Community building is about forming a group around people, ideas or products. People who develop a passion around the beliefs and values of an idea, a person or products show their support and loyalty by wearing the brands' name, getting tattoo’s and showing up to events.
Building a community around you our your brand is in my opinion, the ultimate in building a long term business. Giving your fans a platform to congregate discuss and share ideas can be done easily, but choosing the right platform may determine how successful the strategy is. I recommend building your own platform, one that you own, manage and are in control of. Below are the reasons why.
Communities and Business
Building a business is not easy and building a brand is even more difficult. Paid advertising is getting more and more expensive and more advertisers are paying Facebook, Google and other platforms to increase reach, generate traffic and sell more of their products.
Google’s search algorithm is constantly evolving and is more unpredictable than ever. Organic traffic is the most valuable traffic source over email, referral and paid ads. But because we, as business owners, do not have control over the algorithm and no guarantees that our SEO efforts will yield results in the short term, an alternative was needed.
The concept of building a community around a brand has been around for ages. Businesses did not formally create a platform for people to share or deliberate their experiences. When the internet became more mainstream in the 90’s online forums where all the hype, where communities formed. Technology evolved and businesses started seeing the power of building their own platforms to support and gather feedback.
Facebook launched Facebook Groups to mimic the concept of creating private and public communities around topics, ideas and pretty much anything users wanted.
Facebook Groups grew at a rapid rate as it gave group admins access to a curated group of people who were interested, involved and invested in the success of the group. Groups generate huge amounts of engagement. Facebook also said that groups were the next evolution of the Facebook Page.
Facebook Groups became all the rage and most small community forums slowly phased away. Reddit set itself up as a collection of forums, where you can find almost every topic there is. Reddit grew as a rival to Facebook Groups and still thrives.
Do Not Be Tempted By Facebook
Facebook may be top of mind when thinking about building your community. Here are a few benefits of using a Facebook Group:
- Facebook Groups are free, easy to manage, and have options to keep it public or private.
- Facebook has over 1 Billion active users and so it is also the easiest way to invite people.
- People who use Facebook are already familiar with the platform,
- Tools, such as Facebook Live, video, and image posts are simple and easy to use
- The commenting system encourages discussion
- Validation comes from the number of views, comments, likes, and interactions with posts.
- Enrolling people to your group is as easy as finding them with their names.
- Most people have the app already installed, so they do not have to invest time in downloading and signing up to a different platform.
While it may be the easiest of places to gather people, this convenience comes at the mercy of Facebook. The group will always belong to Facebook. The people on the platform will always have to succumb to rules that Facebook imposes. As the owner of the group, as much as you may think you are in control, you are not.
Risks around using Facebook as a whole are also more prevalent than ever. Facebook’s lax approach to usage and sharing of personal data with outside companies is a real problem and one that will not go away any time soon.
Owners of large Facebook Groups may find themselves at the mercy of Facebook and may be struggling with the thought of building their own platform, moving members to a new place and possibly starting from scratch. If your Facebook Group is your main source of income, then you may constantly worry about the fact that Facebook is not keeping your members safe, may shut down at any point and that engagement in the platform has been waining for the longest time.
Build Your Own Community Platform
By creating your own platform, you have control of the members, the narrative, the structure and the experience. You and the members are the only people who have access to their data. Administrators of the platform manage the people and their information and you have full autonomy of the usage of that data.
Showing your members that their information, stories and activities within the group will not be shared to anyone outside of the group builds trust with your audience.
Over the years technology has evolved in this area and there are a few options available to setup a space for your loyal fans to gather.
Discourse was created as an open source project by a community of developers and business owners who were looking for an alternative to Facebook Groups and forums. It’s a self hosted platform, which is easy to setup and manage. It’s used by a number of companies including Codeacademy, Atom.io, Unbounce and Asana. Seth Godin hosts almost all of his Akimbo Workshops on discourse
BBPress, forum software from the creators of wordpress and built by contributors out of their need to form community on their own wordpress websites.
Mighty Networks, a relatively new platform, that boasts security and full autonomy over your community and management thereof.
Areas to Consider
No matter what platform you chose for your community, there are a few components which you must consider:
A community can be self sustaining, but the direction, vision, voice and culture of the community is set by the owners of the company.
Community managers must make it their responsibility to uphold company values and ensure that members are welcome and treated well. They are custodians of the community members and must ensure that issues that involve members being rude, impolite or inappropriate are dealt with immediately. Keep the space with integrity and members will appreciate it.
I’ve mentioned this above but wanted to emphasis that when people sign up to your community, be it open or close, people need to know that their information is safe on the platform and that it will not be abused or used against them. Be upfront about your policies and respect people’s wishes around storage or retention of information.
Less Sales More Helpfulness
Communities are great to generate sales for your business but don’t make the community all about that. Members are looking for help and will help others as long as they can contribute in a way that is genuine.
Building a platform for your community shows that you care. It shows that you are willing to support their opinions, point of view and give them a central place to show and receive support. These all lead to increased loyalty and trust for your brand.