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The best brands do more than create awareness and try to attract a lot of followers to their page. They try to increase user engagement and build community.

The more engaged your users feel and the more buy in they have, the more likely they are to be loyal to your brand, to return to your site again and again, and to be a brand ambassador for you.

It is important that you include specific strategies for community building in your overall marketing strategy, both on your social networks and your blog. Here are a few of the best things you can do to build an online community for your brand:

Listen

People most often engage with other users on a site or social network before they interact with your brand directly.

They may comment on your post, but they are most likely to have a conversation with other listeners, rather than a spokesperson replying under the brand name.

You can learn a lot when users are having these conversations.

Instead of jumping in and trying to influence the conversation, just step back and read quietly. You’ll learn more about what is important to users, what they like about your brand, what they don’t like, what they need, what they want, and more.

You can use this invaluable information to change your marketing and perhaps even your core products and services. You’ll be able to better engage users if you channel that information effectively.

You can even encourage this sharing of information by setting up portals and contests. Starbucks has a page on their site that allows people to share ideas for new products and for others to share their opinions and discuss. Lego holds a regular contest in which people can share their ideas for new Lego sets and others vote on them. The sets with the most votes have the opportunity to be made into a set for sale.

Engage Emotionally

People feel most engaged when they feel emotionally connected.

Think about how you feel when you read a news story. You may have opinions about the political situation in Syria, for example, but you likely felt much more committed to the outcome after you saw pictures of the children and babies dying as a result.

The situation may not be as dramatic when you are reading content on a company blog or social network, but if the content can make you feel something, you are going to feel more engaged.

You need to think about how you can make your visitors feel emotionally connected. That may means sharing inspirational posts about how your products or services can help them. Or it may mean sharing emotionally charged stories in your marketing.

For example, if you offer financial consulting, you don’t want to just talk about how you can help people. You want to ask people to share their stories of financial struggle and how they ultimately succeeded. You want to share inspirational rags-to-riches stories. You want to talk about the American Dream and how policies are impacting that.

Start conversations. Pose engaging questions. Share personal stories. Ask people to share their stories. Create photo collages and video montages.

Educate

A lot of brands think that educating their customers or potential customers means talking about the benefits of their products and services or how what they offer can solve a problem.

While this kind of marketing certainly has its place, it doesn’t do much to build community.

Instead, you need to position yourself as a resource. One way you can do that is to educate your followers.

You can make this strategy work for you by educating users about your products or services without making a direct sell.

For example, if you are a massage therapist, you may think that education means telling your clients why massage is so beneficial to health. Instead, talk about how stress can be toxic to health. Then people will look for ways to reduce stress, and they will learn that massage is one of them.

If you sell life insurance, you don’t write about the need for life insurance. Instead, you write about things like retirement planning or the average cost of a funeral.

By creating this kind of education, you position your site as a resource and encourage more visits even when people are not shopping for what you have to offer. They will visit more, comment more and share more, which will build community and help you get more exposure.

By creating a community around your brand, you become more than another company with something to sell. You become a needed resource and a part of people’s lives, and that sets you up for long-term prosperity. Use these and other strategies to start building a community on your website and your social network channels.