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8 Ways to Build an Online Community for your Small Business

E-commerce brands are constantly competing with one another, and it can be tough to come up with new strategies to make sure your brand acquires and retains customers over the long term. While ramping up your traditional marketing is an option, building an e-commerce community is worth considering, as well. Let’s break down how to […]

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E-commerce brands are constantly competing with one another, and it can be tough to come up with new strategies to make sure your brand acquires and retains customers over the long term. While ramping up your traditional marketing is an option, building an e-commerce community is worth considering, as well.

Let’s break down how to build an e-commerce community (essentially a gathering place for customers and sellers to discuss products) for your brand and the benefits of doing so.

The Importance of Community for E-Commerce Businesses

There are many reasons why building and maintaining a thriving e-commerce business community could bring long-lasting benefits to your brand.

Builds Long-Lasting Customer Relationships

E-commerce communities allow your brand to build long-lasting relationships with your target customers, which can be good for customer retention.

For example, when a help desk specialist speaks directly to a customer on a brand forum (essentially a forum where customers can write posts and threads about topics related to your brand’s products or services), that customer will never forget the interaction.

Being responsive, communicating 1-1, and becoming a trustworthy resource for customer information will encourage repeat visits.

If it’s a positive experience, you may have earned yourself a lifelong follower. These long-lasting consumer relationships are excellent for improving your brand’s cash flow in the years to come, since it’s cheaper to keep a customer than to sign on a new one.

Bolsters Brand Awareness

Additionally, an e-commerce business community can improve brand awareness. 

A community is a great platform for your most diehard customers to talk to each other. The more they talk and post content, the more mentions you’ll get across the Internet, and the more people will be drawn to your business. It’s a great way to succeed in growing sales and making more profit.

Better Customer Service

E-commerce communities give you ways to offer better customer service to your audience and reduce costs. Buyers expect top-tier customer service these days, and having a forum or community hub will help you achieve that with searchable FAQs, self-service, and discussions about relevant topics.

Handling any issues or answering questions directly makes your brand seem more responsive to consumer needs and tastes. It’s a great way to ensure your target audience feels appreciated by your company.

Build a Brand Community with These Strategies

Now that you know why you should build an e-commerce community, let’s break down how you can do it with some smart steps. Here’s what small business owners can do today:

1. Create a Community Hub

A community hub is where your users and customers can share content, post pictures, and engage in other social media activities.

First, consider creating a community hub on your e-commerce store website instead of a third-party platform so that it’s easier for customers to access. 

Of course, it doesn’t have to be as robust or feature-rich as Facebook. But having a hub that you control gives your community members a place to communicate and coordinate without relying on big social media companies.

That being said, a Facebook group could work for a community hub for time and cash-strapped small business entrepreneurs.

2. Feature Customer Images/Reviews

Next, consider featuring customer images and product reviews on your website’s landing pages or front page frequently. Customer images can be featured as part of image contests, which can drive brand engagement. You can offer prizes like discounts on new products for contest winners.

By featuring customer reviews, you’ll bring the benefits of your testimonials page to the front page immediately. Be sure to rotate the customer reviews often so that visitors know you are constantly receiving new positive reviews, not just recycling the same old five-star reviews over and over.

3. Add a Forum

Forums are ideal places to listen to customer concerns, answer questions, and engage with your community. Your customer service representatives can use this channel to speak to your target audience.

Forums are also an excellent place for your customers to get to know each other and form relationships. Following their conversations will allow you to identify client pain points and marketing opportunities you may not have thought of. Some customers can also turn into your brand ambassadors.

4. Expand to Social Media Platforms

Odds are your company already has pages on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn for building your networks.

If you aren’t using social media yet, strongly consider it. Be sure to link to your community hub or forum on these social media platforms, then directly expand your community presence there. Hiring a customer service manager or social media manager may be wise to tackle this work, as it can be very time-consuming.

Bonus tip: host Twitter spaces to have conversations directly with your Twitter followers.

5. Start an Email Newsletter

If you haven’t already, you may also wish to start an email newsletter with a service such as Aweber. Sending email newsletters is a great way to market to your core audience passively, especially to repeat customers.

Email newsletters are also excellent for bringing people to your community pages or forums. You can add links to your community hub, announce contests you are organizing, and more using email newsletters.

Plus, you can get more email addresses for your newsletters using your community pages. For example, you can require users to sign up for an email newsletter to join your loyalty program or participate in the forum.

6. Add Community Engagement to Blog Posts

Be sure to add opportunities for community engagement to the blog content you publish on your website.

For instance, you can add a call to action or ask customers what they think about the blog post at the end of the content. You could dedicate a whole blog post to engagement. Or you can have a comment section at the bottom of each blog post to drive reader engagement.

7. Publish Customer Success Stories

Interview customers and publish their success stories in which they explain how your product helped them out. You can even choose to do this in the form of video content or a podcast featuring your customers as your guests.

This shows your audience that you take your customers seriously and make their voices heard. It may just be the deciding factor that gets a new customer to choose your product instead of your competitors’.

8. Create Weekly or Monthly Recurring Themes and Activities

Whichever platform you choose, it’s a good idea to create fun and predictable recurring events. This keeps your small business community engaged and coming back for more.

For example, host a weekly quiz or survey where your customers can win accessories related to the products they bought, or a monthly AMA (Ask Me Anything) session with selected company employees.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, building an e-commerce community is easier and more worthwhile than you may have originally thought. Get started building an e-commerce community for your brand ASAP, and you’ll see the benefits in no time.

Gravity Payments provides merchant services and simple funding for small businesses. Get in touch with us today to see how we can help.

Nahla Davis
Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.

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