Back in the day, your customer list was simply that: a list of names on your accounts receivable or sales ledger. Today, however, those customers are part of your business’s community—a community that’s dynamic and functional, with increasing expectations that must be addressed on a consistent basis.

“In today’s competitive marketplace, companies are working to maximize their opportunities and define the underlying strategy of embracing an online community to connect, engage and extend relationships with customers…”

Source: 7Summits

Fortunately, our digital world provides a wide variety of tools to create online communities where you can grow and nurture current and/or potential customers.

Two Types of Online Communities

While it can be described in many different ways, “online community” is loosely defined as a group of people who interact with each other over the internet (email, websites, messaging, social media, etc.).

The two types of online communities are:

1. Shared or Open Social Network: The “community” exists on a public platform. There’s limited control over the content and data. Social communities are typically public, although you can create private groups on platforms like Facebook if you want a more exclusive community (most small businesses have shared social communities, which is less of a financial investment up front but requires time to build).

2. Owned or Branded Communities: A dedicated community that you’ve built. It’s typically housed on your website and often secured by membership. Here you have a lot more control over the day to day management of the platform, as well as the content and data. Online communities typically have shared values and a common interest that brings them together. Or, in other words, they come together for a purpose (which may vary depending on the community). “In your case, you want them to come together to interact with and celebrate your brand and what you stand for,” says Business2Community.

Providing Value Builds Confidence & Loyalty

It used to be that brand loyalty in retail was related to the convenience of a physical store location. But since consumers can now shop at any store online, brands must build a deeper relationship and better engagement with customers in order to create loyalty, suggests JustFab’s Adam Goldenberg.

According to Forbes, “Building online customer communities is how a small business transcends being competitive and achieves the pinnacle position: relevance.”

“Your customer community strategy includes everything you do to build, connect with and serve those communities, including: email marketing, customer loyalty programs, the new social media activity, and, of course, the original social media: face-to-face.”

Source: Forbes

The more time and energy you invest in nurturing your online community, the more you’ll increase your number of loyal customers. And just think what will happen when your potential customers interact with your existing customers online! When potential customers receive great feedback and transparency from your dedicated customers, it can help you expand the following of customers who believe in your products and services.

And don’t forget to share your corporate values with your online communities. When they see what your company stands for, they’re more likely to become loyal. Below you’ll find 3 ways you can achieve this:

1. Make your brand about more than you – Your brand pledge and your image shouldn’t be all about you and your stuff. Instead, they should reflect beliefs and values that benefit your customer community.

2. Your content should be focused on the community – Does your content reflect what you want to communicate, or does it focus on your customers’ needs, solve their problems, and address their interests? Always create and disseminate content that’s relevant and contributes value to the community!

3. Watch the tone of your marketing messages –  “Tone” refers to how your messages are incorporated during the process of serving your online community—from blatantly commercial to shamefully subliminal. Aim to strike a balance in tone that falls somewhere between serving the community and making a sale.

Ultimately, your goal should be to demonstrate values that heavily favor customer relationships…and transactions less so.

“In a world where everything you sell is a commodity, value—product, price, service—is the threshold of a customer community, but values are the foundation. Value is easy to find these days. But when community members are attracted to your values, they keep coming back and bring their friends.”

Source: Forbes

Conclusion

To increase engagement and loyalty, you must build and maintain online communities to achieve a deeper connection with your customers.

While it may take a lot of time and effort to maintain an online community, the rewards will far outweigh the work. Why? First of all, you’ll show your community that you’re invested in them, that you care about connecting with them and providing them with information and value that will improve their lives.

Secondly, your community consists of real people that are connecting with each other. This sharing of information builds trust for both your brand and the people in your community, which can influence people to purchase your products and services.

About Author

Sherene Funk

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and the eBook The Small retailer's Ultimate Guide to Increasing In-Store Sales. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime (but that doesn't stop her from collecting more). A graduate of Brigham Young University, she has published several humorous non-fiction articles and worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current position as a writer on modern retailing at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with other small business owners through informative articles that address their unique needs.

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