There are several good reasons why Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, decided to place emphasis on Facebook Groups back in 2017. One of those reasons was to foster the growth of meaningful communities on the platform. Today, there are well over 10 million Facebook groups and more than half of Facebook’s estimated 2.7 billion users are active in at least one of these groups.
Over the past year, I’ve worked hard to build my own online community.
My online community is Blogging Guide, which is a space for writers to connect. More specifically, the community is geared toward helping writers figure out how to monetize their writing on various digital publishing platforms.
While I had figured out my community’s CMS tool (WordPress), my main content marketing platform (Medium), and my newsletter delivery tool (Substack), I had not successfully incorporated a private forum or chat.
So I was really excited when I found PeerBoard.
PeerBoard is software that allows you to build a branded, feature-rich community forum on your website, without requiring coding. With PeerBoard, you can create a subreddit-like space right on your own website, so your community doesn’t have to leave your site to connect.
Instead of the traditional forum layout, which can be tough to navigate, PeerBoard offers a single categorized news feed that operates like a Facebook feed (but is much easier to navigate than a chaotic Facebook group).
Perhaps best of all, PeerBoard has an easy-to-use WordPress plugin, which allows anyone to create a custom forum for their online community, in a matter of minutes.
What have I learned since creating my PeerBoard-hosted online community?
Below are five key benefits to building your own online community.
- Reduces ad spend
Advertising, including, print, TV, and digital spots, is a critical part of marketing strategies for most companies. But the results don’t always justify the amount spent. Placing ads via Google AdWords, for instance, can see cost per acquisition (CPA) reach almost $60, on average, across all industries. For some industries, the average CPA is well over $100. For a young startup with little capital to work with, such a high CPA can prove to be quite prohibitive. Moreover, with an ad, a user will feel they are being coerced into clicking a link and will be less likely to keep engaging with the brand, even after making a purchase.
Growing an online community, on the other hand, costs very little (or no money at all). It also allows you to gain leads without having to place ads or spend less on them. That’s because being in an online community makes it easier for people to learn what they need to know about a brand and more comfortable with checking out its offerings. The emotional connection that is created in an online community will have more long term ROI than plain advertising. In addition, ads can be more worthwhile when coupled with a vibrant online community.
- Allows you to better understand your target audience
One of the necessities in growing a company is improving the customer experience. But doing so requires a deep understanding of your target audience, including their individual needs, values, and expectations as it relates to their social backgrounds and perceptions of your offerings.
Building an online community allows you to interact directly with members of your audience to find out what it is they are interested in. You can use surveys, for example, to get feedback on your products and services. You can also get their opinions on various aspects of your business, as well as what they are looking forward to in the future. Some communities even allow you to have access to analytical data on group members, giving you more arsenal to help you create content, products, and services that are more in tune with your target customers’ needs.
- Builds customer trust and loyalty
The engaging nature of active online communities increases the ability of brands to deliver a positive experience to customers. They can help community members get answers to questions and assistance with common issues, as well as giving them a sense of belonging and a place to interact with other like-minded individuals. Giving customers a space where they can engage with your brand on such a level will only result in a more trusting bond and increased loyalty.
Customer trust and loyalty are important goals for any business because they determine its longevity. People who are loyal to a brand can account for up to 80% of its revenue and are more likely to tell their friends and families about their experience. Considering that many internet shoppers tend to also learn about products and services from other people’s experiences (reviews, recommendations, etc.), having an online community should be a no-brainer for any brand looking to be around for a long time.
- Improves customer service delivery
Delivering great customer service is becoming more and more important. A customer will tell far more people about a bad experience rather than they would a good experience. However, providing good customer service can be difficult to pull off at a consistently satisfactory level using traditional methods, for several reasons. Customers may not be sure how best to get in touch or where to find useful information about your products or services.
Having an online community can be a great repository for answers to frequently asked questions. This is not just based on literature you might provide, but also the fact that they can ask for help from other community members. People are often more receptive to advice and tips from others who have used your product/service than from a business owner who may be giving advice from a sales perspective. In addition, your online community can help people get in touch with your business easily, instead of having to search around for contact information.
Moreover, an online community can strengthen other methods of customer service delivery you may already be using, and may even reduce the cost of training customer service staff or setting up CRM software.
- Boosts website traffic
Whether it is a Facebook group, user forum, or even a support website, online communities often involve sharing content from a brand’s website. Since members tend to develop a relationship with the associated brand, they will often be more receptive to content shared in the community than if they discovered it elsewhere on the web. In addition, your content may not always be found easily via Google search, regardless of how good your SEO strategies are.
If a community member enjoys your blog post or other content, they will also be more inclined to share it to their friends and families outside the group. This can further boost your web traffic and may even grow your online community, as well as help you attract new customers. What’s more, the more organic traffic you receive to your website, the better SEO works for you as time goes by.
As I’ve experimented with building my own online community, PeerBoard emerged as the obvious tool to build my own community with.
PeerBoard makes this process incredibly simple, and is definitely an option worth considering if you want to create an online community.
Building and maintaining an online community is challenging. You’ll need to identify your target audience, create a space where they feel comfortable interacting, moderate that space, and constantly promote your community to drive new members in.
You don’t have to be on your own out here as a writer. We have an article on the secret and power of online communities that just a year ago we put out.
However, successful online communities are one of the most sought after digital commodities for a reason — online communities provide tremendous value to community members, while also offering the hosts the opportunity to play a major role in industry specific discussions and become a subject matter expert.
In an ever-crowded internet, private online communities are increasingly the best way to access the people, information, and content that you are searching for.