online community

StartupNation Growth Hacks #3: Establish an Online Community

The third in a series.
With more than 24 years of experience covering startups and small businesses, we’ve built up a knowledge base of what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur and we’re eager to share what we’ve learned. We’ve identified easy-to-implement, game-changing tactics to advance your business objectives.

What is an online community?

An online community is a group of people who interact on an online platform. These people may be current customers, prospective customers, experts and those simply interested in the subject matter. Content is generally generated by the members of your community but should also include content published by you to stimulate interesting conversations among community members, thereby delivering value to them and to you. Content types include general educational content relevant to users; informational content relative to your product offerings; entertaining content in the form of storytelling, for example; and/or even surveys that reveal community sentiments on relevant topics. The key differentiator between community-generated content and other forms of content is the ability to drive lively and informative real-time, free-flowing interaction among participants that one-way or even two-way interaction simply can’t achieve.

online community

Why create an online community?

To grow your business and drive new revenue, engagement is key. And hosting an online community directly relating to what your company sells is a great way to engage both current customers as well as prospective ones. Communities build brand affinity, create trust and drive interest in your product and service offerings, which lead to sales. Moreover, user-generated content published by your customers provides invaluable insights and feedback that you can use to improve and enhance what you offer and the way you operate your business.

These communities can range from the 1-billion-plus Instagram community to a 10-person community of coffee lovers who rate artisan cafes in their city through a private Facebook group.

There’s a huge range in how an online community can scale, and understanding what type of online community is the most beneficial for your brand is the first step in building your own community.

Let’s get to work!

Here’s how to put this week’s growth hack into action now.

To create an online community, follow these simple steps:

1. Use a social media network to launch your community, such as Facebook, Instagram or Reddit, for example. All of these networks provide turnkey tools to create communities of this type.

2. Brand your community and clearly define its purpose. Set an expectation for why users should join and what they can expect in the form of direct value to them in exchange for their participation.

3. Develop clear rules for engagement. You must make clear what users can and can’t post and the penalty or penalties of doing so, including removal from the community.

4. Establish sign-up requirements. Be sure to require users to provide a username and email address at a minimum.

5. Market your community to encourage sign-ups by your current customers at a minimum. You may also want to promote your community to a broader audience that could lead to new customer acquisition. To market, you can run paid and/or social campaigns right on the social network platform you’ve selected for hosting; invite experts to post comments; include an “invite” button so members can invite others readily, offer exclusive promotions to community participants and use an e-newsletter to create awareness.

6. Seed your community with compelling content to engage members. Posting initial content and organizing it into categories in silos of content will help get the content flywheel spinning sufficiently to encourage participation by community members. The more you post, the more value you will get from hosting your own community. Post often and regularly and post content that triggers responses and feedback relevant to what it is you need to learn from your customers and prospective customers.

7. Audit and police content to remove unwanted content and spam in order to keep your community user-friendly. An unfortunate reality of hosting a community is spam. To avoid it, you can set up spam controls as part of your member login functionality. For example, you can use reCAPTCHA to keep spam accounts from creating profiles.

Put this hack to work for you now!

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