Creating an online community: The What, Why and How

Online communities such as forums and for
the most part social media channels have become integrated into our lives over
the past decade, and we now find ourselves not batting an eyelid and speaking
to someone across the globe or communicating with friends and relatives via a
keyboard rather than a telephone (ruling out smartphones of course!). So
naturally, building an online community for your business is a worthwhile step,
as it allows you to reach a vast audience, and gives your brand a voice among
the voiceless.
What Is An Online Community?

An online community is anywhere online in which a large
gathering of people come to chat, discuss certain topics in some cases, and in
other more large scale cases such as Facebook, LinkedIn and other social
networks, the main aim is to socialise.
Within these larger social networks we often find groups who
have created sub-communities focusing on a more specific topic of discussion,
much like the threads within forums. You will also find that blogs are growing
online communities, with people who will regularly read and comment on/discuss
the blog posts with others who also follow the blog.
Why Does My Brand
Need An Online Community?

The main reason businesses are so intent on generating Likes, Followers,
Connections, etc. across the social media board is because it means they have a
people to market their products and services to, people who are interested in
their brand and what they are doing currently and in the future, and may even
turn into or already are customers. 
Having this loyal following is in effect one way of building an online

Once you have this community, and as long as you continue to
keep them engaged, this community works both ways. It keeps the consumer happy
as they feel they have a voice and are able to talk directly about their
thoughts and feelings on the topics because you are encouraging them to (see How Can I Create An Online Community For My
), and for you it gives you the chance to drip feed information about
your brand and their products/services to an interested audience rather than
posting blind and hoping someone will be interested.
It also gives you the chance to learn more about your
potential and already established customers, as they will voice their opinions
with encouragement, so you learn what they want. You can also find out more
about their geographic location, age range and interests, again giving you
additional information at the click of a button that can be used in the
creation of new products and services, or changes being made to current ones to
fit in with this new information.
How Can I Create An
Online Community For My Brand?

Now here comes the tricky part. Engaging consumers will take
time and effort, and it certainly isn’t something that can pop up overnight or
be paid for. The key is to ensure the consumer is at the centre of every
decision, content wise and other wise, and that they realise this. This will
then show them that this is a place for them to come and express opinions and
have a voice as a consumer.
If you haven’t already done so, create business
pages and accounts for your brand on your preferred social media channels.

Create a campaign that has your consumers at the
centre of it. This involves creating a two way conversation between your brand
and the consumer, and could encompass things such as ‘Tell us what you think
and WIN’ competitions, ‘What’s your favourite thing about (brand)’ question and
answers, or polls where people can vote for a feature of a new product or
service (e.g. ‘What colour do you want the new chocolate bar wrappers to be?’).
Once the content starts to get noticed and you
begin to receive feedback and reactions, do not shy away from negative comments
and opinions. Reply to them in a personal way, assuring that person that you
have taken the comments on board and even go back later mentioning how you have
incorporated their feedback into the new product or service.
Keep the audience engaged and keep fresh content
flowing. If they lose interest or feel they are being ignored they will start
to drop off, and your community will soon diminish as well as giving your brand
name a negative reputation.