Many companies want to better understand how they can start building their communities. What are the first steps? How long does it take? Can I do this on my own?
A few weeks ago at the OpenView Webinar, we talked a whole lot about the Essentials of Community Building and a related question was posed:
Q: How do you start building a community if you don’t have a ton of content and a full strategy in place yet?
A: It would be incredibly misleading to tell you that 1) it’s easy to build a community, and 2) that you can do it without content. Communities don’t build themselves. They manifest from great companies who invest a tremendous amount of time in their brand, improving their product, and actually listening to their customers in the process.
Apart from content, community takes a ton of hard work, consistency, and heart. But it most certainly can be done whether you’re a one person company just starting out, or a large organization who has been building a following for years but hasn’t really done much to foster those followers into brand advocates.
Much of what you do to build a community begins with goals, strategy, and ultimately, content. That content can come in many forms: the carefully generated content on your website and your blog, the stuff you share on social media, the prose you choose for your packaging and products, and certainly the words your team speaks online and offline when they’re interacting not only with their peers but with your customers.
So how do you build a community without content?
But what you can do is get a head start on building your community with other people’s content. And that, in itself, is an integral component to building your audience. Sharing other valuable content isn’t the only way to build a community, but it does make a statement about your knowledge (reflected in what you’re reading) and builds relationships and connections with people who may eventually become part of your community.
So, if you don’t yet have a ton of content, but you really want to build that community, give some of this a try:
1) Set some goals
Even if you don’t have a bunch of content, a strategy, or much in terms of company resources, you still want to start with goals. Setting these goals (and we’d recommend that you make them SMART) will help keep you focused on where you can add the most value and make the biggest difference in your business.
2) Identify your community and share other people’s (good) stuff
As I mentioned, if you don’t have much of your own content to share, you can share other people’s valuable content to get the momentum going. Sharing other people’s content adds a ton of value to your own customers and community and it also helps you to begin building relationships with the people and companies who may end up being part of your engaged audience.
Start by identifying the people, blogs, and knowledge sources that may be a match for your community and then share their content.
There’s a detailed breakdown of how to do this on the Moz blog, but we like to start with questions like these:
1. Who is your target demographic?
2. What specific industries do you cater to?
3. Who are your partners and colleagues?
4. Who are your competitors?
5. Who do you respect in the industry (people and companies)?
6. What organizations are you a part of?
7. What industry blogs do you currently read?
8. Who do you follow on social media (people, companies)?
9. What events do you attend?
Identifying the possible sources for building your community will help you to determine who to begin building those relationships with. But remember, don’t do this with a “what’s in it for me?” mentality. You’re certainly looking to be strategic about who you’re building relationships with, but be sure to keep your customer (and your future community) in mind.
As you read the content from these sources, determine what’s a match for them. Look at this process as an opportunity to learn new things and become exposed to new people who you may actually enjoy becoming friends with. If you genuinely come from a place of authenticity, this community building thing becomes a whole lot more effective and valuable. So if you don’t have a ton of content, start building your base by curating other people’s valuable content.
3) Don’t just broadcast, engage
Let me put it to you straight. For a long, long, long, long, long time, you may have absolutely no engagement (did I mention this could be for a long time?). You will go through a stage in your community building efforts, especially in the beginning, where you’re being extremely diligent and consistent in your efforts, you’re sticking to your established routine, and you’re sharing all kinds of great stuff. But that doesn’t mean that anyone will talk to you, care, or be motivated to engage with you.
The thing to remember about building your community is that it’s all about people. Just because social media is digital and seems so convenient, doesn’t mean that these relationships will build overnight. Keep in mind that you’re connecting with real humans and that requires you to actually be a person yourself.
So make an effort to engage. Don’t just share other people’s content. Get out there. Talk to people (both on and offline). Read stuff. Learn some things. Don’t make it about you. And look for opportunities to connect with people (and not just because you want their business). It’s those connections that will eventually help you to build a community full of brand advocates who love your company and want to tell their friends about your product.
4) Be worthy of your community
So this whole sharing other people’s content thing will only take you so far before your followers will start wondering why they would follow (or keep following) you. Why would they tell other people all about your company?
At some point you’ll hit a wall and need your own stellar content (and strategy) that exudes personality and communicates the story of your brand (and not just on social media). You’ve got to eventually have something of value that will attract people to your community. This plateau will come quickly. So get the ball rolling with other people’s content but all the while be sure you’ve got a plan to generate your own.
So while you’re working behind the scenes to set your goals and build your own something of value, identify the higher purpose of your company. That’s what you’re going to actually build your community around, and that’s what your content should be about.
In addition to this question, I also addressed a question about increasing engagement and content sharing. Have another question about community that we haven’t yet answered? It may be in our community building guide, but please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.