebook.
Members of this community meet in real life and have built friendships and relationships. I’ve been on holiday with members of the group, some have stayed in my home, I’ve stayed in their homes. Whenever I travel in the UK I look up any fellow community members and meet them for a coffee, a pint, a chat.
We rarely talk about the comedian who brought us together but you will find us at every gig or event he runs. We bring our friends with us and talk about the gigs online.
Being in a community makes you feel like you are part of something bigger. It makes you feel like you have a special connection to the people and the common interest that the community is built around.
Imagine having a community like this centred on your business.
Are We Getting It All Wrong With Community Building? – Watch Below
What Do We Mean When We Talk About Community?
The word ‘community’ has been misrepresented.
Many regard their community as their social media followers but it needs to be more than this. I see followers as communites in waiting it’s our job to activate them.
I’ve looked up the definition of the word ‘community’ on several online dictionaries. Some describe it as:
- A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
- A particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants.
In some ways I can see how this term has been extended to refer to a group of followers, but is it really accurate? What commonality do your followers have other than being connected to you?
The community I described is based around a central character, a celebrity but it’s active because members communicate with each other, not the central character.
To have a community people have to feel like they are members. That they are valued. They will want to get to know other community members to feel reassured that they are part of a group of like-minded people.
Communities In Waiting
Page Likers on Facebook have a simple relationship with you. You broadcast messages to them, they respond, you respond to their responses. It is rare that conversation breaks out from that format, it’s rare for your page likers to strike up conversations with each other.
The same is true on Twitter, the odd multi-player conversation may erupt but in most cases your relationship with your followers is one to one.
If you can activate your communities in waiting you can push the activity around your business beyond the walls of your social media.
Your followers will begin to feel like they belong to something, a club, a community. They will become more comfortable sharing with others in the group. Some will even break out and start forming friendships and sub-communities outside of your social channels. When this happens two things occur:
1. You begin to lose control of the message
You have little control beyond your own base. Your community members get to write the script when they talk to people outside of your community. You just have to ensure you have given them the right facts and the right content to share.
2. They become advocates for your business
The good news is that although the message gets diluted your community members will start to talk about you outside your social media channels. They will talk about you to their friends online and in and the offline world. They will become your best sales people, your own army of word of mouth marketers.
How To Activate Your Community
Use a space that fosters conversation
It’s difficult to build community on a Facebook page or in the comments section of your blog post. You need to find a space that nurtures conversation.
One of the reasons the community I talked about works so well is that it’s all been conversation based. We conversed in the email threads, on the forum and in real life. If you want your community to be active you nee to look beyond your Facebook page and Twitter handle.
Facebook groups are the ideal space for this. I love Amanda Brown’s Celebration Project group. Even though I’m a passive member most of the time, I feel like I am celebrating her successes along with the group.
She asks for input for new projects meaning I’m more likely to buy them when they are launched.
Twitter chats are still a clunky way of having mass conversations but those that persist will feel the community spirit. Although chats are usually hosted by a specific Twitter account threaded conversations go on way after the scheduled conversations have ended.
I’m not a regular contributor to chats but I have been known to join #BufferChat #BizChats from Mashable amonst others. I always meet new people when I join in.
Once you’ve found a home, or homes for your communities your job is to encourage conversation. Assist your members as they get to know each other.
Being a Facebook group or Twitter chat admin is a bit like being the host at a dinner party. Plan conversations that will ignite conversations. Think of topics that will get responses. Run polls, ask questions and encourage others to do the same.
Your community is a great forum for feedback. Ask them for advice, for suggestions for input. When you implement their suggestions they’ll feel valued and they’ll happily share your content and updated products, blog posts or content with their audiences.
If you have an active community online look at ways to take this offline. Can you host a meetup? When people meet in real life it helps cement their online relationships.
A real community takes time and work but the value is huge. Having a group of active community members who feel part of your business can help build business that will last for years.
Are you part of any online communities? What value do you get from them? Who does community well? I’d love to hear about your Facebook groups, Twitter chats and offline communities, tell me about them below.