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How to Build an Online Community

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This blog post originally appeared on Kimber Media.

A community is more than just a one-time marketing campaign. It’s more than Twitter followers and Facebook fans; it’s a place for members to talk to each other and it can sustain itself. It can help you throughout the life of your company if you take the time to grow it correctly.

Here are six steps to get started:

Know your audience

What does your community care about? How do they communicate? Where do they hang out? Who are the influencers and engagers? If you’re building a community around a specific product, who is already talking about it? To find the answers, ask questions! Engage with your audience to determine what they want, need and desire.

Get to know your community and leverage your relationships

Search to see who is posting about your company, competitor or topics relevant to your company. Start to follow those people on social networks, start a conversation and engage with them. Take time to nurture the relationships you are building. Look at your email lists (if you have an email list) and ask your existing community to follow you elsewhere. Use conferences to build partnerships and leverage audiences to build your base.Who talks to whom? Influencers can and probably will change over time. A general rule of thumb is that influencers tend to talk to each other.

At Cision, we offer custom Influencer Report Briefing Books. Clients give us the keyword or industry where they want to find influencers and we use unique resources and proprietary research methods to locate these influencers, and often find that they engage with each other.

“A majority of the time, we find a tribe of people that know each other because they are all influential in the same space,” said Lisa Larranaga, global research development manager and Cision blogger. “If they are an expert in a specific industry, they know the other players and often interact with them and at the very least, follow them on social platforms.”

Immersing yourself in your industry’s community will help you spot trends and influencers as they emerge.

 Make it easy for them

Avoid complicated rules, provide key information in an easy-to-digest format, be ready to answer questions and respond quickly. If you want people to share, make it easy on them. For example, ask them to follow you on Twitter and like you on Facebook. If you want them to participate, first ask them, and then suggest opportunities for them to tweet or share with their friends.

Cision is a Blue Key Champion and we participated in a few tweetathons last year to help build awareness around the campaign. Shonali Burke was in charge of the campaign at the time, and she made participating in the tweetathon really easy by providing a document that every Champion had access to on Facebook. The document outlined exactly what you had to do; suggested tweets to send out; told you what Twitter handles to follow; provided links, resources, and ideas of what to tweet; and even offered sample tweets. You didn’t have to really think about what to do, it was all laid out for you.

Empower your community

Empowering your community will help you get commitment from people that support your brand. Find those that are passionate about your brand, give them the online and offline tools they need, and give them opportunities to talk to one another. Allow them to put their spin on your story and give the community ownership of the message. Come up with ways to reward and recognize your community for the amazing things they do for you.

 Don’t forget to measure

Put numbers behind what you’re doing and track them back to your company’s goals. Make note of the efforts that get the best response and try increase that type of community-building. Likewise, with the efforts that get a bad response or no response at all, do less of those. Your data tells a story so pay attention and listen to it.

Build a community that finds value from their involvement. They will stick around and (hopefully) become an advocate/evangelist of your company.

Go long, not short

A real community will not happen overnight. Continue to build your community one person at a time, and eventually the conversation will flow naturally with – or even *gasp* – without you!

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