How to build an online community and understand its members in a crisis and beyond
With the crisis caused by COVID-19, online communities and engagement across digital channels have now received greater significance and attention. For businesses in most domains, an online presence and engagement with both customers, prospects, and peers has proven strategic, and necessary. Until the pandemic and its many limitations subside, companies and businesses must focus on their engagement digitally, and even when government restrictions are eased, the online networks and facilitators will unlikely cease to be predominant.
For those who do not know or cannot seem to figure out how to increase their viability and visibility with engagement on digital and social media platforms, PRLab held a webinar and received wisdom from the pros, in order to share it.
This article will examine the topic with a focus on how an organization should approach building their online community engagement and understanding its users. Heeding the advice from Kirsten Wagenaar, co-founder of Bind, and Ben Robinson, Content Marketer at inSided, we learned why curating the right approach for building and maintaining a community is paramount for the health and sustainability of any engagement a business has online. Simply put, it’s not about the numbers or the amount of engagement, but the quality coming from within.
What is engagement on digital and social media channels?
Digital engagement is sometimes referred to as anything and everything that involves interactions online. For businesses trying to increase engagement on their channels it involves much more than just simply owning a platform that represents your company in the digital world. It is imperative that you build an online community instead, a platform that provides more than just content created by your company, there needs to be community engagement and interaction.
Importance of community building
Taking the definition from noted community manager and expert, Kirsten Wagenaar, an online community should be a “group that comes together on a regular basis with shared interests and ambitions to obtain shared goals.” Essentially, the group has to be motivated and have a large enough interest in what the community collectively stands for.
Wagenaar stipulates that community building is much different than a simple social media strategy. Social media strategies focus on targeted research and raising awareness across digital channels, but community building is about “connecting people around an organization, and building a relationship with users for the long-term.” She emphasized that building the right community with stable and active users can “last for twenty plus years” instead of acquiring large user numbers that are fleeting.
How to create an online community
Following Wagenaar’s breadth of experiences, there are essential steps to adhere to when trying to build a lasting online community.
The first step to creating an online community that will have a strong and long lasting foundation, is to build it around a concept. Once you have an idea of what the community is going to be about, ask questions, surveys, etc, and track what people want to achieve with the concept, basically discover the goal. Now, that has been established, you collect a core group of people who will define and create a culture for the community, generally a group of fifteen to twenty core users.
After the users have defined the platform’s culture and identity, you must identify the tooling, or social media platforms you are going to use to attract users to the community. Then you are ready to go live.
Strategy for increasing engagement
For someone like Ben Robinson, content marketer for inSided, the online communication platform, the effects and restrictions posed by the pandemic were actually to their benefit. Online communication has naturally been turned to as the chief method of communicating now that in-person interaction is restricted. Now more than ever people need a place, or platform to share best practices and strategies, but also a place to belong. And, that is why empathy plays a huge role in the way Robinson creates and uses his content.
Robinson and inSided’s strategy is to acquire as much feedback as possible from their customers and their prospects. With this information, Robinson finds it “essential for content marketing” as it allows them to compose the right content. So, if they have a prospect who has turned them down, he will go back to them and ask why? The information he gains from that can be used to in turn to make their platform better, but also provide that information on their platform to share.
Pain point marketing and understanding customers
Pain point marketing is critical for Robinson and using empathy to understand the customers and users. If you can get in touch with the pain points or problems that your customers have, you can then “sit down and solve these problems, x,y,z, and how your product can solve that.”
Following the trend of empathy, and realizing the pain points or problems customers and users may have, the way you distribute your content can also be modified. Robinson suggested that it is important to not sit on top of a “mountain of content,” it can be repurposed. What they did was “chop up a podcast” and repurposed into smaller bits and shared it on social media channels. They took their content and made it more accessible and easier to digest for their users.
By listening to and talking with their customers and prospects, Robinson and inSided were able to actively facilitate the engagement on their platforms, and they maximized their output by using content that they already had.
What should you remember?
Online engagement should not be undertaken lightly. As Kirsten Wagenaar advocated, building an online community, with a strong and dedicated core group of users will pay off in the long run for your platform’s engagement. Therefore, when you are looking to increase engagement, focus on those building block fundamentals, do your research, find the right tools and have a manager and team dedicated to facilitating it.
And, you need to always remind yourself, as Robinson would say, that you are ultimately dealing with “humans”, and empathizing and understanding your customers and their issues or problems will help you create the best content for engagement on your platform.
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