Building a community around a brand is an important and often-overlooked part of being successful in e-commerce.
“Community solidifies the relationship between your brand and your customer,” said e-commerce consultant Ian Rhodes.
“It creates loyalty. Whilst the majority of retail brands are seeking people to buy from them, the community-minded brand invites people to buy into their brand,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
What are the best ways to build this community? What kinds of community are most effective? How can they be sustained? We talked with experts in the field to bring you some of the following tips to help you get started in the process of community-building.
1. Invite Customers on Your Journey
The more customers get behind-the-scenes glimpses of your company and hear about stories that make you who you are, the more they’ll want to join you.
“Acknowledge that your brand is on a journey,” said Rhodes. “Invite your customer to come along for the ride. This will provide purpose to the content you create and share. You’ll share the inner workings of your brand — your brand’s perspective and purpose.”
2. Make It More About Them Than You
It’s easy to forget that the world doesn’t revolve around your company — particularly when you’re working to build brand identity and awareness. The fact is, though, if you come across as a pushy salesperson all the time, no one will want to hang out with you.
“The biggest mistakes companies make with engagement are about vanity, narcissism, self-centeredness,” said consultant Brian Carter.
“We’re talking about smart people who would never walk into a mixer and talk about themselves for 15 minutes straight,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Hopefully, they’re smart enough to know that people like people who focus on them — not on themselves. They ask others about their lives and family and hobbies, and they make a friend.”
Similarly, brands must engage customers around their interests and concerns and not always try to sell them something.
“You have to just be with them without selling, sometimes, or you’re not building a relationship — you’re just an annoying salesperson, and that’s not a likable approach,” explained Carter.
“You have to go a level beyond your product into the customer’s life and emotions, and live with them and talk about other things, and have faith that this creates a relationship that makes them love you so much that — of course, they want to buy your products.”
3. Create and Foster Online Spaces
Digital spaces are key to creating a sense of community around your brand, allowing customers to meet, talk, share ideas, and interact with you and other customers. Whether they’re social media groups or privately branded sites, such spaces can be integral in fostering and nurturing community.
The most effective way to attract a loyal online audience is to “build a welcoming space for all members,” said Maxim Schram, CEO of CMNTY.
“A community platform allows customers to share stories, ideas and experiences,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “It can be a forum, a chat room, idea contests. Any of these could come in handy.”
As customers engage with each other and with your business, they also can provide helpful information about ways to enhance and improve your business.
“By utilizing branded communities, a business can genuinely communicate with their audience and receive useful feedback,” said Schram.
4. Be Mobile-Friendly
The best communities form where people already gather, and that increasingly means mobile spaces. As you begin to foster communities, therefore, consider ways to make them mobile-friendly.
“If you want to go a step further, you can adapt your platform to be mobile-friendly,” said Schram. “As mobile marketing is getting bigger, the on-the-go audience is increasing. You can use that as an additional gateway. All these channels serve to gather insights and feedback, which in turn can be implemented into broader business strategies.”
5. Invite Customers to Share Their Own Content
Communities revolve around sharing photos, videos and experiences, so you’ll want to encourage that in the communities you create for your customers.
“As people feel part of something, they will be naturally incentivized to share their own content and imagery that focuses upon your products and your brand,” said Rhodes. “These strategies work because they offer openness and transparency. When you make great products, people take ownership and pride from that ownership.”
The best communities are ones where customers want to connect and interact. They’re there because they want to be there, and your goal is, simply, to hold space for them — encouraging engagement, communication and sharing.