Chapter Six: Build a Community Online

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Business and social network - Getting Free Things

This is an eleven chapter course if you have not started at the beginning you may click here to go to the introduction to this course.

 

Over 93% of Internet users take part in some type of online community.  But just why are online communities such a draw for so many people?

  • Online communities are much like a virtual café, bar, or other gathering place for people to get together with people with similar interests.
  • Online communities are a great place to learn something new.
  • Online communities are where people can be anonymous and share their problems and fears.
  • Online communities allow people to talk with people of the same mind so that they can confirm their beliefs.
  • Online communities allow people who are facing a hardship to feel less lonely.

 

Online Community Defined:  An online community can be accessed anywhere at any time.  Some of the components of an online community include chatrooms, message boards, newsletters, event calendars, and anything else that lets an Internet user interact with others who are online.

 

Why should you be concerned about online communities for your online marketing strategy?  Customers who take part in an online community are a good target for your sales because they have a high affinity for loyalty to your product when they are participating in an online community.  When you have a strong and solid online customer community you know that you’ve built a loyal following for your company and the products or services you sell.  Your loyal customers will spread news of your company through word of mouth and this will further increase your sales.

 

Message Boards:  It will be to your benefit to provide your customers with a message board on your website.  You can break your message board up into categories for your different products or services and encourage your customers to share their ideas and opinions with others.  This is the first step towards building an online community.  Customers will answer each others questions and this will save you some money on the cost of customer care.  You just need to make sure that you moderate the message board on a regular basis so that your customers are getting accurate information.

 

Message boards also give you some great feedback about the products or services you’re selling.  Honest feedback from customers lets you better take care of their needs.  You also get to learn a lot more about your customers and what it is that they want from your business.

 

Message boards are an important part of your website and your online community.  You can develop a message board without spending a lot of time and money.  Begin by asking your website hosting company if they can provide you with a message board template that you can include in the hosting package.  Otherwise look on the Internet for a message board that is free.  Choose a message board that fits the look and feel of your website so that you’re maintaining consistency.

 

Message Board Content:  A successful online community isn’t just a common message board.  The content on your website will play a big part in the quality of your online community. The more professional your website content is the better the quality of the message board.  Always keep in mind that it’s content that attracts readers and should be your major concern when it comes to your decision to develop an online community.

 

You’ll find that fresh content ideas will start to flow when you have an online community.  You’ll know exactly what your customers are looking for and just how you can provide that for them.  Active message boards are a cost efficient way for you to provide great customer service.

 

Message Board Calendar:  Calendars are a vital part of the online community because they allow people to meet offline.  Even if your company doesn’t have any offline events, a calendar will let you post valuable industry information.  For example, if your company sells stationary you could list the dates when you’ll be attending trade fairs in the search for new products for your customers.  This type of information lets customers know that your website and business content is ever changing.

 

Contests:  Contests are a great way to get customers excited about your company and your website.  Ask customers to share a story about how your product or service has benefited them.  When the contest is over you can post these stories, along with the names of the winners, on your website.  This marketing technique provides you with customer testimonials and is also a good way for you to see what your customers are interested in.

 

Maintaining an Online Community:  It can take a lot of work to maintain your online community.  You’ll need to invest a certain amount of time and effort if you want the benefits of an online community to come your way.  Make sure that all of your staff is involved in the maintenance of the community and that they know the importance of responding immediately to posts from your customers.  When your online community is in its beginning stages you might have to plant some of your own questions, answers, and comments to the message board.  Once traffic to your online community builds it will start to flow on its own and will require less maintenance.

 

Other Online Communities and Ad Space:  If you don’t think that you have the time and manpower to maintain an online community you might want to consider buying ad space on a community that is already established and which has a high profile on the Internet.  The online community should have some connection with the types of products or services that you’re selling.

Chapter Seven:  Strategies for Co-Branding

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