Lessons On Virtual Community Building Strategy I Learned During the Pandemic

image of multi-colored buildings against a pink hue sky as banner image for article on virtual community building strategy - lessons, tips and advice

Assuming the role of Head of Growth has been an interesting challenge. But it’s one I was eager to take on.

I’ve always preached the power of building organic traction rather than just relying on paid acquisition. I could go on endlessly about the compound benefits of organic growth over all others. 

But this has been an opportunity to really roll up my sleeves and experiment from the lead.

I knew before I even started I wanted virtual community building to serve a central role in our growth strategy.  

I became a huge proponent of the power of community after using the lockdown period of the pandemic to focus on creating a personal brand. The number of professional opportunities that came my way exploded over time. 

So my thought was, wouldn’t this be so much more powerful if I was funneling all of this experience into building something long lasting? 

This thinking drove me to start a podcast on community building. It’s given me a forum to talk to experts in this area and to share what I’m learning.

1. When you start, it’s not about community building. It’s about joining one.

Customers aren’t waiting for you to rally them to join your cause. They’re out there, living life and focusing on concerns of their own. 

And they’re already members of several other communities that they’re passionate about and invested in. 

So when you’re first starting out, the best move is to go meet them where they’re at. Join communities where your customer already engages, but as an individual, not as a “brand.” Put in the time to get to know them and develop relationships.

Read another post: How Wattpad Community Marketing Led To 90M Users & A Netflix Hit

For PromoPrep, we have a platform that lets marketers build out calendars with all their campaigns and content in one place. Complete with file uploads and analytics. 

So that means finding communities for marketers. Which luckily, as a marketer, fits naturally. 

But I’ve also worked for companies where our customers were developers, CRM admins, or hospitality executives. And I had to do a lot of work to figure out how to sound like I belonged in those communities.

But there’s no better way to show that you aren’t there just for your own selfish purposes than to truly try to connect. And offer value without expectation.

2. Virtual community building isn’t just business. It should be about aspiration.

Not many brands are truly good at offline or virtual community building. To be honest, I could probably count on one hand the number of brand communities I think I belong to. And still have fingers left over.

It’s more than just getting a good customer return or retention rate. It’s about people truly getting invested, inspired, attached on some emotional level. 

Apple is an obvious example of this. They’ve got fans for days who love the dream that comes with the pristine aesthetic their products carry. Owning Apple is a sign of social status.

But it’s also possible for B2B brands. 

Salesforce does a tremendous job of creating interwoven communities that instill a sense of pride in being a Trailblazer. They’ve got communities for users who are developers, marketers, sales people, parents, different ethnicities or nationalities, etc. And they all tie back to the larger brand mission while transcending just usage of the software itself.

3. You have to give people a damn good reason to keep coming back.

Forming a community is the start. Getting people to join is another thing. But having people continue to return is the real challenge. 

I make plenty of purchases, but in most cases I’m not thinking about anything beyond that moment when I buy. I’m not going to give more of my time because there’s nothing more to the “relationship” than the purchase. Or if something breaks.

In thinking of some of the tools I use for work, most of them are pretty handy. But with most I’d be just as willing to switch to a competitor for a better rate.

The exceptions are tools like HubSpot and Zoom. The combination of customer-centric features and ease of use provide big draws. But I also love that they’ve continued to evolve their tools over time in response to feedback.

Read another post: How Zoom’s Customer Experience Strategy Positioned Them For Brand Success

Focusing in on HubSpot, they offer incredible free content and resources, free tools in addition to the paid ones, and certifications to make my resume look better.

Your brand may not be as big as HubSpot. 

But whether B2C or B2B, you still really have to think about:

A – What makes my brand sticky?

B – What do I offer beyond just a transaction of goods or services?

C – What can make my brand stand out from any others in the space?

4. You have to show up and lead every day.

Once a community exists, you can’t expect the members to do the heavy lifting. Your community members aren’t your employees, although employees can certainly be members. 

One of a community’s strengths lies with how it’s moderated. 

You know how at certain parties, most people just stand around listlessly trying to figure out who makes the first move.

You’re the host.

You’ve got to crank up an expertly curated playlist, be the first on the dance floor showing people the steps to the electric slide, make everyone feel welcome to get a plate of food, etc.

Read another post: An Incredible Brand Building Example You’ve Never Heard Of

You need to provide a sense of purpose, direction and motivation.

To get people dancing and to keep them engaged. 

In addition if your community has certain values, you need to protect and reinforce those. If your members don’t feel like there’s a sense of order, you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed by toxicity or a culture that doesn’t align with your brand. 

Perfect recent example. The New York Times established a Facebook group that was supposed to focus on cooking. But the community grew to 77k members and became more of a burden than NYT was willing to carry as they faced issues like trolling, racism and an overabundance of dog photos. 

So finally they removed their brand and abandoned the group to members who volunteered as substitute moderators.

Don’t make the same mistake. You need to lead at all times, every day. By your guidelines.

Read another post: TikTok & Netflix Prove Impact of Improving Content Distribution Strategy

Interested in getting more content like this? Sign up for my newsletter and get fresh insight delivered to you weekly.