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How To Build A Community Around Your Business (And Why You Should)

You already onboard new hires. Why not do the same with customers, users, fans, and other stakeholders?

How To Build A Community Around Your Business (And Why You Should)
[Photo: Anthony Martino/Unsplash]

Whether you know it or not, your business has a community. It could be a formal membership–maybe you offer a subscription-based product, for instance–or just a collection of loyal fans or customers that you should be treating like a community, if you want to stand apart from your competitors.

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How you treat new community members within the first 30 to 60 days will determine whether or not you keep them in the fold. And for every growing business, customer retention is the holy grail: According to Bain researchers, increasing customer retention by just 5% can boost profits by as much as 25%–95%. For this reason, I geek out on the onboarding experience we offer our clients. Here are some favorite strategies every business, large or small, should consider trying out.


Related: The Hard-To-Nail Formula That Makes Building A Startup Easier


Connect With Members’ “Pyramids Of Influence”

Most brands don’t think beyond collecting phone numbers and email addresses. At The Community Company, which helps brands build communities around their products and services, we find we’re able to boost engagement by at least 25% just by requesting contact information, not just for our immediate clients, but also for the people who impact how they spend their time or money. In other words, to turn customers into community members–and to grow the community overall–ask not just, “Who are you?” but also, “Who do you know?”

For example, a personal assistant can help you get an entrepreneur’s attention for a task that needs completing or a benefit you’re offering. We’ve also found that community members’ public relations and marketing people are often eager to take advantage of our services. It’s not about nagging your existing customers to do word-of-mouth marketing on your behalf–it’s about asking for an opportunity to leverage relationships that already exist. To cultivate them further, consider sending these influencers handwritten notes to make them feel valued and connected to you.

Offer Instant Opportunities

After a member joins your community, its your job to keep them engaged. Don’t bombard them with emails. Opt for few strategically spaced-out messages on how to navigate your platform or take advantage of special features. And if you have additional products or services, now is the time to offer them.

At Young Entrepreneur Council, for example, we immediately direct new members to a web page featuring deals and discounts we’ve negotiated, knowing that they’re most excited about reaping the benefits of membership after they first join. But you need to think of this as an onboarding process–a means of helping people who’ve already opted into your services figure out how to get the most out of them. We’re careful to avoid the hard sell (or, worse, the upsell), which is always counterproductive.

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Related: Your Startup’s MVP Isn’t Working, But Here’s What Might


Ask Open-Ended Questions . . .

The one question our Member Concierge team is prohibited from asking members is, “How can I help you?” It’s well-intentioned but rarely gets a response with any meaningful data. People often feel too vulnerable to ask for help, or simply don’t know all the ways you might be able to lend a hand. If you’re dealing with a group of ambitious executives, better questions (depending on what kinds of products you offer, of course) might be, “What are you working on right now that you’re really excited about?” or, “What skills do you have that may be useful to your fellow community members?”

These open-ended questions will give your members a chance to build social capital in your group. The responses will also give you meaningful insights into your new members, particularly if you learn to read between the lines. Connecting the dots is a fundamental element of any community-building effort.

. . . And Specific Ones

After all, the more information your members share with you, the better you’ll be able to serve them. So don’t hesitate to get into particulars (the worst that can happen is a community member declines to respond).

If you have a community of business owners, you might ask them to share revenue (or at least a range), or ask if they have venture funding. Even a less confidential metric, such as number of employees, will allow you to estimate the size of their company. For, say, a community of rock climbers, you may ask how advanced their climbing skills are, what their most challenging climbs have been, or where they plan to climb next.

All this can help you arrange offline interactions among your most passionate fans. You should also ask your new members where they frequently travel. If you’ve got members who bounce between new York and Los Angeles quite a bit, wouldn’t it be to everyone’s advantage to connect those members with one another?

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Collecting this kind of information–always with consent from your members, of course–allows you to make connections between people in your group, know what additional services you can offer them, and how to communicate with them as an ongoing member of your community. You can’t do most of that just by tweaking a sales funnel.


Ryan Paugh is the COO of The Community Company, an organization that builds community-driven programs for media companies and global brands. He is also the coauthor of Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships That Matter.

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