While the holiday season can feel hectic, it’s a time of year for gathering with others and nurturing relationships — family, friends, and neighbors come together to celebrate time-honored traditions. Businesses are no different; research shows that community building generates an average of 6,469% ROI. That’s a lot of holiday cheer that can be spread from customer to customer.
Humans have an innate need to connect with others. With an array of social platforms, online forums, and digital meeting spaces, there is no denying that society, as a whole, is becoming more and more digital — yet that need to connect doesn’t go away. Businesses who only use these channels for promotional purposes are missing out big time.
When customers connect over something they care about that is related to or directly focused on a brand, it rallies customers around that brand. Over time, those relationships can turn into real partnerships, where customers become advocates — singing a brand’s praises outside virtual walls. In turn, brands can glean valuable insights from customers about what they really think and how to improve products, services, and the business as a whole.
The holidays are just around the corner, and there’s no better time to get started on your community-building efforts. Here are 10 tips to help you during this season.
1. Give Customers a Reason to Gather
A strong community doesn’t sprout out of anywhere; there needs to be a reason for customers to come together — a purpose. Just as holiday gatherings have food and games, think about what you’re offering in your community. Some products, or rather the ideas behind them, will naturally have reasons to get people talking or doing things.
For example, Outdoor Voices hosts a variety of different events and classes centered around celebrating and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. These meetings range from dance classes to group meditation to panels focused on mental health. Outdoor Voices moves past just selling their athletic apparel to bringing consistent and discernable value to their community.
2. Meet Customers Where They Already Are
When it comes to finding customers interested in joining a community, it makes logical sense for a brand to go to where they frequent online. Once that’s accomplished, a brand can work in earnest to build a community in an environment where customers are likely to be active and engaged.
Let’s say a brand has 10,000 Instagram followers and 1,000 Facebook followers, guess where their community should live? Instagram! In this scenario, the brand should run community-centric social programs on Instagram to bring those 10,000 people together. There are over one billion people on Instagram alone — the digital world is your oyster.
3. Grow the Community Organically
It may be tempting to invite any and everyone to a customer community. Starting small and letting a community grow organically is best. Doing so will allow you to test the viability of your community and work out any kinks there may be. Those in your community are more prone to be invested in its success, willing to offer feedback and build word of mouth.
It’s crucial to remember that, above all else, it’s about providing value. This can be as simple as hosting a live online tutorial on a topic related to your offerings. Focus on providing value to your first few community members, and they’ll start to pull others in; that right there is the organic magic of community.
4. Join the Discussion
Your customer community is just that — a community. More likely than not, customers won’t be a part of one for a product alone. It’s what that product represents, the idea behind it, that drives engagement.
For example, the Oakland Raiders have fans the world over because they embody the virtues of a renegade lifestyle. The football team will move to Las Vegas, its third location since 1994, but still has a devoted and engaged community of fans cheering them on.
When your community is just getting off the ground, you will be the catalyst for its activity and growth. The “build it and they will come” strategy doesn’t work; active participation is required. Make sure to involve yourself in discussions, like asking for feedback on upcoming products, sharing helpful tips, and answering questions.
5. Encourage Customers to Help Each Other
Your brand advocates are often the most powerful part of your customer community and significantly contribute to its success. Encourage customers to help each other find solutions, whether it’s asking about sizing information for a shirt or how to assemble a product. For example, Apple has an official support community where customers help each other do everything from troubleshooting iPhones to rebooting computers.
6. Offer Rewards to Loyal Community Members
Not all of your community-building efforts will happen within the confines of a platform. You’ll increasingly find your community members spilling into different social media channels, so why not give them an incentive to boost your brand? Run giveaways and post discount offers to get them to share content and help attract new customers.
For example, Upwork ran an Instagram contest asking users to share their success stories for a chance to win a $1,000 Visa gift card. The company was then able to repost testimonials from customers, adding content to their Instagram feeds and bringing awareness to their brand.
7. Share User-Generated Content
As customers generate content with your products, share them in your community and through social media channels — and tag them when you do! For example, if a customer posts a picture of themselves enjoying your product in their Instagram feed, share it in your brand’s Instagram stories and customer community. This will encourage others to tag you in their content, creating a user-generated content machine.
8. Create Educational Content
Give customers some value-add for being a part of your community by creating content that helps them use your products. For example, surfing brand Rip Curl created an online publication with stories told by surfers for surfers, like catching the perfect wave and anecdotes about the surfing lifestyle. Called “The Search,” Rip Curl’s online publication has garnered 121,000 YouTube subscribers and over 2 million Facebook followers.
9. Be Approachable
As part of your brand community, you want customers to be able to ask questions and even criticize your brand. Be willing to provide empathetic customer service in your community. Not only will that more effectively diffuse angry customer situations, but doing so in an empathetic way, in a public forum, demonstrates to community members that you’re authentic and approachable and genuinely want to help them.
10. Commit to Your Community
Above all, commit to fostering your community. Plan to engage consistently, post relevant and helpful content, and make your community members feel like they matter. Don’t ask community members for product feedback and then not take their feedback into consideration. Dedicate time and resources for community building, and stick with it to help it grow.
The real gift that you can give to customers, and subsequently to your brand, is keeping them at the heart of every single thing that you do. Community building offers plenty of opportunities to do just that.
Are you interested in learning how to launch your very own holiday marketing campaign? Check out some of our other pieces of holiday-related content.
Steph is the Community Marketing Manager at AdRoll. A relationship-builder, she’s behind the Growth Guerilla Collective (GGC); the community for D2C marketers. Before AdRoll, Steph ran Customer Marketing at a B2B SaaS company in San Francisco. She is passionate about customer-centric marketing.