We have all heard the sayings like “Your vibe attracts your tribe”, we all know that an engaged social media community is key to online success. But how exactly do you go about building an online community? What does it mean to have a successfully engaged community?

For a brand, your community is the number one reason to join social media. Not only is your community made up of current and potential consumers, but it’s also where you will find both brand advocates and brand ambassadors – people that can help amplify your messages to their networks ensuring your reach spreads way beyond that of your own connections. A great many studies have underlined that people trust recommendations from friends and family over brands, so these social media advocates are gold for businesses.

An online community is simply a group of like-minded people that have gathered together around a common interest, idea or goal. It builds as people find your content and your brand and begin to engage with it. That engagement can take many forms, depending on the social media platform – it can be simply following you, or it can deepen to include sharing and promoting the content you put out, and talking about your brand both online and off.

One of the most important elements of building community is maintaining two-way communication with your audience. I’m a huge advocate for treating online and offline relationships in exactly the same way – when you meet someone new in person, you introduce yourself and you find out what you have in common, how you can relate to this person. You take an interest in them and find out what THEY are interested in. There’s no difference when you meet people online – if you’re running the social media for your company, you aren’t above or outside any of the community members. You’re one of them, the same as everyone else.

Creating meaningful relationships online means you will be doing a lot of listening in the beginning. You want to find out what’s important to the other members, what they want to know and then you’ll be more better able to crafting and share content that provides value to your followers and fellow community members. Yes, your content will sometimes talk about your company and your product, but the focus needs to go far beyond that. You’ll be focusing more on the personal interactions, rather than broadcasting information or talking at people. You’ll need to be able to respond to all comments and questions that come from members of the community, not shying away from anything negative they might bring up. In fact, sometimes negative feedback is the best way to learn and grow.

At first your followers will be just that – people that have gathered because they heard about your brand and want to learn more, but if you nurture each relationship, they’ll turn into loyal community members.

So what’s the next step? How do you keep your community interested and engaged?

Here are some of tips based on my experience:

1. Provide High Quality Content

The most important tip I’ve learned is that it’s not ever about you. It’s about the community. You want to consistently provide the highest quality and most relevant content possible.

Content varies. Sometimes it can take the form of a how-to, or it can be something inspirational that will resonate with your community members or something written or shared purely to entertain – the key is to listen and talk with people long enough to find out what they want, and then provide that to them in a unique way.

2. Maintain Consistency

Do you disappear after posting an article until the next one comes out? You want to build trust and let people see that you’re someone to use as their go-to source of information, so being consistent in your messaging and responses is important. Consistency goes beyond posting schedules, it means that all your messaging is the same, no matter who it comes from in the company. It means that you do what you say you’re going to do and always follow through, that you’re credible and working to build trust through being who you portray yourself to be.

3. Honestly Care About Your Community

What if suddenly everyone in your community jumped ship and went to follow a similar brand? Your company would be no more. The people in your community are your brand’s lifeblood, and when considered from that perspective, it’s easy to be grateful for each and every one of them. So let them know.

Respond to each comment or post. Remember that people have millions of choices of what brands to support and they’ve chosen yours. We’re all busy, but they’ve taken the time to chat with you. Show people your gratitude. Maybe that means re-posting a blog post they’ve written, or asking about their day when they’ve posted about having a tough time. Again, this is no different than how you’d treat an in-person relationship with a friend. Say thank you when someone shares a photo or a post. A simple acknowledgment can make someone’s entire day.

Remember that all relationships take time. There’s no overnight success when it comes to building, nurturing and growing an online community. There are ebbs and flows and sometimes people leave. Prepare to work really hard at these relationships, but know that the time spent will be worth it.

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