Online communities offer consumer products and lifestyle companies with an opportunity to add value, build loyalty, cross-sell products and generate a recurring, subscription-based revenue stream.
To be successful, hosting an online community requires you to interact and stay engaged as the community grows while recognizing that you aren’t in control. Members of the community exert influence and their needs come first. You can build trust by honestly answering complaints, offering useful information on new developments, sharing insights on issues and generally remaining an active part of the community.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of an online community is that it humanizes your brand. After all, it’s natural for people to connect with people so try to forego brand positioning statements in favor of plain language that will appeal to real people, not just other marketers.
A well-run online community has several other important advantages for marketers; they can:
- Educate customers with credible information
- Help identify potential customers by attracting people with similar experiences/interests
- Provide a method for gentle reminders, such as limited-time offers or special discounts
- Sustain customer loyalty
- Enable personalization to create an emotional, compelling call to action
Above all, remember that online is ongoing. Rules of the Internet might seem fast and loose but in reality you can’t sit back and relax. Once you have an online community, it’s there indefinitely. You need to deliver focused and fresh content in whatever context you choose to keep the community vibrant and dynamic.
Chris Rosica is author of The Authentic Brand (www.TheAuthenticBrand.com) and Co-Founder of Paramus-NJ based Interact Marketing and works extensively in the Direct Response industry. Rosica is also a featured Inc. Magazine blogger.
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