By Alinna Chung, Head of Communities at Yell.

Building an online community can be a great strategy for generating interest in a business – acting as a platform to engage current customers, win new customers and shout about the products or services on offer. However, there are a number of important factors all businesses need to consider before getting started.

It’s not all about you!
Online communities – whether based on Twitter, Facebook, a blog, members’ hub or microsite – cannot thrive without a purpose.

Generally, it is not easy to get people to rally round unless you happen to be a celebrity.

It is important to identify a need or purpose that your customers can get behind, and become the driver for accomplishing that goal.

Whether to share ideas on gluten-free recipes or unorthodox parenting techniques, communities should be built around topics aligned to what the business is about, rather than about the business itself.

Human behaviour

Understanding and harnessing natural human behaviour online is the foundation to building a community.

Look at what people do offline and see whether transferring it online provides an advantage – or disadvantage. From providing product recommendations to friends or asking your network about a prospective hire, many behaviours translate well to the online environment.

Identifying similar behaviours amongst people who do not already participate in online communities is even more beneficial, as they are more likely to have time to contribute to yours.

Build an audience

Businesses large and small often assume that people will flock to and participate in their community as soon as it is up and running. This is a commonmisconception.

It is important to try to develop your community offline initially, engaging with anyone who might be interested – perhaps from your existing customer base.

Spread the concept as far as possible to generate interest prior to launch, so that potential participants are ready to go when you are online.

Reward loyalty

Provide value to your audience early on, and take good care of the first members of your community. They will help set the tone of discussion and create the level of activity necessary to start attracting other members.

Be sure to develop a strong sense of reciprocity. If participants feel that they benefit from being involved – interesting discussion, deals, offers, advice – they will become strong, positive and loyal advocates and will help to spread the word.

Encourage positive behaviours

Instill a sense of belonging amongst active participants that demonstrate they understand what your community is about. Do not be afraid to turn away those who do not.

This does not mean you should repress opposing views or lively debate.

However, it is important to make clear to all participants (and perhaps more importantly, the observers on the sidelines) that your community has a strong sense of confidence and direction.

While you might be glad just to have participants in the early stages, tolerating destructive behaviour may detract from the value of the community in the long run.

About The Author

Alinna Chung is Head of Communities at Yell. For advice on any aspect of your business’ online presence, please call 0800 60 50 60 or visit marketing.yell.com

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