Research shows that people are more likely to invest in online communities during (or in the wake of) crisis, trauma, or major life changes, so the current crisis is offering many business owners the unprecedented opportunity to build community around their brand.
Done well, this not only serves the individuals in these communities, it also positions entrepreneurs as leaders in their industry with a strong platform for business growth when the crisis is over.
If you want to generate a loyal community around your brand, think about the long term goal for your business, and build your community accordingly. First and foremost, focus on giving in a time of crisis. No one likes an opportunistic brand, and consumers can have long memories.
Dr. Tiffany Eurich, author of Knitting Together a Community, and founder of tiffanyeurich.com knows a few things about creating online communities. Her three year ethnographic study of online groups is what she uses to help brands develop thriving communities as part of their larger PR strategy.
Here are Dr. Eurich’s tips for creating a thriving online community during quarantine.
1. Invite People
“Don’t assume people will naturally gravitate to your community. The most successful online communities are those in which the creator of the community and the people participating in it are actively inviting others to join,” explains Dr. Eurich. “New members will often test out a group by looking at responses to their first comment or post, so make them feel welcome and be quick to respond.”
2. Don’t Be A Wallflower
“This is not the time for ‘passive’ growth,” reminds Dr. Eurich. “ Instead, step out as the face of your brand, and be as physically present and active as possible. Post pictures, try out live video, answer questions and posts directly. You may not have found the time for this before, but you’ll discover that it pays in dividends right now.
“As people search for a sense of community amidst quarantine, they’ll respond to your willingness to show up in their day. I love the creativity at cbrookering.com, a live wedding painter who is offering weekly live painting workshops. She creates an amazon supply list for each week’s project, then gets on camera to paint with her community, like a modern day Bob Ross. Lauren Carnes, a food photographer and communications strategist from Georgia regularly goes live from her kitchen to create on-the-spot recipes for followers that are working with what they are digging out from the back of the pantry. Her toddler occasionally makes a charming appearance, reinforcing the sense of neighborly camaraderie. In my own business, I’ve seen significantly increased engagement as I’ve been adding more live videos on Instagram and Facebook to answer questions about crisis communication and PR challenges amidst lockdown.”
3. Become A Go-To Resource
“Give people useful information, helpful tips, resources, and tools they can use to make the most of a difficult situation. Observe carefully, ask questions, and look for opportunities to serve with new products, downloads, discussions, or other materials “(and feel free to ask for email addresses in exchange),” suggests Dr. Eurich.
“Crowdsource your community to find solutions to problems. With over half a million followers, The Prairie Homestead facebook group is churning out educational content daily. From making your own pasta and bread to starting your first vegetable garden, founder, Jill Winger, is helping people feed their families when the grocery store shelves are empty. Likewise, The Rising Tide Society (part of Honeybook CRM), an organization for creative entrepreneurs, has a Coronavirus Hub, offering live streams and resources from experts in all sectors to help businesses respond to economic and legal concerns as a result of the pandemic. These communities are doing it right.”
4. Be A Shoulder To Cry – Or Lean, Or Laugh, Or Vent – On
“Sometimes we don’t need our problems fixed, we just need someone to listen and commiserate. Your community can do the same thing. Seek solutions when you can find them, but don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know the answer, but I’m here for you.’” says Dr. Eurich. “In my three year study of online communities, some of the most often cited catalysts for growth in a group were offerings of comfort and concern in times of stress. Ashlyn Carter, founder of the copywriting agency, Ashlyn Writes, has nailed this in her weekly Covid, Copy, and Coffee live chats. In addition to providing expert business advice, she’s successfully cultivated a community where members feel comfortable sharing both the business and personal challenges brought on by quarantine and unexpected economic shifts, and members are rallying around each other—as well as the brand—as they navigate difficult waters together.”
5. Be Multifaceted
“ My research indicates that multidimensional online communities tend to see significant long-term success. In ordinary circumstances, people enjoy discussing multiple interests with like-minded people online, but in the midst of social isolation, this is a critical need. In other words, don’t limit discussion to one topic or category. For instance, let’s say you’re cultivating a fitness-related community (although this example would work in a variety of contexts). Don’t limit the conversation to at-home exercise routines. Instead, encourage discussion about other areas of life, like cooking, unexpected homeschooling, working from home, gardening, even managing conflict with loved ones,” notes Dr. Eurich. “You don’t have to be an expert in those areas to provide meaningful connection. Listen to what people are struggling with, post a question or tip, then let people vent, ask for advice, and share tips that are working for them. If you know an expert in one of those topics, invite them to share their expertise in a live or prerecorded discussion. Your community will keep coming back if you can become something of a one-stop-shop for healthy, beneficial interaction with others.
“Similarly, give people freedom to converse when, how, and about what they want. Make sure the conversation adheres to your brand’s mission (eg: remove obscenity, profanity, bullying, etc.), but moderate minimally. Invite people to start discussions or forum threads. If possible, use a platform that allows you to organize conversations clearly. People will participate more frequently if they can find the discussion more easily.”