Online communities are the way of the future: They bring people of all ages, backgrounds and hometowns together over a common industry, skill set or interest. I’ve personally been stunned by the impact of an online community from my own experience. My online Facebook community, Ecommerce Elites Mastermind, has over 85,000 members who unite on a daily basis to discuss ecommerce tips and strategies.
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The impacts are significant. I created my Facebook group to build a virtual community and offer tips, but there are also sales advantages: The University of Michigan found that customers spend 19 percent more after joining a company’s online community. Thanks to this, and the massive potential for consistent engagement, 74 percent of large companies have created online communities, according to research from Demand Metric. For me, however, it’s about amplifying impact. I believe that anyone who has something to say can create an online community of like-minded entrepreneurs and unite them over a common cause. Here’s how to do so, based on my own experience of what works.
1. Share knowledge for free.
The core element of our group is sharing information at no cost. These tips cover Shopify, Facebook ads, social media marketing, product sourcing, traffic generation and more. Think about the commonalities among all the members of your group. What are individuals joining the community to learn? What interests them most? What are they hoping to accomplish? From there, create the content you know they want to know. Seventy-three percent of consumers report that they trust a brand when they deliver good quality products and services, according to research by Edelman. This extends beyond what you sell as a brand into what you give the consumer consistently. Quality advice, how-to’s and pieces of value within your community develop trust.
Part of this comes down to defining your niche. Generic entrepreneurship communities can work in theory, but they need strong branding and a strong sense of community to bring all of the individuals together. What aspect of entrepreneurship do you want to unite based on?
Related: 5 Examples Your Brand Can Follow to Build an Online Community
2. Rely on word of mouth.
I’m often asked if I used paid ads to grow my Facebook community, but the honest answer is that all of it was word-of-mouth marketing. This, too, comes back to sharing value. Think about it: If you were part of a community that was sharing endless value, wouldn’t you share it with a friend? At the very least it might come up in a conversation on business strategies, or you may quote the community in a podcast, article or blog post. Ultimately, this word-of-mouth marketing is stronger for your brand than paid ads, because 92 percent of consumers say they trust recommendations from friends and family over any type of advertising, according to Nielsen research. Give your community members something to rave about to their own communities.
When just getting started, don’t deny the power of your own word of mouth marketing. You’ve likely established some trust with a few social media followers, friends or family members. Tell them what your community seeks to do and what you’ll share — this will get the first batch of members in the door.
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3. Engage frequently.
Communities aren’t worth doing if they aren’t supported consistently. Engage frequently — if not daily, every other day — because you will become the heartbeat that keeps the community going. Go into your group for a live video, host an “ask me anything,” or even facilitate in-person events to build a sense of community. As membership grows and many start posting on their own, more activity will build. But stepping out and letting the members run the show can convey that you don’t care. You also will miss out on a massive opportunity to establish thought leadership within your community.
It comes down to empowerment, too. Engagement encourages more participation. Every like and comment on a post makes the poster feel that they should share more.
Related: How to Create Community Among Your Customers
4. Share in other groups as well.
Finally, it’s important to think of community as something that extends beyond the walls of your Facebook group. I consistently show up in other Facebook groups to share value, because a key part of community building is building relationships outside of the community you already have. The way I see it, everyone benefits: Those who I connect with can then join my community and share their unique perspective and expertise with the group. This is how grow continually and deliver value consistently.
Related: 3 Ways to Build an Online Community That’s All About Your Prospects