Some other time you will come at a stage where you would like to build an online community for your business. Before you make this decision, you should know that it is not as easy as it looks. It surely sounds like an attractive idea on paper, where a group of enthusiasts having the same set of thinking and work joins a single platform. The enthusiastic group wants to engage users to boost your business.
If you are building the online community expecting high returns, then you should not be going for this option. You will need to work in the online community with low returns for a very long time. Online communities may be the quickest ways to find new customers. Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or WordPress, have made it, even more, easier to create an online community.
Before you decide to go to the online community, here are a few things you need to know to structure online communities-
Strategy- You can’t just go and invest anywhere and build anything. The strategy is the first step towards the success of any business plan/goals. You have some set goals that you want to achieve. They can be Revenue, Growth or Conversions. You need a strategy for any phase of business. You are diversifying into a new sphere of business, may be launching a new product or changing the business with technology.
These business goals should finally lead you to market and business goals. First, three goals that come to your mind are the most important thing to be considered rest of the goals are not high priorities.
Things that should fit in a while building an online community-
A passionate group of investment-worthy size exists in your topic-
You are targeting a new niche; this topic should be interesting enough involving the large group of people. For example, if your niche is interior designing, then you will have a vast number of passionate members in the community worthy the investment size. Now that we have our passion and a group of members with similar passions then it is worth the sizable investment.
Your brand or platform can provide unique value via community that is superior to what is available anywhere else-
You can give exceptional value to your product via the community. You can provide superior products. Well, for example, there are many interior designers but why is your product X unique from Y. Your product can be unique by the way you share it with your audience. You can enable transparency of certain kind.
Willingness to invest for years with little returns to gain high future returns-
This is the toughest part, your willingness to invest for years without any further expectations. Communities are similar to content marketing you are going to put tons of efforts for years before you see any returns. Most of the communities fail because people who made them were not willing to put continuous efforts.
For building Communities, you have two options: Build your platform or participate in an existing community
You can always build your platform or join in an existing one. What I think you should be doing first is participate in an existing community. Participating in an existing platform will give you the experience of how a community works. You will get familiar with the players, opportunities, options and different platforms online.
Build your platform- To build your platform you need to include potential structure. You can make your platform with the help of someone else’s platform for example by creating a subreddit, or Facebook or Linkedin group. Otherwise, you can also build your discussion board like you have your blog and comment section, your content leaderboards like Hacker News or a Q&A board.
These investments are better than Facebook or Twitter.
Benefits and Drawbacks of investing in Community
Forums and discussion boards will have user-generated content which is a positive thing as scales out with your investment. So when you build up a community on an ongoing basis by creating, answering and talking about these topics in either Q&A board, forum discussion or content leaderboard. The best part is you get the of longtail, high-quality SEO benefit and the much-needed discussions.
When it comes blog and comments you get the SEO benefits, but it requires regular content. You need to hire a team for updating regular content on any forum. The only drawback blog and comments have that they don’t get the benefit of UGC like you have in forum or discussion platforms. It is quite easy to build a community of Facebook group, Linkedin group, Twitter hashtags but there are no SEO benefits as these groups are owned by someone else and can be changed anytime.
A content lead board is tough to maintain like at debongo.com we figured out it is challenging to get things high rolling so we hired talented people willing to work and maintain the effort and energy. But with regular content, you can get traffic again and again.
Whatever option you choose make sure you list out the benefits and drawbacks and strategize your marketing goals accordingly. This will help you determine how you can structure your online community.
Participate in existing communities- This is the initial option that you should be going for. Participate in existing communities like Quora, Subreddit, Twitter, LinkedIn Group, Existing Forum.
Size/reach of the existing community- Well as I mentioned you could participate in a current forum, the size and reach on an average is nine responses per threads and about three new threads per day.
Benefits and Drawbacks- The primary advantage is that it will bring recognition and leadership skills in this group of influential people belonging to our field. The only drawback is that it also builds our competitors forum and rank them too. They own the platform and we align this with our goals and initiatives.
Finally the Four Tips For Your Final Decision
If you build, build for SEO + Owned channels. Don’t create on someone else’s platform- I have already mentioned before make sure you invest in someone else’s platform before you build your community. I would like to repeat that you need to rule out options like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter because of the same reasons owned and controlled by someone else. They have the power to change anything anytime and this will affect the audience you tend to target. I would suggest you build the Media-owned channel with an SEO platform.
Start a platform that will not lose credibility when empty, e.g., blog > forum-The second tip is obvious to choose a platform that doesn’t lose credibility when its empty. This means when you are creating a forum, Q&A platform or a content lead board you need to make sure you have a team that can build a strong base so that you do not face the Graveyard like situation.
Do not use a separate subdomain- Subdomains are capable of getting you some rankings benefits to the primary domain. But having a separate subdomain is not at all beneficial as they tend to inherit none of the ranking benefits.
Who should be your first active members?-Before you gather your exciting, willing group of members, your first active members should be via an email group. So suppose you are building something in the interior space find those 10-20 people who are already in your online space chatting with each other. Then the next step would be starting your blog or a Q&A board. Try to seed this with the passionate group. The journey to build the online community is full of hurdles especially when it comes to building your community system.
Conclusion- Analyse your business first and choose the right option. But for fresh starters, it is always better to go for option two, i.e., participate in an existing community first.