I get asked so often how to actually build an online community of followers. Building an online community is a really important thing in today’s day and age, because it’s the easiest way to connect you with your customers, or your users, online. My friend Justin Seeley, from lynda.com, and I agree that it’s important for any brand or business to get involved in cultivating a really nice culture around their products and services, using these new online social tools, because it’s gonna put you into the conversations that are already happening all around you, that you probably don’t even know about.
So how do you engage your customers, and how do you get the most out of your online community? First you need to know how to find your audience. This means going out and searching for the customers that are already talking about your products and services online, and finding a way to become part of that conversation.
Finding your audience
The social media landscape is really big and clearly LinkedIn is the best for B2B businesses. When you use the search features that are built into LinkedIn, you can find conversations that are happening all across the globe with many different types of people that are already talking about the things you create or the products and services that you sell. You can search for specific hashtags, keywords, even users if you like, and find conversations that are happening around the areas that you’re an expert in, and then join in on those conversations with the users that are already there.
On LinkedIn, the search bar’s at the very top of the page and all you have to do is plug in a term or keyword, like plumbing for instance, and LinkedIn’s going to return different results based on what you entered. You can also refine your search based on people, jobs, or something called groups. Groups is a great way to interact with like-minded folks on LinkedIn. It’s also a great way to find people that might be using products and services related to what you’re doing, and you can connect with them and make them a part of your own personal community.
“When it comes to social media, you have to give, give, give, and then give some more.”
Don’t just get locked in to LinkedIn. You can search on Twitter to find people that are having conversations about your products and services, or about things that are related to your business. You should also join groups and follow users on these networks as well. This is the easiest way to connect with people and figure out what they’re all about.
These networks are going to be the ones that generate the best traffic for the types of content that you’re either going to be sharing, or that you care about.
Engaging your audience
This is something that everybody needs to learn how to do when they’re building on online community. Communities are a social entity. And, when we talk about social things, we think about relationships. Relationships between two people, relationships between brands and people, relationships between customers. All of those relationships matter, and by cultivating your online community properly, you can make sure that your relationships are good with all of your customers.
Rule number one, and really, the only rule when it comes to dealing with customers online, you have to care about those customers. I have a saying that I use all the time when I’m giving speeches on social media. If you don’t care, you won’t convert, period. Justin Seeley
It’s as simple as that. You have to care about people and attend to their needs across all of these networks in order for them to become lifelong customers. And caring, is the number one way that you do that.
Whether you know it or not, your being reviewed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by everyone that’s used your product or service online.
People are having conversations about you, and your customer service, all around you. You need to join into those conversations and become part of your own narrative. If you don’t, you’re going to be left behind. And also, you’re going to let other people write the history books on what your business was all about. There are three basic rules when you’re engaging people online.
- Number one, you have to answer questions. People are constantly asking me questions; I get questions, dozens of them every day. I try my best to answer each one of them in a timely fashion. Why, because I would expect the same level of customer service from anyone else.
- Number two, you have to start conversations with people, that means you’re searching relevant topics. So I search for hash tags like, lead generation, marketing, etc. I find people talking about those, and I engage them in conversation. Maybe they’re just talking about a blog post that they read. Maybe they’re sharing a video tutorial of mine. In any case, I take the time to respond to those people and those people then start to follow me and become one of my customers online.
- Finally, you need to make sure that you’re providing value with the content that you create.You never want to use social media as nothing more than a mouthpiece. If you use social media as a ‘sales’ mouthpiece, you’re really defeating the purpose. You’re not interacting with people, all you are doing is asking for something over, and over, and over again. You don’t ask people for things, you give people things. You give, you give, and then you give some more.
Like it or not, you’re now a content creator. I know that sounds a little bit scary, but seriously everybody that’s participating in social media is now creating content. Your tweets are a content, any blogs, podcasts, or anything that you’re sharing that’s all content that’s being consumed by all of your users on those social media platforms.
So you need to be cognizant of that. Make sure that all of the content that you’re sharing is of some value to the end user.
Here are some tips:
- You should always be short and sweet with the answers that you give. But, at the same time while you’re being quick, you should never be terse or rude.
- You also need to make sure that you’re being professional, but also at the same time that you’re being human with all of your users. That’s the big thing nowadays, the humanization of business. Brands are no longer thought of as just big corporate conglomerates.They’re people just like us, and there’s people behind those brands on all of these networks.And so we want to know that there’s a human on the other end of the line. It’s the same reason why we don’t like talking to automated machines on telephone prompts and stuff like that. We want to make sure that we’re engaging with a real person. So let em know, and let your personality shine through.
- Finally, you need to be serious, but never take yourself too seriously. It’s always okay to poke fun at yourself if you make a mistake, or if you flub something, typos, whatever the case may be. I’m human, so is everybody else. I’m never afraid to make a mistake, and I’m always quick to joke about it with all of my users in my community.
- The final thing that I want you to keep in mind, when you’re engaging with users. Anytime someone says something about your content, good or bad. Anytime someone reads a blog post, re-shares it, whatever the case may be, always say thank you. Being appreciative for these people that are becoming a part of your on-line community, is very, very important, because it makes them feel as though they’re a part of whatever it is that you’re creating. And that is big in creating a one to one relationship with your customers.
So always, always show them that they’re appreciated.
It’s about the people, and never about the numbers. I don’t have that many followers across most of my networks, in fact, most of mine cap out at about 5,000. Collectively, I have several thousand people that follow me though, and all of them are really engaged. I get lots of replies. Lots of messages. Lots of questions. And that’s a good thing. And that’s something that you need to understand. Whether you have one follower or two million, every one of these people matters.
I’d rather have one engaged follower than a million that never talk to me.
Simply find good content that your users are going to enjoy. Then share that content with those users on a daily basis. Number three, engage those users in conversation around that content that you shared.
And never ever apologize for selling, because on these networks, that’s ultimately the goal. The goal to bring these people in, make them apart of whatever it is you’re doing, and eventually convert them into customers.
When it comes to social media, you have to give, give, give, and then give some more. It’s going to feel like you’re giving it all away for free at first, but don’t be scared by that. Once you give enough, you’re going to know when it’s the right time to just sort of lob out that soft sales pitch. And you’ll be amazed at the response that you get as long, as you’ve been providing valuable content to the end-user.
When it comes to building online communities, I want you to remember the following points.Because then they’re going to see, hey, this person actually cares whether or not I get this solved or not. And then when they do need something you’re selling, they come straight to your door.
Number one, tell a story. Always be telling stories, about you, your products, other industry news that pertains to your brand or business. Make sure that you’re telling a compelling story that people will be interested in and will want to share with others. Number two, be helpful. Finally, I want you to bring value in whatever it is that you do. If it’s podcasting, blogging, whatever the case may be, always be bringing value to your end-user. That’s the number one way to attract new users into your community and also keep the existing users that you already have.
And remember, always care about the people that are in your online community. If you see people having trouble with something, doesn’t even have to relate to your business or your brand, if you see it in your stream, reply to them. Let them know that you see it. Let them know that you care. If people are posting in forums and message boards saying that they need help with a given problem, you need to be diving in there head-first to try and fix it, even if it means that you’re telling them that they need to buy something that you’re not selling. Because then they’re going to see, hey, this person actually cares whether or not I get this solved or not. And then when they do need something you’re selling, they come straight to your door.
Tracey is the Founder of Thrive Ad Agency and the creator of the LinkedAutomation™ Method. She and her team are social selling masters, working with leaders and organizations to build a systematic method for generating business, developing qualified relationships and growing revenue.