July 24, 2014

Sales and Marketing Advice for Florida business

How to build a community around your customers

Ron Stein | 3/1/2013

Can you think of anything better than to have your customers actively promote your company? Better yet, imagine customers going out of their way to influence others in their markets on your behalf.

No, it’s not a flight of fantasy -- you too can have your customers become passionate advocates by building a community around them. And that’s the key -- you must truly do it with your customer’s best interest in mind.

Customer communities yield great benefits for most any type of business. It’s an opportunity to interact and solidify relationships with customers. And that will grow revenue for you.

Just realize that your community of customers -- and prospects -- already exists. They just don’t have a place to hang out and connect. It’s up to you to organize it in some way.

Here are a few actions that you can take to build a community.

Have a goal. No matter if you’re a small professional services firm or a large manufacturer, it’s important to have a bridge between customers and your business -- but what do you want to accomplish with a community? You can use it to uncover unmet needs of customers, get feedback on what you’re doing, provide a first line of support, gain fresh insight on how to solve common problems, or to increase face time with your users. A Harvard marketing researcher found that the act of participation itself causes people to feel more warmly about a business -- so, although there is no doubt that driving revenue is the ultimate goal, building a community will go a long ways towards taking care of that.

Create a content plan. Engaging content that is audience-centric will attract your community and keep them coming back. But posting great articles that educate your audience is only part of your task -- ask questions and have a mechanism for them to answer. That’s easy in social media, yet you can do this on your website and blog too. Map out an editorial calendar to keep the content flowing regularly. Have a person responsible for monitoring comments, responding to questions, and posting content.

Make it inviting and interactive. Encourage your community to participate in an honest and fun way, and offer help. When they share experiences that others relate to, people will jump in into the conversation. That will build the community’s “membership” and provide a substantial amount of user-generated content that the search engines will love. Your customers will realize that it’s a community sponsored by a business; still, you can’t “manufacture” a community for the singular purpose of extracting revenue from customers.

Give your community a name. This isn’t as silly as it sounds. You want your community to have an identity. Some companies try building their communities for all the wrong reasons and make it all about themselves. Your prospects and customers have common ground -- issues they’re trying to solve. Have a name that says, “this is for you, our customers, the people who get the job done”. Jimmy Buffett has the Parrot Heads, Cisco has its Learning Network, Disney has its Club Penguin, and Lady Gaga has her Little Monsters. A community name helps to focus the energy around your customers and what they’re trying to accomplish, while keeping your company in the picture.

How to build your community. A third-party community platform provider with tons of custom features and functionality is an option, but unless you have sizable resources, keep it simple. Start with your newsletter along with one or two social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Encourage people to comment on articles and blog postings. Depending on your goals, ask your community to take actions such as share a story, complete a survey, answer or ask a question, write a review, or vote on a new potential service offering. Your task is to facilitate the community’s growth and it’s important to pose your own questions, respond to comments, and offer suggestions -- even when it’s not related to your product or service.

Communities act as a voice for your company. Yet, it must meet the needs and desires of the community -- your customers and prospects.

The time and money to start and maintain a community is well worth it. Communities provide a unique way to connect with your customers and monitor what’s going on in their lives. And it gives your audience a sense of ownership that will pay off with loyalty to your business and push competitors out of the picture.


Read earlier columns from Florida Trend's business coach, Ron Stein
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Ron Stein is the founder and President of FastPath Marketing (www.marketing-strategies-guide.com). He has more than 20 years experience in sales, marketing, and business development, working positions ranging from salesman to vice president of sales and marketing to CEO of startups with industry leaders such as Motorola, VideoServer, Paradyne, and SercoNet. Ron is a member of the advisory team at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nationally recognized entrepreneurial and startup accelerator for the state of Florida. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or Ron@FastPathMarketing.com

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