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Boost Brand Loyalty with Online Community Building

Learn how to build your own online community to engage with your customers in a way outside of your stores or social media platforms.

Businesses have long viewed the customer as an audience that buys its products and relied on market research to gauge how people react. The relationship between business and customer has primarily been a one-way street with the customer feeling they have no voice in how the business perceives them and their use of the product. Now businesses are discovering the benefits of developing an online community for their customers to frequent, express themselves, and be heard by the business.

Online communities owned and operated by a brand help foster brand loyalty from its customers. The customer is given a place to connect with other like-minded people, talk about the products offered by the brand, express their pleasure or displeasure, and know that they're being taken seriously by the brand. In turn, the brand can engage directly with its customer base, get immediate feedback on its products, and understand what its customers are thinking. Now the relationship between brand and customer is a two-way street and makes customers feel better about their relationship with the brand.

Small businesses can use a community platform to help them grow, and established businesses can deepen their relationship with their community members through their own community platform. Read on to learn more about how to build your own online community, why a community platform is great for customer engagement, and how it helps establish a brand as a go-to product for existing and future customers.

Always prioritize brand loyalty

Brand loyalty refers to a customer's willingness to buy the same product from the same brand on a repeated basis. That is, when the customer runs out of their supply of a product or wants to purchase more of a similar product, they'll return to the brand they like the best for more. Substitution is not an option for a brand loyalist as the customer wants more of what the brand has to offer because it fits their needs and lifestyle.

There's a saying of "don't mess with success," and nothing could be truer for a brand and its loyal customers. A loyal customer is a happy customer, and a happy customer is one that spreads invaluable positive word of mouth to their friends, families, coworkers, and anyone else who will listen to them.

That's why a small change in a product can upset the customer base to the point where customer retention becomes a problem. Successful online communities go a long way toward spreading positive feelings about a product while helping engage in damage control when customers are upset.

How do online communities impact business success?

Online communities help a business be more nimble, responsive, and flexible due to the real-time feedback that customers provide. You don't have to wait months to find out how well a product or service is performing; instead, your audience tells you about their experience with the product within weeks or days of buying and using your product. Now you can read what they're saying, engage with community members to learn more about their likes or dislikes, and respond to questions or concerns.

All of the information that's delivered on your community platform can then be used to adjust the product and your marketing efforts if necessary. It also shows the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, if you're reaching your target audience, and the demographics of your customers.

Benefits of building an online community

Creating a community platform gives depth to your business and your products. You can start posts for people to join in on, let them start their own conversations, and answer frequently asked questions to act as a guide. Search engines are more likely to refer to your forum and increase website traffic as a result. There are many benefits that come from an online community as long as it's managed well.

Encourages customer engagement

Giving customers a platform for discussion makes them feel included and important. The customer gets a sanctioned space in which they can voice their thoughts and know that it's having an impact on the brand, and they're talking to like-minded individuals in the other community members. It also encourages customer retention because people tend to return time and again to see what's new.

Increases brand awareness and reach

Creating a community platform invites your loyal customers to come and chat, but it also makes your business more interesting to those who aren't customers yet. An online community that has a number of posts and conversations about your products acts as a reference for people that want to learn more before making a purchase. They can read through the posts about the product and make their purchase based on what they read.

Enhances customer experience

A customer gets more out of their experience of purchasing a product when they can have a conversation with the people behind the brand. They feel valued and what they have to say is important to the brand. A thriving community also has the effect of increasing customer engagement in the sense that the customer is validated in their sense of ownership of the brand and its products.

Builds trust and credibility

The online community is a point of contact between your brand and your customer. Responding to customers and addressing their concerns fosters a sense of trust that doesn't exist when a brand doesn't have community engagement. Taking the time to talk to your customers via a community platform also shows that the brand cares about its reputation and furthers credibility.

How to build an online community

Planning is key to building an online community and creating an effective and safe space for everyone in the community. You want your community members to feel heard, but you must also set boundaries for what the brand will and will not do, encourage participation, and be prompt in posting and responding.

Identify your target audience and their needs

Take a look at the demographics of your current audience and take note of aspects that are most commonly shared. Also look for common pain points and pleasures that the customer experiences and derive from your brand. This helps you find customers that may not have engaged with the brand's online platform and identify ones that may become customers.

Develop a content strategy

You can use an existing content strategy and adapt it to the format and needs of an online community, or you can create one from scratch. The strategy acts as a guideline for visual appearance, language, tone, and any other important aspects of the brand. It creates a cohesive appearance and sets the feel for the community.

Engage and interact with your community

Talk to the people that come to the community to post, even if it's friendly banter. It humanizes the brand and gives the community members a direct line to the people that create their favorite products. It never helps to be open about what brand ambassadors can and can't say on the platform to help shape member expectations.

Offer exclusive perks and benefits

Encourage participation by offering something that's only available to community members, such as an exclusive product or discount on a rarely discounted item. The idea is to attract attention to the platform and provide value for those who take the time to participate.

Monitor and measure your results

The best way to figure out if you're doing the right thing is to keep track of the visitor count and compare it against known metrics. A given fact of online communities is that a small percentage of community members participate, and the rest "lurk." When you get a large number of visitors, but average participation from users, you know that your community is effective at delivering the information to current and potential customers.

Common challenges of online community building

Creating a pleasant community platform takes work and requires monitoring to get people talking about their experiences with your brand. Here are some of the challenges you may face as you figure out how to build an online community.

Lack of engagement

It takes time for a community of any kind to form, and you may find there aren't a lot of community members early on. However, if the platform has been around for a while with little engagement or new members, you may need to use incentives or increase your efforts to attract people to join and post.

Negative feedback or comments

There's truth to the saying of "you can't keep everyone happy all of the time." People are going to have negative things to say about a product, and they're not going to hold back on an online community.

The most effective way to deal with negativity is to respond to the person and try to solve their issue. It may not be possible to resolve everyone's issues, but making an effort shows that your company cares about making things right. Meanwhile, don't hesitate to remove overly negative posts that are intended to be disruptive.

Trolls or other disruptive users

There will always be someone who thinks they're funny or just likes being disruptive for no good reason. These individuals, generally known as trolls, love breaking the rules of a community platform to get a rise out of people. The best way to counter their attempts is to post clear rules for participation and kick out disruptive users/delete their posts as soon as possible.

Maintain your momentum

Building an online community takes time and patience. You need to attract people to your platform, get them to engage, and provide you with information that helps you refine your product development and marketing efforts.

You'll find that you put a lot of work into creating the platform, but you may not get a lot of initial responses. Or you'll get a burst of activity, then it slows down. Be patient, be persistent, and don't give up. Online communities grow organically, and steady participation is key to getting regular users and creating an engaged community.

At Mailchimp, we want to see your online community succeed and become a wonderful resource for your brand and your customers. We offer a resource library to help you learn how to attract, retain, and delight your customers, no matter how you engage with them. Check it out today and learn how to build effective marketing strategies with our help.

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