Building a vibrant and dynamic online community can be useful to your business as well as beneficial to the members of the community. It gives them a chance to get to know you and learn more about your business while you are garnering from them vital information that will help you design your products or services to fit their ever-changing needs. Here are a few tips to help you get started and maintain a thriving community.
• In order to carry on a dialogue with your customers, find out who they are and what they need. By understanding their demographics, such as age bracket, stage of life, social class, income level, education and lifestyle, you will be able to engage them in dialogue that will be interesting to both of you. This first step in selecting the members of your community is important in building a strong base to work with. It will also help them to integrate socially with one another as the community grows.
• Once you begin inviting members to join your community, begin to ask questions right off the bat. Find out what they are interested in and how you can help them. Be open to their responses and learn to gather insight from their answers. You can be one of the first to catch on to new market trends and understand potential problems while using their requests to develop new product designs. In addition, you will have a relationship with your customers that will help you stay on top of crisis communication when needed.
• Show a personal side to your business. Let your community know that they are not dealing with a large and unapproachable corporation, but they're actually speaking to someone who cares and can make a difference. Let your voice be heard.
• Without being overwhelming, introduce new products or concepts to your community of customers first. This is the simplest and most straight-forward type of market research. Let them have the first go at it and get their feedback. In other words, keep them in the loop. They will feel a connection with the product and take steps to help you promote it through word of mouth.
• Grow your community organically by having something to offer. Make it worthwhile for friends to invite friends and in this way, the community will build itself. While this might be as simple as lending a listening ear when they have comments or suggestions, you might go so far as to offer promotional give-aways in return for taking part in a customer survey or partipating in a new product trial.
• Spread your wings by joining other social networking forums. If you began your community on Facebook, then you can invite your friends to join you on Twitter. Take advantage of the numerous social networking outlets.
• Most important of all – thank your customers. Let them know you you appreciate their support and value their friendship.