by Emily Coogan

It takes a village to raise a child, but what about a business?

Your audience, your customers, your fanbase - whatever you refer to them as, they’re likely a huge part of why you do what you do. In saying that, e-commerce is a two way street that should be swept and maintained accordingly.

Community is a notion central to society, although its definition and appearance has changed drastically in recent years. Where civic organisations were once physical and booming, we’ve moved towards online brands to fill our community quota. Businesses are increasingly providing opportunities for association, proving that there still is strength in numbers.

Image sourced from Paris & I activewear Australia - image depicts three women embracing, watching the camera

First, let’s set some definitions straight.

There’s a difference between your CUSTOMERS and your COMMUNITY.

Looking after your customers is one thing while creating and nurturing a community is another. Your community encompasses and uses more than just your products, craving value through your brand. A community works as a symbiotic relationship, with each party benefitting in some way.

A customer may begin and end with a purchase - they may hang around to see what's new but that's where your relationship ends. A community goes one step further by bringing CONNECTION and SUPPORT to the forefront.

Businesses can then use that community as a resource to advertise, trial products, seek reviews, analyse insights, and share ideas. Providing for your community improves your social credibility and brand loyalty, leading to increased customer retention and satisfaction. Now we're talking.

The proof is in the numbers: 85% of community builders believe developing a branded online community improves customer journey and increases trust in that brand.

Communities will look different for each brand as there is no cookie cutter option - some will be more active and outspoken than others. Some communities may communicate through blog-reads and Instagram likes, while others might involve discussion boards or simply shared lifestyles and aspirations.


Why should I have a community?

Two words: brand loyalty. In an incredibly saturated e-commerce realm, the priority has shifted from customer acquisition to RETENTION. Retailers need to hone in on what keeps customers coming back and referring their friends, shifting their focus away from products alone.

Further, to neglect your community often means to neglect your purpose. Dial things back to your Mission, Vision, and Values (more on that here) and view them through a customer-centric lens. Only then can you begin to establish and develop your community.

The driving force of community is support. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think about what would pique your interest in the BRAND, not merely a product or single campaign (this is us hinting at you to invest in your brand storytelling).


How do I foster a community?

That's the million dollar question. In a perfect world, your customers would respond to every single activation and touchpoint you offer - in reality we know this isn’t the case. To build a community requires a level of trust and continual, mutual benefits. Here’s how that looks in practice:

Keep your friends close - Gold Coast based jewellery label and culture hub, Merchants of the Sun, puts community front and centre in all that they do. To build rapport with customers using social media, the brand uses the ‘Close Friends’ function on Instagram to encourage users to purchase Merchants products and join the inner circle, privy to additional promotions and pre-release collections.

Get chatty with it - Activewear pioneers Paris & I are one with their customers in their VIP Facebook group. By giving customers an exclusive space to connect, the distance between brand and consumer is shortened to the point where they can liaise on a level more intimate than that which can be established elsewhere. In turn, a discussion group encourages return customers and a community excitedly awaiting new drops and brand activations.

Stay loyal - VIP programs nurture a sense of belonging in customers, making those investing in your brand feel important to your story (which they are!). Airline businesses are a great example of loyalty programs, offering rewards, upgrades, secret discounts, trade deals and more. The best VIP schemes follow a tiered structure, encouraging customers to not only return to your brand but to engage as actively as possible.


The Take-Away

The first step to building a community is identifying what your customers NEED. This should neatly align with your business niche but if you're not sure, take to the streets (i.e. social media) and speak to your followers directly. Ask them what they need or what they'd like to see from your brand.

This flows nicely to the next point: give your community members a voice. What's a community without two-way dialogue? Converse, chat, become acquainted - make your community feel seen and even include them in brand discussions.

Any community-building strategy needs to fit cohesively within your existing business model. For example, your target audience may not respond well to social media-based programs, but perhaps they do enjoy EDMs that encourage them to share their stories and reviews for a reward.

If you take one thing away from this article, make it this: the best brands don’t begin and end with a product. Put your human connection hat on and turn your business into a brand into a community.


If you enjoyed this piece, make your next read: The Power of Business Collaborations.

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