It can be hard to picture what building a strong online community with your audience looks like when most of the interaction happens online.
It might feel limiting because of the lack of physical touch, body language, eye contact, voice inflections, etc.
How in the heck are you gonna build a community that stays engaged and listens to what you have to say?
It’s more than possible.
It’s doable and people are doing it every day.People are doing it right now. Mind boggling right? Not really.
It’s all in the micro nuances that build up to be a part of a bigger picture. In other words, it’s about the small things you do consistently.
It’s key to realize that online relations are no different than in-person relations.
After all, you ARE dealing with people at the end of the day. Real, breathing, thinking people.
Simon Sinek said this:
“If you don’t understand people you don’t understand business.”
Ultimately, people want to innately feel these three things:
- They matter
- They are worth listening to
- They are cared for
If you can make your audience feel these three consistently then you are no doubt in for relationship success.
Here are some of the ways to achieve that and strengthen relationships with your online audience to help garner a better sense of community.
1. Consistency + Identity
A confused brand leads to a confused customer.
Developing a ‘self’ for your business is of real importance if you aren’t trying to come off as a bipolar jack-of-all-trades while juggling five ideas at the same time that’s ultimately gonna turn people off.
This just leads to plain confusion and ultimately:
- Directionless impression
Branding is a journey. We all get it. Businesses don’t always get it right the first time.
While, as a business, you might try out different elements, communication streams, ideas, or concepts, there is still an underlying fundamental message that should be present.
And it doesn’t have to be complex or fancy.
In fact simple is always better. Because simple is clear. And clarity always wins.
As an example, Teal Notes’ main message is that you can use your creative skills to build a business online and you don’t have to confine yourself to a box.
Now that that’s clear, the message I want to send to my brand audience will be based on that platform— all the emails, all the blog posts, the graphics, etc.
It’s a practical idea to keep a mini checklist in mind to help keep your content delivery oriented towards your main business ideal(s) and goals.
- Does this piece of communication stay true to my main business idea or does it debunk everything my business stands for?
- Does it advance the business mission?
- Does it contradict anything that’s been said before? If so it that justifiable? (e.g. maybe you’ve transitioned into new, better ways of thinking, etc.)
A clear business identity will ensure your readers are more engaged when you have something to share and you try to connect with them because there will be no extra work or confusion to sift through.
2. Stay Alive In Their Mind
This caption sounds a bit like a brainwashing scheme.
It’s not. You lose it if you don’t use it.
Down to its basics, any relationship’s success is strongly tied to how much consistency it encounters.
Yes, care + nurture are important, but if these are delivered inconsistently, the relationship is challenged and can struggle to not only survive but thrive.
As a business that revolves around online community, staying alive in your audience’s mind is key.
That’s why you see brands like Coca-Cola or Doritos ( or whichever uber popular brand you constantly encounter in your part of the world) on an almost daily basis in different forms. On that delivery truck, the annoying mid tv show commercial, the chip stand down isle 9, the sponsor banner at the local basketball game.
They aren’t trying to introduce themselves to you, or constantly try to persuade you why they’re the best. They’ve long established that. They simply want to remind you that they
They simply want to remind you that they exist, and that they’re there, as a great and accessible option, to quench your thirst, or satisfy that salty craving.
But forget coke and chips. What does consistency look like for you + your online community?
Does this look like emailing once a week, three times a week, every other day?
Are you posting daily on your forums and Facebook communities and encouraging creative engagement?
Consistency is not a one size fits all. It all depends on the type of business and its goals.
Being consistent is especially relevant when people are constantly being pulled in every direction by a million things popping up at them around every corner. You want to make sure you are constantly popping in and saying ‘hi’ in more ways than one.
3. A Guaranteed Listen
But—why should you listen?
People love feeling like they’re being listened to. Everyone feels like they have something important to either say or ask.
With your online community, whether it’s a Facebook group, a discussion forum, or your email list, people will be more eager to respond and engage with you if they’re sure you’ll answer back.
How can they be sure? Because of precedence.
Because you have answered in the past time and time again, whether it’s right away or a day later. But you’ve answered.
You have shown that you listen and not just ‘hear’ because you reply insightfully, whole heartedly, and as best as you can.
I remember the first time I left a comment on an article I found so helpful when I first started blogging back in 2016. I really thought I wasn’t going to get much of a response because the blogger was constantly bombarded with comments.
Long story short I woke up the next day to a notification saying I had gotten a reply.
And BOY was it a reply. It was that much more helpful and simply added tons more value to the ‘experience’ of reading the blog post.
I’ve followed the blogger ever since. They answered when other bloggers had failed to do so.
This made a real difference for me.
You shouldn’t let someone feel like their reply might fall into a black hole and never receive the attention they’d hoped for.
Listening isn’t only shown in providing responses to emails or comments it’s also in what your brand puts out there.
Are you showing that you’re listening through the content you create?
Are you gearing your content to better answer their thoughts and ideas?
Are you making workbooks to give answers to a pressing need within the community?
Is your worksheet put together in a way that makes sense to them?
Do your graphics appeal to their likes and preferences?
When people feel like they are genuinely being listened to engagement is inevitable.
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4. Answer Their Q’s
The beauty of online business/blogging is that you get to directly speak to the people reading your content and they can talk back to you through your email list, discussion forums or Facebook groups.
You can’t necessarily do this with sites like Wikipedia or Dictionary.com
Online business/blogging is a two-way connection. And that’s the beauty of it.
When you answer someone’s question you show that you care about them enough to take the time to reply, that they are worth listening to, and that they matter.
What better way to build community than to calm someone’s concern about a certain something, or to show them how to do something + help them jump that next hurdle in whatever it is they’re struggling with?
5. Be The Best Storyteller
Best doesn’t necessarily mean long stories or stories with a beginning, middle and end throughout all of your content all of the time.
Best simply means telling stories when it’s appropriate and when you audience can relate to them the most.
Stories can be as short as:
‘Remember when you were learning to tie your shoes? That’s how it is with SEO. Difficult until you get the hang of it.’
‘The first time I ever learned to cook I literally burned water. That’s how bad I was.’
One of the great ways to relate to an audience is to candidly tell your stories.
Because they are SO relatable. We can and do relate to stories on a daily basis—whether we’re at work, in history class, at the corner bus stop, talking to a best friend, or to your mom on a Friday afternoon.
- That you’re human
- That you’re approachable
Being approachable AND being human has never come more in handy at a time when many online businesses are painfully automated, distant, and out of touch.
6. Show Appreciation
Not every touch point with your customer has to be a sales pitch.
‘Hello! Just want to remind you to buy this from me, like right now, because you won’t regret it. I promise!’
Talk about feelin’ like the only reason you want to talk to me is to sell me something all the time, ugh!. AmIright?
In fact, it’s best if many touch points are NOT to sell anything but to give value instead.
Giving value can come in the form of showing appreciation.
Showing appreciation doesn’t necessarily have to be mushy gushy content or replies (unless that works for you and your brand). But doing it can show your community that you care for them and are constantly thinking of ways to better their lives.
It’s important to remember that people are first and foremost concerned with how they can be helped. Showing appreciation is all about your community and not about you.
Send them a simple email of appreciation for being responsive and being part of your business.
Is there a free content upgrade you can provide as a way of saying ‘thank you?’
Is there access to exclusive content they can get from you as a way to show that you’re thinking of them and maximizing their success?
Showing appreciation is one of the best ways to create rapport with anyone. It’s why time and time again it’s recommended that if you want to network and send that email to connect with someone new you first show appreciation for their work BEFORE asking anything of them.
Showing genuine and honest appreciation for people goes a long way.
7. Give Value. Give Value. Give Value.
Stressed enough this cannot be, Yoda would say.
Giving free value will do these things when building a relationship with your audience:
- Give you credibility
- Give you trust
- Give you familiarity
Believe me, people want to be helped. People want to be told how, when, why, who, and where from a trusted source.
But before they feel like they can be helped by you and what you have to offer you get to help them for free first.
Have you shown them how to do something of value in your niche?
Have you educated them on the importance of X product/thing/concept/idea?
Have you written about what you’ve learned from doing X thing and how they can learn from your own mistakes and apply it themselves?
Giving value is about showing that you can (and care enough) help someone else solve a problem that is relevant to them.
It’s about meeting them where they are at.
8. Keep Them In The Loop
Are you in the tech biz or social media marketing?
Is there a special offer coming up in the writing world?
Are there changes that will be made soon to that popular widget or the algorithm of a site that brings a lot of traffic like Facebook or Google?
Quick, let your audience know!
They will totally thank you for bringing them news that they’ll more than likely need to hear. And if they’ve already heard it it’ll serve them as a nice reminder.
Nothing says, ‘I’m watching out for you’ more than sending them important need-to-know information.
Keeping them up to the date with not only your doings but your niche’s trends makes you a trusted source as someone who is kept up to date and by default, so is your community.
Keeping your community in the loop doesn’t necessarily mean communicating cold hard facts only.
It can be in the form of sending them friendly reminder of things they could improve on, or what they should be paying attention to.
Feeling included in a circle where valuable information is constantly passed down can mark the difference between an engaged community that are your biggest supporters and a halfway interested one that only kind of sort of cares—because they feel like they haven’t been cared for first.
9. Execute (but, really)
None of these points matter if you only agree with them in your head and you ‘intend’ on doing them.
Let action mark the difference between you, the doer, and others, the thinkers.
Consider execution the cherry on top. It brings everything together. Execute, not once, not twice, but consistently.
Strong relationships, in any context, are ultimately defined by what is holding them up underneath.
In the case of online communities, a strong relationship can mean the difference between the successful evolution and longevity of a brand, or the demise and struggle of one.
Pretty dramatic statement—though considering the stakes are high when building supportive online communities, it isn’t far from the cold hard truth.
So tell me—
What seemingly small thing have you done for your online community that has meant a BIG thing for them?
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