One of the common misconceptions about online community building is really what it is and where it fits in. If you think about it just about any web site is part of a community. It is important to realize that your community already exists regardless of your web technologies, so the question to answer is how will you actually connect with it? If you run a business you have a community of customers, vendors and even competitors that you interact with. How you interact with these folks and what you do to help them feel more connected to you and each other can set you apart from your competition and build on your brand equity. Your web portal might be a missed opportunity in making these connections stronger.
Humans want to talk to other humans
You will most likely use your web portal and hopefully many other online tools to communicate and connect to your community and the degree of which your technology is part of this and which bucket you put your efforts into may vary but the one thing that is paramount to realize is that people do not want to talk to technology but rather they want to make some type of social connection with other humans. This is why you cannot just go through the motions with building a community. You have to truly care about the members you want to attract and you have to be giving back to them and listening to what they are asking for. The better job in doing this you can do then the more success you can achieve.
Manage relationships on your customers terms shows that you care
In business how you manage your customer relationships is one of the most important elements of success or failure. With social networks becoming more of a norm integrating customer relationship management, customer service and a social community will be not an option but an expectation if you are doing any business or interactions with your clients online. It is also important to remember that where you communicate and how you communicate is more and more being dictated by your customers and it is ultimately your responsibility to reach them where and how they want to be communicated with.
Mapping the right solutions to targeted needs can determine success or failure
There are a lot of advantages to building a community around your business and there are different approaches to doing so, all of which require careful consideration. For example there are great “Community Building” tools that manage activity streams, offer groups, likes, friends etc. but it is important to make sure you map out what tools will actually add value to your community and which will distract them or turn them away. Another example is; does your site warrant membership or not? If you compare self- publishing authors; one has a romance novel and the other a self-help both would not benefit equally from a subscription model. A self-help book could offer reasons for folks to be members of a community for benefits of consulting and perhaps memberships that would generate greater revenue than the book royalties. The romance novel you may need some creative angel to get this type of audience eager to be a member of this sight however you can leverage the site with social networks to generate interest for the next steps of the author’s career or follow on publications, radio television or movies, more publicity etc.. So the point here is to make sure the strategy and business model as they relate to the tools you use and how you use them should be considered very carefully.
Bring them into your home and build personal loyalty
Having your own community can help you access to a core group of people that can help you get your message out or be brought to action around an offering. You can manage the distraction, message, privacy and confidence of users uniquely to that which is possible on such external and potentially invasive networks such as Facebook (read their terms of service and see how much privacy that you give up). If you are a business for example you may not want to publish your marketing video on you tube for everyone to view. You may want that to be kept private to members of your site/community. Kind of like the difference of managing a personal and public profile (Company Page) on Facebook.
Protect your future and save money
Having your own community allows you more control if you are using social networks to draw traffic to your own platform vs relying on social networks to be your platform. It is kind of like having a b-day party for your child and inviting them and their friends to your home vs out to Chucky Cheese. You have a much more personal experience and can control the environment in which your guests are interacting. You can set the tone, the mood and direct them from potential distractions. You end up being more centered in their attention and it will build friendships (loyalty) because they feel more important coming to your home vs someone place less personal. Using this same analogy there are times and applications for both types of parties since it takes more energy (more clean up and maintenance) and effort to manage a party in your home vs “outsourcing” to a restaurant but if you take the time and effort to bring the people into your own environment the rewards can be much greater and the relationships much stronger.
Create focus while learning more about your customers
Having your community of followers centralized allows you to track their interests and habits better to make sure you can respond quicker to market trends and take advantage of otherwise missed opportunities. Having a real-time connection to a loyal base of folks can let you get instant feedback on thing that can prevent you from making less successful business decisions. You can get them to review new product offerings for example to help you improve new features or let you know of features that you might think offer them value but do not. Not only is there potential for additional sales opportunities by having your own centralized community but you also can be more competitive and deliver solutions that better match the needs of your customers. An effective community strategy can also help you get products or services to market faster with lower cost.
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Also see other related blog articles http://www.cnpintegrations.com/blog/
Christopher Nielsen will be speaking at the Joomla Day Boston 2013 on March 16th about effective community building strategies.