Building a community that feels organic and genuinely valuable should be a goal of small business owners

Building a community that feels organic and genuinely valuable should be a goal of small business owners

Consumers in 2018 are decidedly fickle, with only 13 per cent remaining loyal to particular brands, according to McKinsey. Attention spans are shrinking amid a barrage of marketing and advertising messages, while a constant stream of new products and services mean winning and retaining customers takes more effort and investment than ever.

Here at The Brew, we operate in the fast-growth, but extremely competitive co-working sector, where it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself. With some providers now competing on price, one strategy that has worked well for us is building a strong member community, both physically through our spaces and events, as well as via online channels.

Through helping our members to build connections between themselves, make friends, and by adding value, we’ve been able to simultaneously raise the profile of our own brand and nurture a network of advocates.

But, we’ve also discovered that there is a knack to successfully building a community that feels organic and genuinely valuable rather than forced – the key is striking the right balance.

Here’s some tips and tricks on how to get it right.

Give your customers what they want

A successful community has to be built around the real wants and needs of your customers and helping them to achieve their objectives. A common error is to make assumptions about what your customers want, without any proof to back them up. Instead, your first step should be to ask your customers what they would find useful. How you go about that depends on what business you’re in, but a personal face-to-face or telephone conversation is best – if you can. If not, online surveys are a good alternative, but be careful not to presume too much, making sure you include some open questions as well as closed, multiple choice ones, so respondents have a chance to expand their answers and give more detailed opinions. This is where you’ll get some really valuable – and often unexpected – insights.

Don’t detract from your core offering

Always be mindful not to detract from the primary reason customers buy from you – your core product or service. So, at The Brew, our members ultimately come to us because they need somewhere to work, not necessarily because they’re looking for a community. Your aim should therefore be to enhance your primary offering because if your community undermines your raison d’etre, you need to question whether it’s the right strategy. Remember when Facebook used to make lots of changes to its design and functionality for no apparent reason? Users became extremely unhappy and critical because it made connecting and sharing with their friends more difficult. Likewise, at The Brew, we wouldn’t hold a long event in the middle of the day or right in the middle of the space where people are trying to work.

Personalise your communications

To make your community relevant and attractive to as many people as possible, there has to be something in it for them personally. For example, at The Brew, we know that our members want to grow their businesses, so our core focus is on helping them to do that, with events and initiatives based around the different challenges they’re facing. We also try to personalise our communications as much as possible, by chatting face-to-face with our members about what’s happening, and where that’s not possible, trying to personalise the messaging and tone of our written communications, and using the channels where our members like to receive information. For example, we don’t find social media that useful, but for some businesses Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat might be a great medium. It all depends on where your audiences hang out.

Promote, promote, promote

For your community to take off, you need to put regular communications channels in place and ensure relevant information is easily accessible, whether through physical notices or on digital channels, such as email, social media and your website or blog. Think about the natural way that people interact with your service and reach them at those touchpoints. However, it’s important that you don’t make anybody feel like they have to get involved, or make them feel guilty if they aren’t, as some people simply won’t be interested. We try to keep it informal and take an ‘it’s there if you want it’ approach, so nobody is made to feel uncomfortable.

Think about affiliates

Your customers are one side of the story, but if you rely on affiliates or partners to help reach your customers, this is another area that could benefit from a community approach. For example, at The Brew, we work with agents to help fill our spaces, so it’s important that they feel involved in what we’re doing. Conversations with our agents told us that incentives work really well and as a result, we introduced prize drawers, with winners featured in our light-hearted monthly newsletter. This really helps to differentiate us from the competition.

Be patient

It can be tempting to give up if your community doesn’t catch on in a few weeks, but persevere, as it can take some time, particularly if you’re trying something new and original. For example, our agent newsletter took six or seven months to start getting engagement, but it’s now hugely popular. However, that’s not to say you should keep flogging a dead horse for months on end with no positive response. To check that you’re heading in the right direction, keep getting regular feedback from your audiences, so you can get an idea whether what you’re doing is starting to have the desired effect.

Andrew Clough is founder and managing director of The Brew. 

Further reading on community

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