Branded online communities are one of the most valuable assets a business can create. The value delivered by online communities hugely impacts key business functions such as customer support, product ideation, brand evangelism, and content marketing. Especially considering the community is fully owned by your brand, you are in complement control over the data and messaging.
Often, external or customer-facing communities aimed at driving brand visibility depend on gaining new members to reach the community goals. However, it takes meticulous planning and sharp execution to successfully grow an online community.
Irrespective of the stage of your online community—planning and inception to growth stage—you can always improve your member acquisition strategy. In this exhaustive guide, we have covered a wide range of techniques to boost your community membership numbers. Read on to explore in greater detail!
Foundation for growth
Online communities are highly dynamic entities. They must evolve with the members and ensure that the members are gaining value from the community throughout the lifecycle. A strong foundation for growing your online community sets you for success in terms of the business goal. Let’s check out the following key elements for community marketing.
#1. Showcasing the value
The primary reason a member would join your community is because of the value your community delivers. Hence, it is critical to showcase the benefit a member would get right when the prospect lands on your community site. This benefit could be anything from early access to new features and peer-to-peer support to the opportunity to learn for the established community members.
Here is an excellent example of our client, ConverKit implement this on the community home page:
#2. Direct customer communication
Start connecting with the community members from the very beginning. Although you already have the value proposition for the members, you definitively benefit from refining the message. This starts with having a direct conversation with the community members and deriving insights to create a sharp positioning for the community.
#3. Plug your community into the existing technology stack
An online community that can be fully integrated into the third-party apps you are already using, your member acquisition strategy can greatly benefit. For example, you can add your email subscribers as community members if you have Zapier integration or API-level access.
#4. Omni-channel access
You need to reach the members where they are available. This means you must not fully rely on the web app version and ensure that you can reach the members via mobile app, push notifications, messaging apps, etc. This holistic approach towards community building will help you acquire from different channels as well.
#5. Create a robust process for the launch
You need to create a blueprint for the launch of your community. This must cover everything from testing the community (to ensure nothing breaks) to making sure your messaging sequences are working fine.
#6. Onboard a community manager
A dedicated community manager can add immense value to community growth. Especially considering they have the right experience in setting up the structure, getting other internal teams onboard, tracking metrics, communicating, and establishing a strong bond with the members, you would be off to a great start. Check out this guide on hiring community managers.
#7. Get internal buy-in
Getting help from the team members from your company not only helps you accelerate community engagement, but it also shows that the complete company loves the idea of community. Also, it is practically impossible to complete everything by the community management team alone! You would need the expertise of your current team to help with answers to specific questions and engagement.
#8. Leverage a short demo video
Videos are eating the world of media. So, make sure that you have an introduction video capture the attention of your members and relay the message as well as the benefits of joining the community.
#9. Create management guidelines
Keeping your community safe from spammers and toxic elements is critical in inviting others to join. When a community gives a sense of safety, new members would be inclined to join. For example, ensure that you have clear community guidelines and moderation systems in place to create a safe space for the members.
#10. Establish brand elements
Since you own the online community, ensure that your brand elements are clearly presented. Everything from the navigation structure and color combinations to language and logo must reflect your distinct personality — something that the members would remember.
Boosting member acquisition
When you are starting your community on the owned platform, it can be challenging to acquire new members. However, the encouraging fact in community building is that once you start gaining traction, other members would also follow the suite. Here are certain techniques you must use to grow the community and acquire the first set of members:
#11. Seed the community
When you are just starting out, it is a great practice to seed your community with content and showcase that there is some engagement. This prompts the new members to join your community and take part in the discussions. A successful example is Quora — the founders spent considerable resources in seeding the community by posting questions and answers.
#12. Leverage social media
Leverage your personal network and tap into the existing audience (if any) to invite people to join your community. Get the word out on the popular social media sites and by posting your community content. If you have a budget for advertisement, you can also run campaigns to increase the visibility of your community.
#13. Work with influencers
Every industry has its own set of influencers who can influence the buying decision. Work with the influencers to tap into their follower base by co-creating content — from interviews and AMA sessions to online events.
#14. Run email campaigns
This is one of the most straightforward and highly scalable ways to acquire new members. If you have a list of subscribers or a customer base, you could connect your CRM to run campaigns and invite the members to your community.
#15. Create a community landing page
Based on your use case, it might be a great idea to create a landing page specifically to relay the value of your community and the benefits that the members would get. The landing page could contain the social proof and the idea behind the community as well.
#16. Plugin referral program
Incentivize the members to invite people from their own network when you that they are getting value from the community. Even without incentives, you can get members to share your community via carefully crafted messages. Word of mouth marketing is one of the best ways to spread the word and scale member acquisition.
#17. Offer redeemable virtual currency
Allow the members to acquire virtual currencies by creating high-quality content and helping with member growth. This virtual currency should be redeemable by the members so they can purchase real products and services.
#18. Leverage email digests
Create newsletters to be sent on a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly basis by highlighting the important content and upcoming events posted in your community. This is a great way to bring users back and offer a resource to the members so they can forward the email to people who might find the content useful. This opens up yet another channel to market your community.
Another great way to send automated digests is to showcase content related to the member’s interest area (derived from the topics and people followed).
#19. Frictionless signup process
Apart from using forms to sign up members, you can leverage popular online services and social networks to get users to sign up for the community. These services could be Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, GitHub, Slack, etc.
#20. Add a signup wall
Make sure that your community is indexable by search engines; however, for users, you can consider offering only a small section of the content. To read the full content you can make it mandatory for them to sign up for the community.
Engaging and retaining members
Acquiring customers is important — it is also equally challenging to keep the acquired members engaged. Only engaged members would return to your community, add value to the community growth, and eventually become loyal members. Your online community gives you complete control so you can devise different techniques for community engagement.
#21. Prompt members to complete their profile
Introduce a gamification technique (e.g. progress bar) to prompt members to add the profile data. The profile can contain a display picture, header image, user bio, location, industry, etc. While it is great to see members complete their profile, you must not make it mandatory to a point that the members become uncomfortable sharing data.
#22. Use powerful notifications system
Your community platform must offer a comprehensive notification system. It can be an in-community notification (e.g., @mentions), emails, interaction via messaging apps, push notification, browser notification, etc.
#23. Leverage personalized activity feed
An activity stream is great for keeping the members engaged. It delivers important content for the member, showcases the topics, groups, and users they might like as well as the content they are already subscribed to.
#24. Allow private messaging and chats
Empower your members to keep some conversation in the private mode. This is important as it can enable the members to share info that cannot be shared in public and forge deeper bonds via personal conversation.
#25. Structure the community with topics and groups
Categorize the content by creating topics relevant to your online community and build groups for the members with shared interests so they can discover other members. This further helps in creating member networks.
#26. Deploy gamification tools
Create a reputation score system (earning points via content contribution), leaderboards, badges to promote healthy competition in the community. You can also allow the members to win prizes and gain access to special privileges when they improve the community.
#27. Facilitate the discussion
When your team encounters new content and discussion that they feel can be answered by someone from the community, a request to participate can be shared. Also, the community platform must be powerful enough to suggest the right person answer a question based on the expertise of the member curated from past community interactions.
Also, sometimes it might be useful to take a step back and only provide just the right cues to the members to carry out the discussions. This can enable a free flow of ideas and potentially reveal valuable insights.
#28. Run video-enabled discussions
Allow different member cohorts to join via online video meeting for casual discussions. Use this platform to learn more about the members via open and informal discussions. Consider recording the session and uploading the same to the community for members to watch if you cover some topics that might help others.
#29. Enable networking
Allow users to connect with each other based on the way they need it. It can be either a two-way connection or a simple one-way connection in which a member can follow another member.
#30. Use interesting content formats
Images, videos, GIFs are more attractive and catch the attention in comparison to the plain text content format. It is also easier to convey the message while keeping the members engaged. So, use these content formats to entertain and educate the members.
Leveraging the community to enable support via peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, collecting feedback, and co-creating with the members is a great way to acquire new customers as well. This helps you deliver an exceptional customer experience which in turn creates highly transparent social proof and boost customer acquisition.
#31. Open communication platform
Your branded online community is not subject to any newsfeed algorithm or distractions imposed by other social media sites. Hence, leverage this channel to build personal human-to-human connection and get your leadership team connected to the members. The robust relationship between your brand and the members will be a foundation on which you would create compelling social proofs.
#32. Collect ideas and suggestions
Actively collect feedback from the members and close the loop by acting on those suggestions. Conversations on online communities are candid and transparent in nature which helps you collect feedback effectively. Show that your brand truly cares!
#33. Deliver a robust onboarding experience
When a new member joins your community, you need to initiate triggers to ensure that they are comfortable and have all the required information at their disposal. This ensures that they get the value from the community at the very beginning. Check out this post on creating a powerful onboarding process for an online community.
#34. Create an amazing post-sales experience
Your online community must touch the entire customer journey. This means after a prospect becomes your customers, they should be able to find practical resources from the community to get the most value from your solutions. Hence, invest in building detailed guides (articles, videos, how-to posts) on your community.
#35. Showcase solved queries
With time, your community will garner an extensive set of questions all describing different pain points that the members come across. Your job is to ensure that members can easily identify content with answers that provide the correct solution. Consider updating the question title to reflect that (e.g., [Solved] prefix) and adding flairs to help members filter content easily.
#36. Keep the users at the forefront
Since a branded online community is actually more about the members than your brand, it is imperative to design, structure, and create content in the community by keeping the members at the center of decision making.
#37. Run analytics and generate insights
Ensure that your community offers the right set of analytics and reporting capability to extract the key insights. The metrics related to the performance of the community will help you gauge the overall health of the community and get answers to questions such as the following:
- What are the common characteristics of content that perform well in the community?
- Which member cohort is the most active in the community?
- What’s the retention rate of active users over time?
- What’s the member retention rate and stickiness?
- What are the key terms frequently used in the community?
- What’s the overall sentiment in the online community and how is it trending over time?
#38. Promote products inside the community
Leverage social commerce by promoting the products inside the online community and adding community discussion components inside your online store. This type of commerce by social interaction allows businesses to boost sales by helping members discover new products and creating authentic feedback.
#39. Open up paid membership
If you are running a niche social network or if you are a coach offering community membership to your students, you can consider adding a subscription component to the membership level. Perhaps access to exclusive secret groups inside the community, prompt support, special badges, and access to additional features can be offered as a part of the premium membership.
#40. Showcase success
Create case studies from the successful members who have joined your community. This is a practical way of propagating the value of your online community and enticing the new users to join your community.
Promoting brand evangelism
Every customer-facing community would ultimately tap into the referral network of the existing members to activate further growth. This works by recruiting the brand evangelists from the community by turning your members into loyal members. Once you can identify the flag bearers of your brand, you would be able to mobilize them to acquire members via word-of-mouth promotion.
#41. Locate your loyalists
Create reports on your online community to identify the members who are consistently contributing high-quality content, helping other members, and improving the community. This is a great place to start identifying such members and recruiting them to join to superuser program.
#42. Recognize the valuable members
When a brand evangelist is promoting your product and helping peers, there is no doubt that they should be recognized for the contribution. Showcase their efforts, appreciate their perseverance, and reward them. Check out this post to learn how you can create programs for Most Valuable Person (MVP).
#43. A tailored communication approach
Take your connection and communication with the brand evangelists to the next level by ensuring that your message is fully personalized. A fully contextual and tailored communication approach with the evangelists will help you build powerful relationships.
#44. Create a rewards program
Many brands leverage rewards to program to boost customer loyalty and lifetime value. Online communities are no different — your rewards program can also be constructed based on community contributions. For example, your members can gain points for the comments, posts, and discussions, etc. Those points should be redeemable to get rewards.
For your brand evangelists, those rewards must deliver more value in comparison to a normal member. Here is an example of the rewards program for community growth create by Gain, Grow, Retain community:
#45. Deliver sneak peeks
Allow your superfans to get a special preview of the upcoming events, features, plans, improvements for the community. This is a great way to validate your plans and collect early feedback.
#46. Create special events
Create special events for your brand evangelists only and create a sense of exclusivity. It could be exclusive live meetups via online conferencing and offline events such as trade shows, industry conferences as well (when it is safe to do so).
#47. Be flexible in communication
Every person has their own preferences — especially when it comes to communication channels. When you are working with brand evangelists, don’t force your preferred channel. Learn the best way to communicate with the evangelists and use their preferred channel.
#48. Act on the suggestions
Collect the feedback from the members and show your appreciation for the time invested by the members in giving you feedback. However, always ensure that you can close the feedback loop by acting on the problem statements given by the members. This builds your credibility and shows that you truly care.
However, note that your members are great at describing the problem, but you are the best person to deliver the right solution.
#49. Implement a referral program
A large number of companies have implemented referral programs. This is a great starting point! The key factor to note here is that your brand evangelists and superfans need special treatment. Consider giving a higher incentive to the evangelists and setting them apart from the regular members.
#50. Always keep a human touch
It is great to leverage automation and the latest technology to become more efficient. At the same time, it is equally important to not get lose the human element in the community. In any online community personal connections are far more valuable than pseudo-connections built via automation.
Over to you
So, to recap, marketing and growing an online community typically goes through five key stages — starting from creating a solid foundation and acquiring members to engaging the members, building a customer base, and leveraging brand evangelism.
If you apply these techniques consistently, you’ll see success and the community will truly become one of the most valuable assets of your company,