Digital customer engagement should be a vital part of your business strategy. Imagine the knowledge you could gather from putting all of your small-and-medium-sized business clients in a virtual room together.

You may want to consider a branded online community as a gathering place to increase customer or prospect engagement. Facebook, Twitter, Google, are just some big brands that stand testimony to how important online communities are to a successful business strategy.

Online communities are a space for clients to share ideas, hold discussions, and learn from each other. In turn, you learn from them. An online community helps you learn what clients like or dislike about current offerings. It makes it easy to get an insider’s scoop on products and services your clients seek.

Online community building tips

Step 1. Free sign-up

Free makes it easy. You want your community to grow. You’ll gain momentum quickly by building something that includes a free sign-up on your website. Quality people who are already interested in your company and products or services are likely to join the community.

Step 2. Create a forum

Facilitate discussions through an organized forum. This can be based on categories, topics, or whatever works best. Members can use the forum to ask questions, provide feedback, and communicate with each other. The key is making communication extremely simple. Businesses reap the benefits of learning how members use their products, where the products are lacking, and what services they think would be helpful moving forward. This kind of centralized marketing intelligence is a game-changer for product development.

Step 3. Combine with learning

Many branded business communities offer learning courses with the intention of educating community members on company offerings. The more knowledge members have, the more questions they ask, and the more likely they are to purchase.

Step 4. Community sessions

Stay connected with weekly community sessions. By combining learning aspects with topical discussions led by a community manager at the same time each week, members can count on a regular touchpoint. It is also a great way to find out who are the most engaged members of your community.

Pro tip: Have clear expectations

Ensure that members understand the purpose of the community upon sign-up. This means setting expectations of participation around how members should communicate with each other and the value they get from community participation.

Benefits of building an online community

When it’s done right, the community holds many benefits for your business and clients. Having a community of your own can increase customer engagement and retention, provide learning opportunities, and improve customer support.

  1. Content creation

Give members a voice by asking them to contribute content — in the form of blogs, videos etc. Crowdsourced content from people who trust your brand is a great marketing tool. Praise coming from someone outside the company increases credibility.

  1. Marketing intelligence

Community members join because they want to voice their opinions or hear the opinions of others. Imagine an online community as a think-tank with everyone focused on your company. Members provide insights related to the platform, plus products and services that you offer. With a forum in place, members help each other and give feedback about how they use your products.

  1. New product and service introductions

A members-only community is a great place to gain product insights. Current customers can let you know what works or doesn’t work for them. They’re engaged with the business, know the current offerings, and provide helpful information.

  1. Networking

Online communities offer a unique networking opportunity to clients and businesses. Clients learn from each other in a safe space, and you can engage with all clients at once in real-time. An increase in user engagement can be expected as communication between clients becomes more in-depth and frequent.

  1. Client retention

People are more likely to be loyal to a company when they feel they are being heard. Community members might be motivated by a desire to interact, some might just seek knowledge, while others want support or encouragement in business. Like all communities, this creates a sense of belonging, but you need to make sure people feel they are being heard, so it’s important to monitor forums and respond to the community when required.

  1. Client acquisition

When done correctly, the community fosters client acquisition. Through word of mouth from current clients, or through the additional support you provide within the community, prospects are more likely to see value in becoming members and participating.

  1. Preferred customers

Members who contribute content, provide answers and feedback to others, and those who participate in community sessions might be considered your preferred clients. You can boost your business by encouraging them to become brand advocates outside of the community. They already love what you do for them, and want to grow their own businesses. Advocacy is a great opportunity for shared brand promotion.

  1. Customer support

Community members join and participate because they see value in connecting and sharing knowledge with like-minded people. Members support and encourage each other so that everyone is successful. This can even save you support time as one-on-one training sessions and discussions decrease when clients work together to solve small issues. A community enables all to be supported and successful in business.

  1. Increased cross-selling and upselling

Community-led growth helps to generate revenue. An advocating audience who trusts your product or service may be interested in purchasing more. From another perspective, by knowing these clients and their businesses, you can assess and perhaps even anticipate their needs and see gaps to be filled. The community gives businesses more intimate ways to connect with clients.

Online community support

Building and managing an online community is a big undertaking. Support is required to do it right and gain all the benefits. The best approach is to create a platform that can grow with the community itself.