How to Build an Engaged Online Community

7 Easy Ways to Build a Hyper-Engaged Online CommunityIn this post, I would like to share with you some great tips on how to build an engaged online community. So, I’ve just returned from an influencer conference hosted by CEB (The Corporate Executive Board) the world’s largest member-based advisory company and an organization devoted to gathering and analyzing insights about small business owners.

The focus of this particular event was on who small business owners trusted. Let me give you a hint – it was not the enterprise organizations who supplied them with goods and services. Instead, small business owners pay attention to OTHER small business owners.

It shouldn’t surprise you that word of mouth from a trusted expert or advisor holds a lot of weight with small business owners, what will surprise you, however, is how open small business owners are to conversations sponsored by the companies and brands they trust.

In other words, small business owners don’t want to hear big companies talk about their products and services, but they definitely want to talk about these products and services with other small business owners. And this is where building a thriving and engaged online community comes in.

And check this out, this kind of strategy isn’t just reserved for the big enterprise brands, yes, even other small businesses can build engaged online community. Here’s how:

  1. Find a niche, specific topic: I know this is counterintuitive, but it really, really works.  The best way to find your niche topic and customer is to focus on who would benefit from your product or service the most.  Think about who needs your product or service the most and why — that is your niche. For example, if your business is IT consulting, think about the ONE thing you do especially well that your ideal customer appreciates the most.
  2. Take a stand: The most powerful way to have your ideal customer find you, remember you and choose you is by having a specific point of view on your niche topic. What do you believe is true about your industry, product or service?  What’s your unique philosophy about how things work?
  3. Create a space for discussion: Your next step is to open up a space for conversation about your topic and leave focus groups, step into Live Discussions. The best recent example I’ve found is with Dun and Bradstreet.  You might know D&B as a company that keeps track of credit reports. Admittedly credit reports are dry. But the D&B team has decided to focus on the underlying value or benefit that these reports provide — CREDIBILITY!  So, they opened up a conversation around credibility with small business owners.  This created a space for conversation and engaged many business owners and experts around credibility; where it comes from, how to build it and maintain it.
  4. Recruit influencers: As I mentioned earlier, small business owners pay attention to other small business owners.  Your goal is to find those small business influencers who are also small business owners and who are very well connected via social media.  This is fairly easy to do, you can use tools like Little Bird, SocialBro, FollowerWonk or BuzzSumo.
  5. Run surveys and polls and share results: If you don’t have an engaged online community, you can build one by running online surveys and polls and then sharing the results with a broader online community. Instead of just sharing the results, generate conversations and ask for opinions about the results. If you HAVE a community, gather their input through online surveys and polls — then create infographics to share and recruit new members to your community.
  6. Ask for content: User generated content is HUGE and very popular. Once you’ve found the influencers in your industry, show them some love by featuring their content on your site. Simply choose a specific topic and collect tips and quotes that these influencers have already published online.  You can also come up with a series of questions and ask these influencers to respond to them via email. This is an easy way to get killer content and create community conversation without imposing on influencers’ time.
  7. Livestream/Hangout/Podcast regularly: There is no shortage of awesome multi-media tools out there today.  I’ve lumped these together because choosing one is really a matter of preference.  Any of these can be a wonderful contribution to community engagement.  They key using any of them is to be consistent, persistent and have fun with it.  Podcasts and Google Hangouts On Air are fantastic because the content is stored on platforms like iTunes and YouTube which gives you added visibility.  These days people are playing with Meerkat and Periscope live streaming platforms which are short lasting, but ideal for backstage, behind the scenes and event streaming.  These video streams will show up in your Twitter stream as well as on smartphones. People absolutely love them.

If there’s one thing you need to take away from this, it’s that the name of the game is engagement around a specific topic.  Stay away from selling your product or service, the quality of your engagement is the best sales pitch you can ever have.

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