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The benefits of building a customer community

In this increasingly connected world it's possible for businesses to engage with the world like never before. This is not only a good way to keep current customers happy, but also a potential tool for gaining further business.

In this article, online marketing expert Gary Robinson of Crunch Accounting explains why customer engagement is so important and how you can start doing it better.

Community

We humans are social beings and most of us like to belong to larger groups or networks full of people with similar goals and interests to ourselves.

Social media sites have made it very easy to participate in groups like this and it can be a great way to spread the word about your business and develop strong professional links.

If you find one of these communities and join it, that's great. You can prove your value by providing useful content to the community, which will help to drive traffic to your website. Another approach that's worth considering is starting up your own, which is what we did at Crunch.

When Crunch was conceived, it took around 18 months to develop the software for launch. In that time, we developed a community site, Freelance Advisor. By the time Crunch launched its services, the site was getting thousands of views a month and had hundreds of subscribers. This provided us with a ready-made list of high quality leads and a user base that had already developed trust in the brand. We publicise Crunch on the site through a combination of banner ads and post links, which results in higher quality leads than from our paid Google ads campaigns.

Content

Part of our community's success is down to the quality of content it produces. It's important to produce shareable content that's either useful, entertaining, informative, or preferably a combination of the three. The more times that your articles get shared around social media sites, the more publicity you get for your brand.

My advice when thinking up ideas for content is try to use your own knowledge and experiences to offer a unique perspective. The internet is stuffed full of reposts and copy-paste jobs, so if you want to stand out from the crowd and build a loyal audience, you'll have to work out what holds their interest.

You need to have a good understanding of your audience and their needs. That's where value comes from. Writing about stuff that is interesting to you doesn't guarantee anyone else will read it. Find out what your customers want to know, then give that knowledge to them.

Engagement

Once you've built your community, it's important to keep them interested and to make sure sure they continue to feel valued.

Make it easy for them to participate in the community by creating multiple entry points. Do your research and find out which social media sites your customers and desired customers use the most. Different social networks attract different audiences, so you will want to focus on ones that suit your targets.

You can then identify the community's most influential members - i.e. those that have a large number of followers themselves - and develop strong relationships with them. This is a great way to get endorsements over social media for your business from third parties. Be warned, though, they can also be a heavily impacting source of bad press if something goes wrong.

Finally, sending out a weekly newsletter via email can help engage those who haven't had a chance to visit the site that week and will also encourage others to go back to see what they've missed.

About the Author

Gary Robinson has over 15 years of online marketing experience and is head of marketing at online accounting firm Crunch and community site Freelance Advisor.

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