There are not-so-good, good, and better ways to build a vibrant, loyal community. We are constantly building communities whether we know it or not. Some people call them Facebook fans, Twitter followers, tribes, blog readers, customers, voters…
The not-so-good methods include sending out more clutter, YELLING to make your point or even worse, begging.
The good instances take many forms and often straddle the line of great or bad, but can be creative ads, well-placed marketing messages or product creation.
Then there’s the upper tier. As an early adopter of many social media sites and builder of corporate and nonprofit communities, I’ve come up with four best practices for building a community.
1. TAILOR: Focus on your members’ wants and anticipate their needs.
Solve someone’s problem with a good, creative, simple solution and people will want your product or service. Talk in a language they can understand and they will follow you, read your blog, tell their friends and even buy your product.
This isn’t just a one-time thing either. Make sure you check in regularly to get the pulse of your constituents.
At our nonprofit BensFriends.org, we’ve developed a very passionate community, by always focusing on our members — rare disease patients (plus their family, friends, caregivers and medical professionals) — first and foremost. With any decision we make, we consider their needs first and ask for their input if there’s any debate.
2. ENABLE: Provide tools for your community to easily post content, refer friends and spread the good word.
People are at least four times more likely to make a purchase or act on a recommendation from a friend versus an ad from a business. If your members or customers feel they’re getting value from you, here’s how you can help them return the favor:
- Place easy-to-find sharing buttons on your website.
- Have a suggestion box in your store.
- Give it out a free bumper sticker when you ship a purchase.
- Give a referral bonus if someone brings you a friend who turns into a real customer.
- Let your fans share their love on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
3. RECOGNIZE: Feature your best members.
Individuals love recognition and attention. Make someone feel good and they’ll go out of their way to get that feeling again. When a customer loves the great work you do, most don’t even need a monetary incentive.
When you actually highlight a big fan, it takes “enabling” to a whole new level. That featured member feels special and will go out of her way to tell more people about your awesome business. The community sees that you recognize others’ efforts and will do even more so they, too, can get recognized.
Next time a member does something great or has a cool story, highlight that in your email newsletter, or add it to a customer testimonial page on your website.
When you have lots of outstanding members, consider creating a special tier such as an ambassador group to share feedback or participate in special focus groups. Find out who your most influential users are — perhaps through your loyalty program, salespeople or online metrics.
4. INVOLVE: Get members involved… early and often.
Your early adopters and biggest users can provide easy marketing via word of mouth and social, as well as product development ideas and more. How?
- Ask them questions on your Facebook fan page.
- Send out an annual (or interim) survey.
- Start a regular focus group with a small group of users.
Now you can’t please everyone but give them a chance to provide feedback. You’ll usually get the extremes: very positive (highlight these testimonials for prospects to see) and very negative.
There are basically two types of negative commenters: constructive criticizers and haters. Use the constructive criticism to improve — by paying attention to and addressing a customer’s question or complaint, you’d be amazed at how quickly you can turn a complainer into an avid fan and ardent supporter.
When it’s a hater, it’s certainly a different story. You don’t want to change your message or tone and certainly don’t get hostile. Sometimes you can ignore, but often you have to provide alternatives. Be real, realistic and nice, and things will usually turn out okay. The surest way to fail is to try to be everything to everyone and do too much.
To wrap up, there are plenty of ways to build a community, but these four best practices (Tailor, Enable, Recognize, Involve) have been at the core of my efforts and have generally worked for me. If you have examples of these or other creative ideas yielding great results, please share in the comments (Enable & Involve!).