What if you had a loyal band of customers that preferred to buy almost exclusively from your online store? You probably think we’re too optimistic or even delusional! However, the biggest e-commerce brands like Sephora and eBay have managed to do just that. They have gotten some remarkable results by going beyond mere marketing to building online customer communities. For example, Ebay’s online community had more than 182 million registered users as of January 2020. There is no reason why you cannot get similar results by following in the footsteps of these billion-dollar brands.

Why Build an Online Community?

Psychology tells us that a natural sense of belonging is created when a group of humans begins to pursue common goals or share common interests. Marketers have adopted the same principle to build stronger customer relationships based on mutual trust and value.

Investing in an online customer community can help your store achieve many business objectives. For one, you would have a ready group of users to seek product feedback from in various creative ways, all the while increasing brand engagement and retention.

The question is: how can a small business with more modest resources build an engaged online customer community and get the most out of it? Well, there are many ways to do so, depending on the goals you are trying to achieve.

Tips and Strategies to Build a Successful Online Customer Community

Let’s take a look at these 5 proven strategies with which you can build your own online customer community:

1. Define what you want to achieve

81%-of-customers-would-pay-more

Starting off with a clear idea about the business goals you hope to achieve through your online community is essential. These goals can vary from lead generation to conversion and customer retention, and reputation management. Identify your ‘why’ for building a community as it will guide you in deciding what actions to take to achieve those goals.

For example, if your goal is to create better brand awareness, you could use your online community to share user-generated content that can play a big role in driving new customers to your brand. In fact, research shows that 81% would gladly pay more for a product that is recommended by other buyers online.

Another way to do this is to approach it from the customer’s perspective. Run a survey asking customers what they would want to get out of your online community. If you already have an effective knowledge base in place, you could create content around user tips, tricks, and recommendations to keep customers hooked – the more unique the information, the better.

For example, if you are a retailer of fitness equipment, your customers may want to know the different ways to work out when he or she is traveling away from home.

2. Pick your best people

Not every member of your team will have the same enthusiasm for handling customer questions and driving engagement. How do you choose a community manager that will do justice to the job? Here a few tips that may be of help. A job like this needs someone with great people skills and a knack for solving problems creatively. They need to know what topics are trending within the community on a day to day basis. To keep things fresh and exciting, the community manager also needs to be an out-of-the-box thinker who is willing to try new ideas.

Finally, look for the ability to handle stress with ease. Draw up a shortlist of the people that meet these criteria and find out who best fits the role.

3. Finding the right platform

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A paid community hosting platform may have its costs, but it can offer a host of features that free alternatives cannot compete with.

Remember: the objective is to create an engaging experience for customers beyond the existing social media channels you may have.

No doubt, your social media channels can attract more customers to your online community. However, a private platform can offer important advantages in terms of analytics, flexibility, data security, and community standards that are highly important to customers today.

Building your own website for running an online community can help you differentiate yourself. A fully-owned platform can help you create a level of personalization that may just not be possible with shared platforms, especially if you hope to grow your community over a while.

Crowdstack, Discourse, and Telligent are some of the top community platforms that can be considered.

4. Lay down some ground rules

Online communities can be a vibrant platform for sharing ideas and inspiration among groups of users. It can drive brand conversations that serve to attract more people into the fold. However, some communities are notorious for trolling, spamming, and racial abuse. Therefore, you must insist that members abide by a clear code of conduct that defines how member interactions in a safe and stimulating manner.

For example, some of the rules can govern inappropriate language or use the community for pushing commercial products. Don’t forget to put in place a content moderation policy and escalation procedure that can be used to report violations. This will enable your team to flag and remove content and/or users that go against the guidelines.

5. Spread the word

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Now that you have built a user-friendly platform, it is time to invite your customers to sign up. Advertise your community on social media and your website. Remember to include a judicious mix of email marketing, SMS/in-app notifications, paid ads, and influencer marketing. While you are at it, offer incentives like discounts to make joining your community worthwhile for users!

Last words

An active online community can help you position yourself as the preferred alternative for customers. It is a great way to build authority within your niche and drive sales organically. However, the true USP of an online community is that it enables brands to communicate with their customers openly and engagingly. Complementing your online community with a strong customer support team can help your business build trust and loyalty with customers.

Helplama’s team of customer support agents works as an extension of your in-house team. Our flexible plans can be customized to suit any budget or need. With us, there are no contracts to worry about. In case you are not satisfied, our Zero-Risk Guarantee has you covered. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you succeed!

Also, try the Helplama Helpdesk – the customer service software that can help you automate and scale your customer support.