How To Identify & Build An Online Community

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In the age of Digital Transformation, how can we use content to create value? In some of my most recent blog posts, I have been discussing the ideas behind content creation. With more and more people flocking online, how can we use technology to connect the dots?

In this article, I will be touching on how to identify and build online communities for the purpose of driving engagement. No matter if you’re a writer, business professional or leading the content creation efforts for your business.

There’s a number of ways to engage your target audience where they live. Whether it be from advertising or sharing valuable information. Online communities provide access and availability.

By following the rule of 60% (Listening) / 20% (Sharing) / 20% (Promotion), you can identify, join and even build out your own community of engaged users. The idea behind creating content for consumption is simple one, once you break it down into two facets:

  • What is the information being presented?
  • What are the ‘tasks at hand’?

This is why online communities have flourished during quarantine and the post pandemic world. Mainly, because human nature is about communicating and engaging with those of a similar mindset. As a business or brand, this is the perfect play and can be beneficial for all parties involved.

By providing a service, communing information or even sharing useful technology. Online communities can be built — at will — through time and effort. It is a strategic investment for businesses and brands who are looking to grow, improve their marketing funnels and cut advertising costs. People are much more likely to purchase from brands that engage with them online vs. purely through advertising.

The success of online communities are in large part due to the Internet. There will always be subsets and factions for businesses to join, connect and share in the wealth that is being created during the Information Age. There are — literally — a hundred different ways to create value within an online community.

The real question is: How do you — effectively — identify online communities? Better yet, How do you build an online community? This is very much a personal topic for me, as I am in the process of building an online community that involves the arts, culture and talent community in the Midwest. The key is to align your social media goals with your business objectives.

To break it down, online communities are made up of four aspects.

  1. Information — The knowledge within the content that is being distributed.
  2. Format — The structure holding your content (text, images, audio, or video).
  3. Channel — How you deliver your message (In Person, Print, Digital or Broadcast)
  4. Platform — Where does your content live and is it readily accessible? (i.e. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

Overall, how you approach the distribution of your content plays a major role in how your target audience will view your brand online. When identifying online communities the most important questions to answer are:

How does your target audience communicate?

What’s natural? Text? Audio? Video? Images?

Although when it comes to identifying online communities the scope reaches far past social media. If you’re in the process of building an online community, the first thing you’ll want to do is identify the content format (of choice), channels for distribution and the platforms where your content can live.


How Do You Identify Online Communities?

Identifying an online community is about listening to the information that is being communicated. Followed by a series of tests and experiments to see what are the main interests of that community. Including the main channels of communication and which content formats are most popular with its users. This is a key step in the process because you will eventually be inviting users to engage within your online community.

Content formats are the overall structure of knowledge. Within these formats are seeds of information. A seed is planted and patiently waits to be consumed by your target audience. Online communities provide the perfect setting for your content to grow, be consumed and create value.

At the beginning of the content creation process always start with information. You’ll want to choose the appropriate content format to carry your information; then you can deliver the content through your online community’s channel of choice. Determining the channel will provide a distinction when choosing a content format for your target audience.

Getting them the right content — at the right time — in a format that is most familiar to them.


THE THREE COMPONENTS OF CONTENT

It is imperative to recognize the distinctions between information, content format and channels because each one holds its own: at the same time, each one needs to work in conjunction to meet the needs of your online community.

  • Information (Knowledge): What do you want to convey to your audience.
  • Content format: The way you introduce, or display, the knowledge.
  • Channel (Distribution): The platforms and channels where you decide to float your content on the Internet.

FLEXIBLE CONTENT FORMATS

Believe it or not. We make decisions about content formats we actively choose to engage on a daily basis. For example, let’s say someone sends you a text. You open it and realize that it would make more sense just to call whoever sent the text and respond.

You wouldn’t send them a five paragraph text, when you could just have a conversation and simultaneously get your questions answered. This is an genuine reflex; you most likely aren’t aware of how you are flexing from one medium of communication to the next, even during the middle of the interaction.

This is how content formats and the overall consumption of content works. Your online community will choose the platform and technology that overall suits their mode of communication best.

In this instance — which content format performs the best? Text or audio?


NOTICEABLE FORMATS DRAW ATTENTION

When we are the ones choosing the format, we apply this same flexibility. For example, the difference between audio and text is the format that your audience chooses to consume.

People who listen to music are more apt to listen to podcasts versus reporters who more likely to read a blog or press releases. The content indiscriminately communicates with the desired audience because the content format is designed for them.

As humans, we have thousands of content formats that draw our attention: Job applications, customer reviews, medical forms, report cards, traffic signs, etc. These are content formats that are designed to immediately catch our attention.

(Keep this in mind when you’re creating content.)

You can design your content around certain formats that facilitate smoother interactions. Imagine for example, the Internet without content formats (all analog), it would be by design legible, but for the most part unrecognizable.

THAT is the ultimate goal: You want your online community to instantly identify your content, understand it is for them, understand what to do, and then do it.

The last thing you want is for your conversations and content to feel like the pennies at the bottom of the swimming pool. When creating value for an online community, convenience is everything. The overall goal is to create content that provides an experience, creates value and addresses a need. Which brings me to my next question.

How do you construct an online community to drive engagement?


How Do You Build An Online Community?

Building an online community begins with identifying the channels in which your target audience communicates. For most online communities this means social media, email, digital advertising, ebooks and websites.

For marketing and branding purposes, social media usually takes the cake. Why? Think about all the platforms that accompany the adjacent channels and content formats. A shortlist of social media platforms include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

Once you can identify the appropriate platforms and channels, you can build your own online community. The key to success with online communities is to create conversations and keep the conversation going.

Once you identify the HOW (content formats) and the WHEN (channels), you can strategically build out your WHY (information). Building an online community begins with creating value and ends with engagement.

Social media is our daily reality, how you choose to use this tool is entirely up to you.


If you’re interested in learning more about ‘Branding, Marketing & Social Media Insights’, feel free to sign up for my monthly Newsletter.

11 thoughts on “How To Identify & Build An Online Community

  1. Pingback: How To Create Adaptive Content – 227 | Social+Digital

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