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Today’s customers are increasingly aware of the inauthentic sheen covering most advertising campaigns. They’re on the hunt for reliable sources that connect them to companies they buy from. Personal recommendations, customer reviews, and blog posts ring truer than television ads and interactive communities with live participation are better yet. Market your products in a fresh, new way by building a community around your brand where conversations are real, reviews are authentic, and ideas flow freely.
Launch a Facebook Group
Image via Flickr by Sole Treadmill
Facebook groups provide a feature-packed interface for building an online brand community. With 2.13 billion monthly active users, Facebook is an obvious choice for any company that wants to expand its reach. A Facebook group is different from your brand page, which can garner likes. A group requires members to join an interactive forum where participants typically work toward a shared goal.
Select a meaningful focus for your group that will help you connect with the right demographic. If your business is diverse enough, you may want to launch multiple groups, each with its own niche. To garner authentic engagement, you’ll need to give your group a purpose, with clear value for those who join. Don’t use your group to push products. Rather, work with it as a way to suggest new uses for your products, gather feedback from customers, and improve upon your brand.
Facebook’s customization tools allow you to adjust privacy settings, membership requirements, post schedules, and more, allowing you to create a rich environment that fosters a real sense of community among members.
Host Twitter Chats
Twitter chats are generally organized as interactive question-and-answer sessions where a brand representative, influencer, corporate personality, or other individual is available for a set time period. A weekly or monthly Twitter chat can help you build community by bringing your followers together live. It’s easy for tweets to get lost in the massive stream of posts that make up this space. Conversations are easier to follow when they happen in real-time.
Not only will you have a chance to establish your thought leadership, answer customer questions, and build brand awareness during your chats, you’ll also get to help like-minded followers connect with one another. As users branch off and comment on each other’s tweets, you’ll see a community forming with your brand at the center.
Create a Feature-Packed Forum
While social sites offer a well-established space for customer interaction, you can create a more original environment when you invest in a forum of your own. Sephora offers a powerful example of what you can accomplish with your own custom forum. The behemoth boasts one of the largest beauty forums in the world with social groups, beauty gallery, user photos, and reviews in one spot. Creating an original site for your online community can lend an air of exclusivity while incorporating rich features that wouldn’t be possible on another site.
Engage Your Influencers
Influencers put a familiar face in your community and increase both its authority and appeal. If a gold medal Olympian supports your sporting goods, customers will instantly give more credence to your claims. Having that same Olympian participating in your community offers a compelling reason for fans to join. Even if the influencer’s active participation is limited, there’s an undeniable thrill in the opportunity to engage with a favorite celebrity.
Develop a focused influencer marketing campaign to jumpstart your community and publicize the influencer’s participation with your brand. Carefully curated content and smart social promotion will help you generate interest in your community with the influencer’s help.
Develop a Platform for Sharing Ideas
One of the greatest perks of having an online community is fostering a space for customers to share their thoughts and ideas with the company. You don’t need to sponsor a major research study to gather invaluable information on what your buyers are after. Simply use your community as a central space for creating the kind of conversation that will ultimately lead to rich brand innovation.
For some brands, this might come in the form of an inspiring idea exchange. Consider LEGO Ideas. This community allows users to share their original constructions, vote on others’ creations, and potentially have their projects turned into the next great LEGO set on store shelves.
Create an Ambassador Program
Brand ambassadors can serve two purposes for your community. First, the ambassadors will create an inner circle of your most loyal customers. Ambassadors should be carefully chosen individuals with a demonstrated appreciation for, and knowledge of, your products and services. In gaming communities, ambassadors are often those who have obtained special achievements or logged a number of hours in the game.
Second, your ambassadors will lead the charge in creating smaller subsets of your brand community. Each ambassador may have his or her own following that participates in chats or comments on the ambassador’s blog posts. As the ambassadors are customers rather than employees of the brand, their opinions will hold greater sway, creating a community with a rich and authentic feel.
Plan Live Events
An online community is by far the easiest way to bring your customers together, but you should never underestimate the power of a live event. Use your virtual community to gauge where your greatest following is so you can center your live events in the most advantageous locations. Whether you’re hosting a pop-up sale, interactive demonstration, or major convention, a live event will pull your brand out of the virtual space.
Have your influencers in attendance to shake hands with people they’ve only tweeted to in the past. Show off prototype technology, offer samples of new flavors, and keep your community engaged in the way only real-world activities can.
Creating a rich community for your brand will give your customers the sense of belonging to something greater than your mailing list. Dive into the deeper purpose behind your products and engage your customers in innovative ways to make them a part of the brand’s larger journey toward exciting and new things.