Online communities have become a central part of everyday life and business operations. Since the early days of Internet message boards and email groups, participation in online communities has grown exponentially. Between 2012 and 2017, Facebook grew from one billion active users to over two billion. YouTube has over 1.5 billion users. Instagram also passed the billion-user mark this June.
While the majority of participants use online communities to socialize, being part of a digital community can also provide important business benefits. Here are four ways that online communities can benefit your business.
1. Getting Support.
One way online communities can benefit you is by providing support to get answers for your business questions. Members of online communities often have a wealth of knowledge and experience they’re willing to share with others, and many online communities have special discussion areas devoted to answering user questions.
For instance, Amazon’s Kindle publishing platform has a Kindle Direct Publishing Community where users can get answers to frequently-asked questions about topics such as how to format their books. Direct selling business Amway has a thriving online community where Independent Business Owners can ask experienced peers questions about topics such as marketing, sales, and business management.
Online communities can also help your business by providing opportunities to network with others who can benefit your business. You can use social media networks to meet industry leaders, find promotional partners, and learn about networking events.
For instance, award-winning blogger Rebekah Radice recommends using LinkedIn to meet business peers by doing keyword searches related to your industry and connecting with five new contacts a day. You can pursue a similar strategy by using Twitter Advanced Search and Facebook Audience Insights. Following industry-related hashtags and searching for biographical profiles with industry-related keywords in them are other ways to network with business peers.
Online communities can also provide an excellent opportunity to prospect for potential customers. For instance, entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk uses social media to tell interesting stories that attract followers, who become potential prospects. Another way to prospect on social media is by participating in discussion groups and answering questions posed by other members, which positions you as an expert while building relationships you can potentially leverage into sales. Other ways to generate leads through social media include sharing links to engaging content, hosting live video events, hosting webinars, taking surveys, running contests, and doing geotargeted searches for prospects in your local area.
4. Publishing Promotional Content.
You can also use online communities to publish and distribute content that positions you as an expert and promotes your business. For instance, posting how-to information that answers common questions in your field can establish your authority and encourage others to value your expertise, products, and services. One excellent tool for doing this is LinkedIn’s publishing platform, which lets you publish articles of relevant interest to professional audiences in your target market.
Publishing informative videos on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook is another way to promote your business. You can also use these platforms to let people know about promotional events you’re hosting. For instance, if you’ve got a seminar or webinar coming up, you can create a Facebook wall to promote the event and then share a link to the wall with your social media followers.
Online communities can benefit your business by providing support for answers to questions, by helping you network with industry peers and leaders, by providing prospecting opportunities, and by giving you a platform to publish promotional content. Using these strategies will help you leverage online communities by transforming your social media time into learning, networking, marketing, and sales opportunities.