I reckon I will not be awfully mistaken by saying that this might be one of the most frequently asked questions by website owners. I do not think I have to convince anyone that any type of online enterprise needs audience and will heavily depend on it in the long run. Whether you have a business site supporting your products or services, or rely on providing news and other information to your visitors, you need to realize that simply being present in the virtual world will not suffice and you have to actively seek ways to build a community around your website.
If you are not entirely new to the idea, you might want to check out one of the previous posts on how to boost community engagement on a website. In any case, I believe that this article will prove to be helpful to anyone managing a business online, as it will cover a variety of issues that have application in many situations.
This time I’d like to switch things up a little and do away with lists and tops, and not try to limit myself to a certain number of solutions. Building a community is not an easy nor a straightforward task, and although there is a number of proven techniques and certain things you need to take care of, the final results will depend on how you execute them.
Why building a community around a website is important?
Why spend time and money at all, will people not come to my website anyway, since it is online? Well, a number of them may discover your website in one way or another, but obviously things are much more complex than that.
For one thing, you need to think not only about attracting one-time guests, but rather try to engage your visitors, raise their interest and, idealy, solve their problems. In order to do all these things you have to step forward and provide people with means to leave feedback, obtain important information or contact you instantly.
I am quite sure that as a business owner you have your cusomers’ needs at the back of your head all the time. While thinking about all the hard aspects, do not forget about the more elusive, social, facet of it.
Most people tend to look for ways to connect with individuals who are like them. They will say “I wish I knew more people like me” and will probably try to do something about it. Since the online realm keeps getting ever more intertwined with the real world, and starts to offer no less (if not more in some niches) opportunities to reach out to like-minded people, why not put more power in their hands to do just that?
At the end of the day, they will find a place online to interact anyway. That place might as well be your website, and you may be a part of this process and an active voice in the discussion about products, services and other stuff these people are interested in.
There is one other argument I would like to mention for building a community around your website. Having a large group of active people on your site can only help SEO. If you have a significant audience to speak to, it should motivate you and give you purpose, as well as make you want to keep up a high standard of regularly delivered content, which in turn will be shared and discussed by your community members, all of which plays an important role for search engine robots indexing websites.
How do I build a community around my website?
Now that you understand why is it important to attract and keep visitors interested in your website, let us have a look at some ways in which you can go about it.
You can never go wrong with great content
Delivering amazing content is always the way to go, stressed by marketers all around the web. Basically, if you are not planning to give out your products absolutely for free, which I doubt, this is your starting point.
Again, great content means not only a coherent news article, but pretty much anything intended for visitors of your website – a uniquely written “About us” section that makes you stand out among your competition, appealing product descriptions, professional photos, and so on. It is absolutely crucial that you understand just how important your image is to a potential client, since the first impression might be the only one you make.
Provide tools for your community to get engaged
You have given your audience reasons to talk and build a community around topics or products. Now facilitate the discussion by installing a comment section and/or a forum, where people will be able to leave their feedback and interact with each other.
Harness the power of your website visitors by enabling social media sharing buttons, so that they can do a little bit of marketing among their own social networks for you. If your content is good enough, you will not have to ask anyone to share it, they will do it on their own.
Go a step further and provide your community with an option for real-time interaction in the form of a live social chat. Your website visitors will not only be able to contact you instantaneously but also interact with each other without having to wait for a forum reply, for example. Such a chat is like a virtual room, where people with similar interest can discuss issues that they find important, share media or rate others’ comment, thus showing public support.
Get engaged in the community yourself
Become a part of it, be accessible as much as you can. Start by setting up company pages on social media platforms (avoid going into all of them though, it is not necessary and not really useful; think were your clients are the most). Post often and always acknowledge your fans’ comments.
Social media are another great way to collect feedback from your clients, learn more about them and establish relationship and brand loyalty. Try to reach out to the most active or prominent members of your community and make them your ambassadors.
Start a thread on a message board, on a topic you think is important to your clients and see what they have say about it, and if they can help themselves out as members of a community. Forums are a valuable source of information for people who do research on products or services they intend to buy. Do not neglect your chance to actively shape opinions and influence decisions.
Use live chat to give real-time advice and position yourself as an expert in your niche. Providing free counselling will not go unnoticed and should benefit you in the long run. As with forums, community members can use live social chat to discuss things in public or in private conversation, helping each other out. To keep the quality of the user base, you will always have admins and banning options.
Building a community around a website is no simple task. However, there are some clear steps you can take, to make this process structured and systematic. Delivering content which is not exclusively self-promotional is a must. Giving your audience tools to engage in conversation is the next step. Last but not least, your personality matters a lot, because you will definitely have to become a part of and a leader in your community, to give guidence, react to positive and negative comments and manage the members on various levels.