February 15 2013

Community-Building 101: Why You Need to Build a Community for Your Website

“If you build it, they will come.”When it comes to creating websites, though, that’s not exactly true. It’s no longer enough to create a website, add your URL to your marketing products and hope that customers log on repeatedly. Not only is it important to have a well-designed and functional site, you need to give customers a reason to come back. You may know how to make your own website, but you need to bring people to it as well.

One way to keep traffic coming to your site is by creating a community around your product, service or site. When your site has a community, visitors feel connected to both your business and others who share their enthusiasm, giving them a reason to stay loyal to your company and return to your site. Encouraging a thriving community around your site also provides some of the best endorsements a company can ask for: happy, satisfied customers who will tell others about you.

Ways to Build a Community

Creating an online community takes time — with so many things competing for a user’s attention, unless the community offers some payoff, they won’t waste time there. There are ways that you can encourage the community and foster the connections between you and your customers.

Enable Comments

One of the easiest ways to build a community is by enabling comments; allow users to comment on blog posts or articles, for example, or add a review feature to your product pages. You can engage with readers via the comments and encourage discussion, and commenters will often talk with each other. In time, you’ll notice that certain commenters appear frequently. These are your most loyal followers, so consider incorporating them more into the community. Perhaps let them serve as a guest blogger or product reviewer for your site.

Use Social Media

Social media have become powerful tools for business owners who want to engage with their customers. By effectively using sites like Facebook and Twitter, you can stay connected with interested customers — and get feedback from them on what they want from you.

Create Forums

Web forums or discussion boards are another one of the most effective ways of adding a community element to your website. Forums give your customers the opportunity to engage in a private environment and have more in-depth discussions about your company, your products and other related topics. For example, a crafts retailer could use forums for customers to share how they use certain products, or an auto parts retailer could sponsor forums for customers to ask questions and receive guidance on car-related issues. Of course, maintaining forums requires some diligence and involvement. Without some guidance and moderation, the forums could veer wildly off topic or never take off at all.

Go Mobile

With so many users now accessing the Web via mobile devices, any business that wants to draw traffic needs a mobile version of its site. When your site is optimized for mobile devices, users can easily share information and participate while they’re on the go. Going mobile isn’t difficult; using mobile website builder software allows you to create a full-functioning mobile site with just a few clicks. Creating a mobile version of the site also keeps your customers engaged in the conversation. For instance, if they comment on a blog post, they can be notified of follow-up comments via e-mail. Then, they can easily respond from wherever they are.

Creating a community around your website gets people talking about your business — in a good way. It takes time and commitment to build a strong community, but the potential for viral-marketing success and repeat customers makes the investment worthwhile. Explore some of your favorite websites to see how successful communities are built, and begin building buzz for your business and products.

About the Author: Daria Towle is a social media and Internet marketing expert who has helped dozens of small businesses reach their online potential. She blogs about Web marketing and best practices for several publications.