How to build an online community
Practical inspirations and ideas for building your website community
Thursday 8th November 2001
Ever wonder why magazines and newspapers always feature letters to the editor? Have you noticed most radio stations air phone calls from listeners? And what about those person-on-the-street interviews that TV news programs like to feature?
These are the ways smart media organizations create the community their customers crave. Here’s how it works.
People are social creatures. Few of us like being alone for long. We prefer to work and learn in groups. We like to know there are plenty of other people who are a lot like us, people who are doing the same things we are.
When companies create a community of like-minded customers for people to be a part of, lots of people respond. This can be particularly important if your goal is to keep new prospects interested and current customers coming back. Creating your own community is critically important during slow economic times when every customer counts.
Here are five cheap and easy ways you can create your own online community right away!
1. Start your own discussion board. A few years ago, you had to be a computer programmer to do this, but today anyone can create their own online discussion. You can personalize the look of your board as well as put your logo at the top. This makes the discussion look like a regular part of your web site.
Expect the discussion to start off slow. Line up several experts to launch conversations and provide follow-up answers. These can be experts outside your company, but it is usually more reliable to have experts from inside your organization. Using your in-house experts can help emphasize how your staff has the ability and desire to solve problems for customers. If you want to create the image of expertise, your discussion board is a great way to do it.
2. Create a simple question and answer page. This can be even simpler than the discussion board. When a customer calls or emails you a question, include the question and your answer on a web page. Success won’t depend on customers sending questions frequently. The answer page on DrNunley.com has been building slowly for years. Today you can browse page after page for answers to hundreds of questions.
Prospects and customers often ask similar questions. Your Q&A; page not only gives people the answers they may be looking for, but it lets them know they aren’t alone. Others have the same needs and questions they do.
3. Schedule online events. These can be online chats or streaming audio broadcasts. There are a number of services that provide free chat rooms. Live365.com will let you do free audio streaming.
The event can be a guest expert answering questions, an interview with a popular author, or even a meeting of your distributors or franchisees. Be sure to announce your online event well ahead of time. Give it plenty of promotion. Mention it often in your newsletter, on your site, even in your advertising.
4. Start an email discussion. Email is by far the most popular feature of the Internet. Some experts believe the big increase in people using the Net has been caused by the massive number of people who use email several times each day.
You can harness the power of email to build your online community. An email discussion is simply a system that shares email messages between everyone in the group. Messages can flow freely or be edited, approved, or rejected by a moderator in your organization.
It only takes a few minutes to get your email discussion going. Yahoo Groups and Topica.com provide excellent and reliable free services.
5. This final idea is extremely simple, but very powerful. Post good comments from customers. Customers often aren’t sure what kind of results to expect from your product or service. Expectations of «good results» can vary widely.
By posting customer success stories, you can help other customers understand what to expect and what is possible. This goes a long way toward building customer confidence and better understanding of your product or service.
Online community is becoming more and more important as the Web matures. People increasingly get online to check with a few communities they belong to. Make sure you have a community available for your customers and prospects.