Community is more than just a group of people chatting online or complaining in forums. Creating, maintaining, and cultivating an online community can generate real value for members and your business. By growing my online following with LivetoSki.co to nearly 5,000 members, I’ve seen how nurturing a high-quality community around a subject has boosted my bottom line while helping me establish key relationships with my customers.
In this article, I’ll take you through the necessary steps to facilitating a world-class online forum, and turning it into a money-maker.
Choose your subject wisely
First, ensure that there is a real need for a community around a particular subject in the online space. At first, I was going to launch an online business around giving advice on investment strategies; but I soon realized that there was a lack of advanced information on the web about one of my favorite pastimes: skiing.
I knew that I had to build a community around a topic where I was an expert. I reasoned that if people were going to spend their valuable time consuming content, it needed to be high-quality and relevant to them – and that meant I had to know a thing or two about the subject.
When I first began email campaigns, the Automated Business System team helped me with writing the content for the emails. Topics included things like ski equipment and short tips on skiing. However, it soon became apparent that the content needed an expert’s touch to truly make it authentic and applicable for my audience. Make sure you are familiar with your topic and prepared to answer questions and facilitate discussions around it.
Listen to your audience
One of the most important things you can do when building a web community is to listen to the people who are in it. My Facebook page grew very quickly at first, and I was very focused on providing them content that they wanted to see.
However, it soon became apparent that some of my content was too beginner-focused for the members that were in my community. Some of the messages that went along with my videos spoke to people who had never skied before, instead of intermediate or advanced skiers. When I recognized this, I began to tailor my content to people with different levels of experience in skiing to meet their needs.
If I wouldn’t have paid attention to my audience, they would have lost interest and stopped engaging with my Facebook page.
Don’t spread yourself too thin
One of the biggest mistakes many beginning entrepreneurs make is trying to do too many things at once. When they get an idea for a company or an online community, they jump right in with several different social media sites, channels, and advertising strategies. This can cause them to get burned out and overwhelmed, and dilutes the messages they are trying to get across. It can also cause confusion and frustration for community members, since they may not know what channel hosts the primary forum where they should be engaging.
There are many options online for building a community of users, but when you’re first starting out, invest your time and energy in just one. Once you build trust and rapport on that platform, you can begin to grow your presence into other areas of the web.
Decide on your monetization strategy
Ideally, you would have some idea of the way you’ll make money from your online community prior to launching it, but it’s a mistake to try to start pushing sales too soon. Instead, take some time to get to know your customer base, what they want, and what they will pay for.
I decided to sell my online coaching series because it didn’t require extra shipping costs, and because I had access to professional video equipment. Many startups today offer a “freemium” model, where customers can enjoy a product or service at a lower level for free, and premium users pay a fee. Figure out what works for you based on your situation, community, and customers, and start to monetize after you’ve built trust.
You’ll be on the path to a profitable, successful online community in no time.
This article has been written by Tim Harper, founder of LivetoSki.co, a community that offers video coaching training for those wanting to improve their skiing. He runs a thriving community on Facebook, too. Tim is a member of the Automated Business System.