Be a Friend You’d Trust: How to Grow Your Online Community with Organic Marketing
This blog post is based on Sandy Jandu’s (Ellee Home) presentation at our online conference, Printful Threads: How to Grow Your Ecommerce Business with Organic Marketing. Watch all presentations on our YouTube channel.
Building an online community is a highly effective organic marketing strategy for any brand. Communicating with your customers online helps to increase your brand awareness, but the benefits don’t end here.
Understanding your community’s interests is one of the best ways to create a meaningful connection, and it helps in building your knowledge base of your customer needs. This in return paves the way to your business organic growth.
In this article, we’re going to talk about finding your business purpose and how to build a trusting and open online community. In other words, let’s take a peek into one of the best organic marketing strategies.
Define your business purpose
Communication is the soul of your business. Without a communication strategy, it can get challenging to improve customer engagement.
Before we get down to defining an effective communication strategy, first you need to answer one question: what’s your business purpose?
The answer will specify how you communicate with your audience.
Purpose is the reason(s) why your business exists. It describes why your company was founded, what makes your business unique, and what’s your business plan. Without a clear idea of why you do what you do, it’ll be harder to prepare content and direct your followers’ attention.
For example, eBay’s purpose is to “pioneer new communities around the world built on commerce, sustained by trust, and inspired by opportunity.”
The business purpose usually describes the value that you can bring with your business to all people who use your products or services.
Here are more examples to make the idea clearer:
Etsy: “In a time of increasing automation, it’s our mission to keep human connection at the heart of commerce.”
Shutterfly: “Our purpose is to share life’s joy by connecting people to what matters as the leading retailer and manufacturing platform for personalized products.”
Snapchat: “We believe that reinventing the camera represents our greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate.”
”Whole Foods Market: “Our purpose is to nourish people and the planet.”
“Defining your business purpose will shape how you communicate on any of your platforms”.
To make it even easier to find your business purpose, think about how your customers see your current marketing content. Is it product focused, or your products merely enhance what you offer?
Is your business product-directed or product-supplemented?
The primary focus for a product-directed business is on the source income. When all your marketing and communication efforts revolve around product sales, and this is your business primary source of income—you’re product-directed.
Most product-directed companies (think fast fashion brands such as H&M) are all about communicating product features, pricing, and discounts. In this case, customers will be drawn to your brand because of the products’ affordability, quality or unique value.
A product-supplemented business merchandise supports other primary facets of the business.
For example, I don’t just advertise my Ellee Home products and services. I’m also a lifestyle content creator, and I strive to inspire people to do their own home projects. When I sell my t-shirts, I tell my customers that they can put them on when they go out to Home Depot. This gives them a bit of courage when buying their first power tools.
To my customer, the t-shirts come with added value. They get inspiration and encouragement, so my products supplement the message that I’m trying to get across.
When your audience experiences your brand through relevant, engaging content that improves their lives in some meaningful way, they gain a more positive association with it.
Besides, including your brand message in your content will help:
- Attract a specific audience
- Build and cultivate a community
- Inform and interest potential customers
- Create an environment of trust and connection
- Open an opportunity to attract traffic through search engine optimized content
Once you’ve determined if your brand is product-directed or product-supplemented, you can then put the reason for your business existence into words. Every business, including yours, has a clear foundation, and it’ll be easier to create a communication strategy if you have a definition. So let’s jump into it.
What’s your why?
Your why is not about making money—that’s just the end goal of your business. It’s more about the value you can offer to other people.
My business motive is to influence changes in people’s homes. I have to think about what type of content and merchandise can make my customers feel positive about making the first steps. Focusing on topics about home furnishing alone wouldn’t be enough to keep my customer’s attention glued on my brand. So I add value with lifestyle content.
Ideally, your “why” should be a message that can be illustrated to your audience as consumers “buy” the feeling (or you could say the emotional value) that comes with getting the product or service.
- Start with what you do. “I create X products and/or offer Y services”
- Find out why is it important
- Brainstorm as many answers as you can
- Notice that the fundamental purpose of the organization will stand out
- Searching for the answer that resonates, arouses passion, and can serve as an answer to your organization’s core purpose.
Your brand purpose sits at the center of your business authentic reason for being. Weave it into direct messages on social media, promotional videos, or in your blog posts.
The more you communicate what you believe, the more you will attract people who believe that what you do matters, and they’ll want to be a part of that.
Connecting with your audience
Now that you know your business focus and your brand’s purpose, you’ll have an easier time communicating with your audience purposefully, while keeping in mind your business goals.
Brands use social platforms for various reasons, such as to raise brand awareness, influence user attitudes, and ask for feedback.
Unfortunately, many business owners overlook arguably one of the best aspects of social media—connecting with their customers on a meaningful and personal level.
Put an effort into getting acquainted with your audience and ask follow-up questions that’ll lead you to different topic areas.
Find out your audience’s goals and create an atmosphere of openness. Soon enough, you’ll have an engaged community that encourages each other’s progress.”
One of the goals for your new online community should be to attract more customers. However, if your content and messaging style is heavily influenced by your effort to make sales, it can seem pushy. It’s better for your business to generate value-based content, instead of treating your community as a new sales platform.
Besides DIY and design, I talk a lot about food and books. In addition, I’ve figured out which of my interests my group cares about and I share my thoughts and experiences on these topics.
It helps to know what type of people you’re reaching out to and that they share some of your ideas and interests. Otherwise you might be doing everything right but you’d still be playing out of tune.
Knowing your audience equals making better predictions about what information they expect, how to arrange it in meaningful ways, and what additions will be needed for an understandable presentation.
It also influences the tone and structure of your content.
Define your ideal customer
Who are the people you want to build a long-lasting online community with?
They’re going to be people that you can engage, share, and sometimes disagree with. These people will take and give value to you and other members.
To build a community like this, try outlining a customer profile that’d roughly represent your primary audience. You can do it in two ways:
List out qualities that they might have or imagine them as an avatar.
Think about one person who would represent your community. Ideally, they would also want to be your client.
Once again, taking my business as an example—my potential customer is going to be a working parent. My client wants to come home and feel like they’ve put a mark on their own space. I imagine my potential customer interests and likes, and I ask myself questions like is their home kid/pet friendly? Or are they interested in bold colors?
I built a mental and digital map of what they’re into, and I link it back to the way I communicate with my audience.
When you have your target audience, business goals and communication style, you’re all set to start engaging effectively and strategically.
Engage with your audience
Communicate your why and your core message with others regularly, and often. This will attract similarly minded folks who’ll recognize your authenticity and naturally want to share their own two cents on your topics.
Regardless of the size of your following, social media engagement rates can serve as a measure of your follower loyalty to your brand.
Here are just a few of many ideas you can try to get the engagement roll:
- Generate a list of content ideas that’d inform, engage, and entertain your followers
- Create interesting visuals and engaging captions that’d look fairly consistent throughout your account
- Post consistently (aim for 1–6 posts a week)
- Use relevant hashtags to invite potential followers and customers
- Run contests to boost your engagement and generate more likes and tags than regular posts
- Use the story section with hashtag and location features
- Create Instagram Reels with educational content or authentic content sourced from your customers
When you’ve turned your social media environment engagement friendly, you’ll need to take additional steps to actually keep these hard-earned engagement levels high.
How to keep up the engagement?
When people on social media try to interact with you, you need to respond to hold their interest and encourage future post engagements.
Ideally, aim to acknowledge each comment and tag that you get.
As your engagement and follower count grows—you’ll get busier and it might become difficult to respond to everyone, but there are ways to make this process easier.
For example, in Instagram’s case, if you have a business account, you can use the Quick Reply feature for which you can add shortcuts to pre-saved messages using a single word. When you type this word the “quick reply” will fill out the message with the one you saved.
For Facebook, you can set up automated responses on Messenger, as well as on your page when a visitor performs a specific action, such as when they leave feedback or recommend your page. Facebook also has a Saved Replies feature which you can access by visiting your page’s Messages tab.
The best part of these features is that you don’t have to worry about sounding robotic or unnatural as you can customize messages to fit your natural writing voice.
Some last tips:
- Respond fast to show your followers that you care
- Connect with your audience on a personal level
- Keep your content focused on your target audience
- Engage your audience with engaging content, rewards, and contests
- Provide great customer service for anyone interested in what you offer
- Have your content reflect your business purpose
If this is going to be your first time leading an online community, know that it’ll take time to learn the ropes of perfecting your content and communication strategy. In the end, it’s all going to be worth it for your growth and for the advancement of your business.
You have what it takes to start a community
People are waiting to join in!
Be thoughtful about how you engage with your group. They’re messaging you because they wish to be part of a community that shares their interests. That’s a powerful privilege to have.
People who interact and receive your replies don’t see you as a storefront or someone who’s selling products. They see you as an actual person and a member of this community that they want to be a part of.
Creating trust and engagement is all about the energy that you’re putting out. Show your enthusiasm and passion, and believe that your audience truly wants to hear what you have to say.
Are you part of any online community and if so, what do you love about it? Please let us know in the comments.