Why You Should Build an Online Community of Engaged Customers and How to Do it9 minute read
It doesn’t matter what you are selling: building an online community should be one of your main goals as part of creating a successful brand and business.
With marketing, you are always trying to figure out who is your customer avatar and the best ways to reach them.
Having an online community is as powerful as being able to invite your target audience into your website or online course page and making them want to come back every single day onwards.
A study reported that 55% of businesses with an online community showed an increase in sales and new leads as a result of their branded community.
That said, building an online community is not just a marketing strategy. It takes time and hard work. The good news is that if you do this right, the payoff will be amazing.
In today’s article, we’ll walk you through the benefits of creating a community around your brand and how to do this step by step.
What is an online community, and why is it so important?
In this day and age, people are hungry for a feeling of connection. They want to feel part of a community of like-minded individuals.
An online community consists of a group of people with common interests who gather in a virtual space to share opinions, learn new ideas, and interact with each other.
Building an online community around your brand can be extremely beneficial to you and your customers. Let’s see why.
1. You’ll get feedback from your customers
When your online community is centered around your brand, chances are that your members are either your existing customers or are interested in your product or - in this case - your online course or membership site.
By interacting with them, you’ll be able to validate your online course idea and get real insights into what they like and dislike about your program.
This interaction will benefit both you and your community members, as you’ll have the opportunity to optimize your online course from the feedback received and ultimately deliver an enhanced experience to your customers.
2. Helps to reduce support requests
By addressing pain points about your product through your online community, you’ll see the support requests decrease over time.
You should not use your online community solely to solve support issues. However, it can provide insights into recurring customers’ problems, and it will give you a chance to address them and avoid negative reviews.
3. You’ll raise social proof and customer trust
Consumers don’t trust brands. They trust their peers.
When a new potential customer joins your online community, they’ll immediately get all the social proof they need to shut down their skepticism about your product or online course.
They’ll witness positive comments from fellow students, and they’ll be reassured by knowing that they can use the online community to express any feedback they might have.
4. It increases website traffic and sales
Suppose you manage to build an engaged online community around your brand. In that case, you’ll have a pool of potential customers available who are interested in your product or online course and trust you.
Needless to say that a thriving online community will most definitely help increase website traffic and and sales for your online course or membership site.
If your community members are excited about your program, they’ll be the marketing voice you need. By leveraging word-of-mouth marketing, you’ll be able to spread the word about your product and generate more sales.
Three steps to building a community around your brand
Now that you’ve learned all about the benefits of building an online community around your business, let’s see how to do it in three main steps.
Step 1: Identify your target audience
Understanding who your customers are is a crucial step in ensuring that they are the right people for your community.
Your ideal community member should also be your target customer, as one of the goals of building a community is increasing sales.
Figure out who your archetype audience is, what age group they are in, where they are from, what their hobbies are, and most importantly, will they benefit from your community?
Once you’ve mapped out your customer persona, you should have a better idea of your community’s goal.
Your community’s goal should be tailored to your target audience’s needs and should be clearly communicated to your newest members.
If you are an online course creator, you know about the importance of communicating a specific result to your potential students. The same applies to your community: people will be more inclined to join a community if they can foresee the results they will get in return.
For instance, if you are selling a cooking course and you wish to create a community around it, you could say that the goal of the community is to share cooking tips and ideas for beginners.
Step 2: Choose a hosting tool and online course software
Now you need a place for your community to happen. There are two main community types you can choose from:
- Free communities
- Branded communities
Free community platforms include social media (Facebook, Linkedin) and other tools that are accessible to anyone and free to join. Advantages of this kind of tool include free access, popularity, and the fact that users can easily discover your community just through a simple search.
However, social media platforms allow very little control over your community and limit your branding options. Additionally, being too easily accessible can be seen as a disadvantage for private communities, as you should aim to create a feeling of exclusivity, which will increase the desire towards your online community.
Branded communities are the best option for building a community around a product or service. In most cases, to become part of a branded community, members are required to pay an entrance fee, or they’ll get access to the community once they make a purchase.
Members of branded communities are given log-in information to access the forum or discussion space, which is generally designed to reflect the brand’s image and style.
With Heights Platform, you can easily build a community around your online course or membership site, where members can share ideas and inspiration through dedicated discussion boards.
A few advantages of branded communities:
- More control and ownership: branded communities like Heights Platform’s discussion boards allow you to customize the space according to your branding, set up community rules, and control the admission of your members.
- Exclusivity: not anyone can join your branded community. Members are required to pay an entrance fee, purchase your product, or whatever you decide to ask for to grant admission. This creates a sense of exclusivity and desire to join the community.
- Higher engagement: Differently from social media platforms, where users can come and go and are easily distracted, branded communities create higher engagement by offering multiple reasons to stick around. Additionally, members who joined as a result of a purchase will be more incentivized to engage with the community as they had to spend money for it.
Step 3: Promote your online community
The last step to create a thriving online community is to get people to join. If you already have your first customers, start off by inviting them to join your new online community for free!
Update your online presence to inform about the new community: add a section to your website and social media platforms. Send an email to all your newsletter subscribers or organize a live event to invite all your contacts.
In other words, you should promote your online community as you would promote your business.
Once you get a few people to join, you could also leverage word-of-mouth marketing and referrals: ask your members to invite their friends or anyone interested in the same niche.
Get more promotion and marketing ideas from this article in our blog: A Complete Guide on How to Promote Your Online Course and Boost Sales.
How to keep your community members engaged
Creating engagement is a crucial part of building a thriving online community. If your members are not captivated by your community’s content, they will not be motivated to share their ideas and achievements and eventually leave the online community.
Creating engagement takes time and dedication. Let’s see a few ways to do this:
1. Plan your content
If you want your members to give you their time and attention, you need to make it worth their while. How do you create content that matches your organizational goals and their desires?
To make sure you share valuable content every day, you should plan your content beforehand. Try organizing ideas with a content calendar. This will help you create a structured timeline for your posts and visually understand how your content is organized.
2. Celebrate and reward your members
You should look at your online community like any relationship in life: make the other person feel special, and you’ll get a happy relationship.
After all, if you do this well, your community members will be a big part of your business.
So honestly compliment every small victory that your members achieve, set up challenges for them to complete, and praise your winners. Depending on the theme of your community, try to think how your members would feel most appreciated.
If you have time, try to also talk to them individually. A small example could be to personally welcome them into the community as soon as they join. You don’t have to spend too much time on this. Just sending them a heart-felt personalized (don’t reuse the same words for everyone) message once they join the community can make them feel special and add a human touch to your online environment.
3. Incentivize your members to participate
A definition for an online community is: “A group of people who have similar interests or who want to achieve something together.”
So it won't work if you are the only one contributing to the discussion.
Creating engagement can be as simple as asking an open-ended question in your forum. With anything you share in the community, always incentivize your members to respond and participate.
Another good example that thriving communities generally use is to create a recurring event where members are asked to participate or share. For example, you could start a “Share-Your-Achievement Friday,” where you invite members to share their small victories of the week every Friday.
This works well because:
- It’s a recurring event that members are more likely to remember. As it happens every Friday, it gives them an incentive to log into the community at least once a week
- You’ll get your members to participate, increasing the engagement levels
- By sharing their achievements, you’ll be able to celebrate them (as seen in the above section) and make them feel special
4. Share free, valuable information
As a creator and community manager, your goal is to create content relevant to your audience and where they are in their journey.
People typically join communities to grow their knowledge and connect with other people with a shared interest.
Most often than not, members may get distracted, forgetting why they joined, especially if they don’t find something to engage with on their first visit. There are many ways to capture their attention, but it boils down to: Is your content of value to them?
5. Don’t take too long to answer
As the creator of the community, you should be a constant presence in the discussion. People tend to feel special and appreciated if their questions are answered quickly.
If you are managing a large online community and don’t have the time to answer each person daily, you could always hire a community manager.
It is good practice to set up the right expectations for your members as soon as they join. For instance, if you know that it usually takes you about 24h to reply, write that on your community board so members know what to expect.
6. Create a lifestyle around your brand
One of the most effective ways to create engagement and impart a feeling of community is to build a lifestyle around your brand.
Think of it as you are not just selling a product or service or online course; you are selling a lifestyle.
Good examples of creating a lifestyle around a brand include major companies such as GoPro or RedBull (and many more). When you think about these two brands, you immediately picture people doing sports or jumping off planes before even thinking of a camera or a drink.
What GoPro and RedBull did takes years and years of targeted marketing efforts, but you can try to create a lifestyle at a smaller scale through your online community.
Think about who your target audience is, who they are, and their interests and hobbies. From that, start communicating the lifestyle from everything you share in your online community.
If you do this well enough, people who want to be part of that lifestyle will see your community as a way to achieve it.
Create an online community with Heights Platform
If you are using Heights Platform, you already have all the tools necessary to build a thriving online community.
From built-in gamification tools to discussion boards, your online course students can share ideas and inspirations without leaving your program.
Tammey is one of many Heights creators who managed to create a thriving community from her online course business, let's see what she says about Heights:
"I absolutely love how Heights has taken online courses as we know it and turned it into community.
And I love, speaking of community, that I have a vibrant membership community all in one place. I absolutely appreciate all the thoughts that Heights put into making their platform even better."
Similar to Tammey, Barb McGrath is another creator who uses Heights Platform to sell online courses about digital marketing and SEO.
She managed to build a thriving online community by leveraging Heights’ discussion boards feature: a fantastic way to actively incentivize students to participate in the online course and benefit from it while increasing engagement and completion rate.
The interaction that happens in the discussion forum helps creators like Barb build a community of like-minded people who share the same interests. Her discussion board is particularly successful, with thousands of assignment answers, positive comments, and daily feedback from her students.
The picture below shows a snapshot of one of Barb’s discussion board:
Students are incentivized to join the community and introduce themselves, share their excitement for your online course and their achievements.
By witnessing all this positive feedback, other students who visit the discussion board will be highly motivated to start learning and profit from Barb’s online course.Read Barb Sucess Story
Are you ready to build a thriving online community around your brand? If you haven’t done it already, start your Heights Platform 30-Day Free trial and join 1000s of creators worldwide!