It’s no secret that strong communities are the backbone of small business. When the world went online due to COVID-19, people began seeking out a sense of community through online platforms, and it’s a natural jump for small businesses to do the same. In fact, according to Bluehost’s recent survey of over 500 small businesses in the US, seven in ten small business owners recognized the importance of an increased online presence during the pandemic.

Not only does this allow them to reach their key audience in a targeted way, but when businesses embrace online communities, they build brand credibility, customer loyalty and are able to engage one-on-one with customers. Online communities are a powerful tool for small businesses, as they bring people with similar interests together to discuss something they all have in common: supporting your business.

Building Long-Lasting Relationships and a Sense of Exclusivity

As your online community continues to grow – whether that be through Facebook groups, a Telegram message thread, email newsletters or through your own business page on social media – it’s crucial to create an environment that allows you to connect with customers on a deeper level.

This connection enables small businesses to build brand loyalty by engaging customers authentically in a way that lets them know they care. When patrons of your business know that their opinions are heard and matter, they are more likely to develop a long-lasting relationship with your company, giving you their business time and time again.

Additionally, the feeling of exclusivity that comes with being a part of your community lets customers know that you value them on a personal level. It’s important to remember that this community is a place that is engaging and encourages members to be active participants in your brand; this won’t work if they feel like you’re simply advertising to them. By sharing community-exclusive discounts, recruiting influencers/affiliates or creating a loyalty program, you can build credibility while reaching new customers and strengthening relationships with returning patrons.

Engaging Employees and Boosting Morale

 Online communities aren’t limited to just business-customer relationships. In fact, they’re a great way to connect with the employees who keep the day-to-day of your business running. With many companies working from home for the foreseeable future, communication is more vital now than ever. Creating an online community for your employees outside of general company-issued emails promotes the social interaction that most of us are missing while socially distanced.

By building and maintaining a workplace community, businesses are not only boosting morale and reducing the risk of burnout, but also creating a culture of support and connectedness that translates into their products and services.

Tips for Kicking Off Your Online Community

 If you’ve read this far, chances are you either have or are planning on building your online community. I’ve pulled together a few tips on managing and communication with your virtual community:

Be Present

Getting to know the people behind screen is essential in making the members of your community feel valued and appreciated. Be sure to give your full attention to your community while engaging – whether you are hosting a live stream, conducting a webinar or just chatting one-on-one – with distractions in abundance, being fully engaged goes a long way. Being present with your community and its objectives help it to successfully grow, which in turn benefit your business. Engagement is a key factor in building long-term loyalty with any community (virtual or not), so don’t miss the opportunity to learn from your customers.

Be Consistent

Once you start your community, be sure to follow through and consistently bring new content to the table as consistency is vital to building and maintaining a healthy online community. This gives community members a schedule and routine, in addition to the feeling that they have a sturdy base to lean on as needed. This all comes back to ensuring that community members feel that they are a priority – because they should be.

Lead Your Interactions with Empathy

It’s safe to say that 2020 has been one for the history books. We could all use kindness right now. Most of our days are filled with monotony and the same scenery over and over again. Not to mention the anxiety and general feelings of negativity surrounding the pandemic. As such, businesses must lead with empathy, kindness, patience and care. Those in your community could use the positivity and will send it right back your way and to those they are interacting with. Whether you’re building your community via social media, a forum or membership site, you want to be as authentic as possible. The internet can be a hard place to navigate and you want to ensure you’re facilitating positive interactions with your community members so they have a safe space to communicate their thoughts and opinions.

Suhaib Zaheer is a small business owner with over 15 years of experience in the technology industry. He currently leads a talented team as Senior Vice President and General Manager at Bluehost, an Endurance International Group company and website and marketing solutions provider. Bluehost is an all-in-one platform that gives small businesses the tools and guidance to create and grow a website with limitless possibilities. As general manager, Suhaib oversees the brand’s operations, ensuring his team is always keeping the customer in mind when developing new tools and content. Twitter: @suhaib_zaheer

Business community stock photo by Syda Productions/Shutterstock