Running an online business has numerous benefits (less overhead, more flexibility, the ability to work from home, the potential for passive income).
But it comes with its own share of struggles. The biggest one, I’ve found, being a lack of community and interaction with other people.
We’re unable to see the faces of those who are reading our posts, tuning into our webinars, and following along on social media. It’s more challenging to get to know people when you aren’t seeing them and interacting in person.
But all hope isn’t lost!
The internet actually allows us more opportunities to build and foster community around our businesses; we just have to know where to look for them.
Benefits of building community
When someone finds out that they have something in common with you, it automatically builds a connection.
You have a mutual understanding which leads to a bond. People not only feel like they know you on a deeper level, but you start to feel like a friend.
The same is true among members of your audience.
When they realize that others have that same commonality and they can all relate to your story or your cause, they begin to feel like they’re a part of something; they start to feel like they belong.
For example, I don’t know about you, but after almost 4 years of business my friends and family still don’t understand exactly what I do.
On the other hand, this community of creative business owners understands my joys and challenges in a way that my family and friends can’t.
When you share that common bond, you start to build bridges and develop friendships.
And in a world that’s becoming increasingly individualistic, more people are longing for connection and community. They’re longing to belong.
Building loyalty and trust
Once you’ve built that connection, people inevitably become more loyal to you and your business.
Because you understand them and their struggles, they’ll trust you.
And because you feel more like a friend than a distant stranger they stumbled upon through Pinterest, they have more of a reason to follow along and support your business ventures.
Serving a greater purpose
If business is all about the money for you, you’re missing out on an amazing opportunity to influence and help those who are following along with you.
You could always be making more money and moving up the totem pole, but will it really satisfy you at the end of the day?
I’m always blown away by all of the blessings God has poured out upon me in this business. Four continually come to mind:
1 | The gifts and talents I’ve been innately given to run a design business
2 | Actually enjoying those gifts and talents and enjoying my work
3 | Being able to provide for our family through those gifts and talents
4 | And somehow helping others in the process
Are you using your audience as a stepping stone to catapult you to where you hope to be?
Or are you using your gifts and abilities to provide for your family while also benefiting those around you?
At the end of the day, the ability to help people and foster community is more fulfilling than any paycheck.
How to build a thriving community around your brand
It starts with a shift in mindset
While sharing content like blog posts, newsletters, and social media posts may seem like a one-way conversation, you don’t have to view them that way.
Instead, remember that there are real people on the other side of your screen and begin thinking of ways that you can invite them into the conversation.
Consider how you can be an initiator of interactions and conversations among members of your audience.
Often times that starts by taking the focus off of yourself and focusing on the needs of those around you.
Here are a few easy ways that you can be an initiator and start to foster a community around your brand:
1 | Begin a conversation on social media
Social media is a great way to start a two-way conversation with your content.
And it doesn’t even have to be complicated! Consider these easy ways to start a conversation with your audience:
- Ask a question at the end of your Instagram posts
- Include a poll in your Instagram story and allow people to weigh-in
- Host a Facebook Live event around a specific topic and engage with them by saying hello as they enter, asking them questions, etc.
- Include a poll in your Facebook posts (polls make it so easy for people to engage with a simple click)
- Allow people to vote on decisions you’re making (I like to do this with logo concepts on Instagram)
It doesn’t have to be super involved. Invite people into the conversation and value their input.
People will be more than happy to engage and interact if you simply give them the opportunity.
2 | Start a Facebook group
Social media is great for building interaction between you and your audience, but starting a Facebook group is a fantastic way to build interaction between members of your audience.
That’s why I started the Elle & Company Community group.
While people would occasionally reply to each other’s comments on an Elle & Company blog post or interact with each other on my social media posts, there wasn’t an outlet where they could truly get to know one another.
I wanted an outlet where they could easily ask questions, gain feedback, make referrals, etc. between other people who follow along with my business.
If you’re in a similar situation, starting a Facebook group is a fantastic option!
P.S. Caitlin Bacher has a lot of great posts about starting and maintaining a Facebook group.
3 | Host in-person events
While the internet is great for building a community of similar people from around the globe, there’s nothing quite like meeting someone face-to-face.
When you can see someone’s expressions, hear their voice, and learn their mannerisms, you get to know them on another level.
So consider hosting in-person events!
They could either be a simple meet-up with a handful of other people at a great lunch spot in your area, a coffee date with someone one-on-one, or even a pop-up class.
I’ve been wanting to host a meet-up or pop-up class since moving to Florence, SC a couple months ago. If you’re in the area and you’re interested, leave me a comment and let me know! I would love to meet you in person.
4 | Reply to comments
Another great way to foster community and start two-way conversations with people in your audience is to reply to their comments.
I mentioned asking questions to begin a discussion on social media, but the same can be true across other outlets of your business.
You can spur blog comments by asking questions at the end of each post.
You can spur email replies by asking questions or asking for feedback in your newsletters.
And you can definitely spur on questions and comments in webinars.
Once people take you up on your offer and leave a comment, keep the conversation going!
Reply to questions, ask them follow-up questions, thank them for weighing in, link to other resources.
Not only will they feel valued, but a longer conversation can segway into a better connection and brand loyalty in the long run.
5 | Attend workshops, conferences, pop-up classes
Hosting an in-person event isn’t the only way to foster in-person interactions with peers and those who follow along with your business.
Look for in-person events that are happening around you!
Meet-ups, workshops, conferences, pop-up classes - all are great ways to network and build community with people in your industry.
6 | Make yourself available
Sometimes building community looks like being available and sharing some of your time for the benefit of other people.
This could mean answering emails from people who reach out to you with simple questions. It could mean taking someone up on an offer to meet up for coffee. Or it could mean jumping on a simple phone call with someone to give them advice.
Granted, you can’t take up your whole workday acting like a help desk and helping others for free. But being available and having people’s best interest at heart can go a long way.
I would get asked to meet up for coffee multiple times a week when we lived in Charlotte, so I started getting creative with how I could accommodate them all.
I hosted what I called an “Open Workday” once a month, where I would hang out at a coffee shop from 11:00am-3:00pm.
People could pop in whenever they would like to ask questions, get feedback, or just hang out and get work done with me.
It not only allowed me to meet people and help them, but it allowed people in the industry to get to know each other.
Anytime someone asked me to get coffee, I invited them to the next Open Workday. It was a win-win for everyone!
7 | Host weekly webinars
Webinars are a great way to generate engagement between you and your audience and between members of your audience.
The comment, Q+A, and poll sections of a webinar make it easy for people to weigh in with feedback, ask questions, and help one another.
And when they’re weekly, many of the same people will end up tuning in at the same day and time week after week.
You’ll get to know them by name, they’ll get to know each other by name, and you’ll start to build better relationships.
8 | Share feedback and testimonials
Have people directly messaged you with kind words about your business or sent you a photo of how they’re using your product?
Share them with your other followers!
Not only will this open up the door for other people to share similar feedback and photos with you, but it will allow people to see commonalities with each other, trust your business a little bit more, and generate brand loyalty.
Examples of businesses/influencers who do this well
Cultivate What Matters - Lara Casey and her team do a great job interacting with their followers and making them feel like they’re a part of everything they’re doing.
Jenna Kutcher - Jenna’s business and podcast has taken off this year, and it’s because she’s so great at building community! Her relatable posts and positive attitude are easy for her audience to connect with and rally behind.
Kate Bryan from The Small Things Blog - When you follow along with Kate, you feel like you know her. She’s friendly, funny, helpful, and invites you into her day-to-day.
Kayla Itsines - Kayla is a pro at building community. Her mission to help women lose weight and get healthy is evident in everything she does and shares, and she’s created ways for her followers to interact with each other in her BBG community.
There are opportunities everywhere for you to build community around your brand and foster relationships with those who are following along with you.
Start considering and implementing ways that you can begin to initiate conversation and highlight commonalities between you and your audience.
It will not only build trust and brand loyalty for your business, but it will positively impact and help those around you.
How are you fostering community around your brand? What influencers and businesses have you come across that do a great job of initiating conversations and building connections with their audience?