The meteoric rise in the popularity of networks such as Facebook should give marketers a pretty strong clue that people are drawn to the new form of online community.
Online communities that give people the opportunity to join painlessly, come together around shared ideas, and engage and build deeper relationships if they receive value present a model that businesses should note closely.
While some communities do this better than others, there is power in recognizing the desire to form community and taking advantage of this in business and marketing planning.
Below are several elements that business can use as filters when considering adding a community mindset to their business, products and services.
Trust comes in being found
No matter how much you advertise your business, trust is built much faster when people can find your business and sell themselves on the value of adding you and your content to their daily information habit.
This is yet another strong reason to view content creation as a foundational and daily part of your marketing and business building. This is not a piece of the puzzle that can be left to spare time.
The importance of inbound trust-building is so high that every business should start employing journalists, either part time or full time, in the role of content creation and story building.
Free must be better
Examples of freemium models and free content strategies abound, and while this makes the strategy one that has become an expectation, it also raises the bar in terms of quality expectations.
It’s no longer enough to offer a free, but crippled, version of the real deal as a way to upsell. In a community-based model the mindset must be one of creating a free version so good that not only will droves of people flock to get it, share it, and talk about it, but 10 to 12 percent of those people will want pay to get an even better version.
Today’s hot community product is the subscription. Every business must look to build products, services, and experiences that create habitual consumption, participation, and perhaps more importantly – fees.
In order to gain mindshare and make your community offering more than a one time or occasional purchase, consider a model that offers an experience that includes training, teaching, and sharing with other members of the community no matter what industry or product.
The strongest community models, online and off, systemically reward the most active members of the community and use this reward system as a tool to create both social engagement and desire in and out of the community.
Private betas, complete with existing members only invites, are a proven way to keep existing members engaged and draw new members that want to do what it takes to get to the next level.
One has to look no further than the credit and airline industries to witness the power of the member rewards program. How can you tap that best of these kinds of programs to add to your community offerings?
One of the most overlooked member models is the co-op. While you may not want to open up ownership to all your employees or customers, you can take ideas from this model and form marketing co-ops or purchasing co-ops that allow your customers to do things in groups that create benefits such as lower pricing.
Promote from within
Community models rely on, and benefit from, promotion by community members. An essential element of your community-building platform is the consistent inclusion of community members in marketing campaigns.
Existing members should be incentivized to bring a friend free to a workshop, get a special deal or benefit by sharing with their Facebook networks, or qualify for a high quality perk for the act of referring others to the community. This must be built in to any launch or campaign.
Community is not something you build by installing a forum and calling it a day. To take advantage of the inherent benefits that this strategy offers you must begin to view your own business as a network instead of a sales organization.
Image credit: beccapie