The first step to building an online brand (after having a website) is awareness. You need the public to become aware of your brand so they might choose to become customers. Whether you have a broad customer base or a specific niche, awareness creates an audience. These are people whose eyes are turned toward your brand. They might be leads or customers, but they are merely watchers for any marketing campaign you might produce.
From there, every brand should be striving to build that audience into a community. What is the difference?
The Persistence of a Community vs. an Audience
A community is persistent. Audiences disperse when the show is over. They might buy and still forget about your brand the next day. A community is both invested and self-perpetuating. In an online community, members come to talk to each other as often as engage with the brand. At the same time, this makes it easier to build a personal brand-customer relationship with each member.
With a community, members entertain each other, and they build a mutual support network that includes your brand. Consider what would happen if your brand went dark for a week. An audience would find other things to read or shop for online. A community is likely to reach out, connect on other platforms, and even connect with employees to offer help if the company were in trouble. The value of an online community vs an audience is hard to overstate with these things in mind. Let’s explore six campaigns you can use to build an online community for your brand.
1) Push Into the Forums
Forum platforms are built to host communities; lively, interactive communities engaged in constant discussions. Forums can have topics posted by moderators and users. Anyone can respond, or response can be limited by account rank. Users can help each other and chat for hours, even when no employees are present. By pushing activity into your forums, you are seeding a beehive for your audience to build into the community nest.
Host Social Media Events in Your Forum
You can push activity into your forums through social media easily. Announce fun events like contests or discussions, then share links to the forum topics in which these will take place. Many people are comfortable jumping to free, clean forums to share more detailed content after meeting on social media.
Loyalty Rewards for Forum Activity
Start with your member accounts and loyalty programs. Then offer loyalty points for posting and being up-voted in the forums. This will naturally encourage self-motivated audience members to get engaged and begin talking to others.
Forum Community-Building Seeds
When moderating your forum, use these three basic techniques to seed the community infrastructure
- Discussion Sticky Topics
- Post a few “Sticky” topics from the mods to seed discussions, ask questions, or create a place for questions to be asked.
- User-Created Topics
- Invite and encourage users to create their own topics and host lively discussions. Encourage users to use the poll and survey tools as well.
- Newbie or Question Subforum
- Include one sub-forum for new people and question-asking. Then encourage the community to provide answers when they are able. Many community leaders find their voice answering new-member questions.
2) Build-Your-Own Local Group Campaign
Some audiences prefer smaller and more intimate groups than the throng of a social media crowd. You can create a more personal feel by encouraging your community members to form mini-communities of their own with locals and like-minded others. Inspire your customers to reach out to each other and become microcosm leaders in a widespread network of smaller communities.
Encourage Intimate Same-Interest Groups
Consider encouraging book-clubs, crafting, or discussion groups to form between members who share similar interests. This can create smaller chatroom style friendships brought together by your brand’s community spirit.
Encourage Local Meetings or Projects
Depending on your brand, it might be appropriate to encourage local meet-ups or group projects. A craft supplies brand might encourage teaming up for local market events. A mountain bike brand might encourage forming groups and planning local trips together for fun and safety.
Plan Simultaneous Group Events
You can also encourage your community to celebrate brand-wide events together in their smaller friend groups. Just like most families celebrate Independence Day individually, together, you can all have dinners or hold projects on the same weekend to build that community feel.
3) Host Community-Building Online Events
It’s also very effective to bring your community together for events that showcase the people who’ve made your brand great. Create events that get every member involved as a participant, judge, or at least part of the discussion. Have count-downs and contests to build excitement, then find a way to get everyone involved who chooses to participate.
User Creativity Contests and Showcases
Invite your users to show off their own creativity in relation to the brand. Welcome submissions of poems, artwork, or videos. Show off how products are used, accept songs about annual events, or host a contest for best computer background artwork. Then showcase both the submissions and the winners, giving credit to everyone along the way.
Community-Judged Contest Winners
You can also get your community involved in events by making them the judges. Not only are polls and surveys fun, but your community enjoys having their finger on the button for who’s submissions are the best. Multiple categories (funny, beautiful, useful, etc) are great for community-voted winners. You can also appoint a panel of judges from the most involved members of the community to represent the whole and lead discussions as the event carries on.
4) Live and Interactive Podcasting
Video streaming and podcasting have become wildly popular, especially with the recent global transition to video meetings and chat. Your brand can further build the community and top-of-funnel convert first-time audience members with video events. A video series posted after production can be almost as engaging as live, interactive events if planned correctly.
Respond to Questions On-Air
Answer community questions on-air. Broadcast to the entire audience how important each individual thought and insight is when it comes from the audience. This creates a dialogue and a sense of investment that builds a community. Collect questions to answer before shooting or accept live questions to answer during a live podcast show.
Live Chat and Question-Answer Streams
Speaking of going live, do. Live video events can be hosted either as a single broadcast with a lively side-bar chatbox or as a video-conference with guests invited to cam-up as part of the show. This kind of interaction can build incredibly tight bonds with your community, transforming a video audience into a team that will support the brand and helps you build new content.
User-Suggested Video Topics
Speaking of new content, don’t forget to take suggestions from your new community. If you need ideas for future videos or want guidance on the interests of your customers, just ask and then take on the answers you receive.
5) Become the Brand
Turn your brand into something the users feel truly connected to. Don’t just hold contests for best artwork, use that artwork in future campaigns and packages. Give your customers the opportunity to become your brand by submitting creative work that is worth incorporating into your brand’s identity, product lines, and marketing content.
Host User-Submitted Videos on Social Media
People love to create silly videos, and brands need silly videos to fuel marketing campaigns. Invite your community to share videos, then showcase the best submissions on your social media with links and credit thanking the creators.
Post User-Written Articles on the Company Blog
If your blog is a popular place, ask users to write articles they think belong in your resource archive. Accept timely articles, personal stories, and even detailed how-tos. You never know what content gems your community will want to share.
Incorporate User-Designed Graphics into the Brand
Hold a logo contest for a new product, then really use the logo created by the winner. Invite users to design the theme and banner for your next event and then plan with the winning content as the inspiration. Users will love being part of the team.
Congratulate Users on Popular Suggested Upgrades
When users make suggestions on how to fix the website, improve the product, or better reach future customers, you listen. If you make changes that are wildly successful based on a user’s suggestion, thank them publicly and privately.
6) Thank Your Community Campaign
Finally, make it a project to thank your community. Thank each person for their contributions. Thank those who answer the questions of others. Thank the people who leave reviews on products or Google. Thank the commenters in the blog. Thank those who offer unexpected insights through social media. Be genuine and avoid routine ‘thank-yous’. Find a unique way to express gratitude every day and your community will feel you investing just as much as they are to build a mutual relationship of support, engagement, and creation. Building an audience into a community takes member engagement, interaction, and a good campaign to bring everyone together. By crafting an engaging campaign, you can grow interested and customer loyalty into a lively, supportive community with a life of its own. Contact us to begin a campaign to build your brand community.