Creating an online community
Have you noticed, that the way we do business is changing? How your ‘community’ views your business has always been important, however, the internet and social media are changing the interaction of a business with its community as well as the impact of the community on the businesses marketing.
Your ‘community’ are those people that interact with your business – whether that be on the phone, via email, in person or online. Treating your clients and potential clients as part of your community is an important part of developing a strong reputation and, by association, increasing sales and sustainable growth.
However, the increase in online business and web presences also means that your community can explore hundreds of online competitors easily instead of being limited to a small handful of local businesses. Your community now has the power to choose from the best businesses with the best reputations.
Using online techniques, such as search engines and forums, customers can relatively easily compare product offerings and service. As a result, a customer is likely to know a lot more about products and services and the support provided by your business.
Product and Service Information and Reviews
Every day, people write product reviews based on their own experience of products and services, for other potential consumers to read. The voice of experience gets shared via forums, websites and social networking sites so that the influence of the consumer grows.
Smart business owners can use these reviews to their advantage. Not only can the feedback provided by the reviews prove invaluable to improving or modifying the product mix, but it can also be used for marketing purposes as testimonials (when the correct permission is received).
Creating the Community
A business owner can create a community online by providing places for the customers and potential customers to ‘gather’, comment and provide feedback.
This community can be created on the businesses website, on social networks and third-party business forums.
On a business, the website encourages your customers to leave feedback through a blog or provide a forum to interact on. If your business runs a shopping cart or an E-Commerce engine, allow your customers the ability to rate your products and leave feedback which is displayed to the public.
Facebook and Linked In have excellent platforms to encourage interaction amongst your community.
Whilst these platforms shouldn’t become the ‘hub’ of your community (they should direct the community back to the businesses website whenever possible), they are a great place to connect with the Target Audience, ‘where they play’.
All businesses should have a Facebook Business Page – there is conjecture that Facebook search is becoming more popular than a regular search engine. The ‘wall’ on the Facebook Business Page will allow your customers (or Fans) to leave comments, ask questions and provide feedback. It is also possible to feed website updates to the Facebook Business Page.
A Linked In profile is a must – this will allow customers and potential business contacts to connect with the business owner. A Linked-In group may be an appropriate way to interact with your customers and prospects.
Using these places to interact is a great way for a business to create instant marketing groups that can provide feedback on the level of service and where there is room for improvement. To a degree, the community will provide instant market focus groups – the business will be able to receive feedback on proposed product changes or new products and services. An incredibly valuable process for a business.
Getting your community involved means having a meaningful way to start a conversation with your community. Your customers should be able to share their ideas with you and your company should be able to listen and use that information effectively.
I also believe that a business owner can use these interactions as a way to offer great service to customers. Sometimes, a customer will ask a question or raise an issue with the use of a product. These are opportunities for a business to showcase the level of service that is provided – this doesn’t mean that a business should address all issues or problems on the social network or website but the issue can be directed to support.
Reputation is important and the level of support provided can separate the business from other companies who might offer the same, or similar products.
The most important thing for a business to remember is that most customers buy from people they Know, Like and Trust. Creating a ‘community’ and interacting with that community, goes a long way to developing trust.
Charly Leetham is a Small Business Coach and Online Business Implementation Expert and she helps small businesses take their business online. Charly provides services to solopreneurs and small business who wish to sell or promote their products and services online. Visit www.AskCharlyLeetham.com for more information