Like Rome, communities cannot be built in a day. Setting up a community is often the easiest step – nurturing and growing that community is the long-term challenge. However, your hard work will eventually pay off, as communities are a key component in the longevity and success of a business.

There are several examples of strong communities available today, both consumer and business-facing. Looking at their development is an effective way to strengthen your own community.

Set your goals

Communities can take many forms. Some can be used to exchange knowledge and best practice, others as a way to drive change or embrace a passion. Knowing what your community’s aims are is the first step in its growth. Link all your activities back to your initial community goals. If you want your community to have an impact on your bottom-line, make sure it ties into your business goals too.

Know your audience

It’s also a good idea to do some research into your target audience before you launch your community. Identify where they spend most of their time, the topics that interest them, their pain-points and worries, and their communication styles. Knowing this, you can tailor your messaging and platform to their needs.

Some communities, such as Kayla Itsine’s BBG, work well on social media. This community is mostly image-based, so a platform like Instagram is suitable for it. Others require specialised platforms and websites. These are usually communities that offer knowledge and are primarily text-based.

Uncover their passion

When you know your audience, you’ll be able to uncover their passions. Whether that’s their work, changing the world, or fulfilling a dream. Understanding what gets them out of bed in the morning will give ideas for your community.

The Red Bull Cliff Diving Series is a good example of this. It’s not directly linked to selling Red Bull drinks. Instead, it taps into the audience’s passion for adrenaline sports. This relates well with Red Bull’s “It gives you wings” tagline, plus it’s interesting to its core audience of young males.

Uniting people with a common interest is a surefire way to increase engagement in your community. Members are more likely to post about things that they are invested in. Particularly if they cannot get the same content or experience anywhere else.

Offer exclusive perks

An even more specialised community can be found in HOG - a place for Harley-Davidson enthusiasts to gather. HOG is an interesting example, as participants gain access to it by purchasing a Harley-Davidson through the company. It’s a global network, with a range of exclusive benefits offered. Members get early-bird deals on new bikes, advice on their current model, merchandise and invites to real-world events. The community resources bridge both the online and offline worlds. It builds exclusivity through a special card that members can flash to show they’re part of the group. Membership is lifelong and currently has more than 1 million active members.

Giving your members something unique is a vital part of attracting people to your community. As seen with HOG, there are many offers that are specific to members. Anyone outside the community will feel like they are missing out when told about it, which is compounded by HOG’s bright orange membership card.

Unite for charity

Another tactic is to find a common cause. For organisations, arranging a charity community could fulfil CSR goals and foster a strong customer network. Innocent runs The Big Knit every year to support older people during winter. It works with partners such as Age UK to recruit knitting volunteers and offers knitting resources on a dedicated website. There’s also a Facebook group with over 3000 members exchanging tips and photos of their creations. Every winter, the miniature hats are placed on Innocent smoothies and for every bottle sold, 25p is donated to Age UK. Since launch, the community has produced 7.5 million hats and raised £2.5 million.

Working on a social cause taps into a lot of current consumer concerns and motivations. Plastic waste and climate change are two areas where organisations are increasingly being held to account. Business leaders are expected to improve society. 71% of employees and 76% of consumers want to see CEOs stepping up to take action on issues like climate change.

Keep experimenting

A community evolves with the times. As an audience changes, so too must the community. Regular reviews will tell you if member desires or needs have changed and whether your community must adapt to it. If a community isn’t constantly improving, then it’s likely in decline. There is no steady-state for it.

Find your niche

A community will be successful when it fulfils a specific need in the market. This could be directly linked to your services or product (like Salesforce Trailblazers) or catering to a niche interest.

Developing a community based on a product or service is advantageous on many fronts. Not only does it foster a loyal network and build trust in your product, it can also inform product development and aid customer service. Salesforce Trailblazers is an online community that helps Salesforce customers use the tool and troubleshoot problems. This takes the pressure off the customer service team and helps people find solutions more rapidly.

Don’t do it alone

This ties into the final characteristic of strong communities: they share the work. Ideally, a community should get to a point where it is largely self-sufficient. Members engage with each other, post original content, arrange meetings and an organisation is left to oversee and implement changes. This requires a few members who are willing to contribute their time and expertise to grow the community with you. You can encourage these members with VIP status and other perks. Some may do it for the credibility offered, as is the case with Salesforce Trailblazers. Those that contribute the most are featured on the front page of the community.

Start now, reap the benefits for years

Communities provide an alternate means of connecting with your audience. The best ones are built on authenticity and trust - helping to create genuine interactions between a brand and its customers. In doing so, you can grow deep customer loyalty that will last for years. As it becomes harder for businesses to attract and retain customers, community building will become vital. It’s worth starting now, as a strong community takes time to develop.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

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