Online community building as a marketing tool

Online communities aren’t just for big brands. Building an engaged audience around your brand can pay huge dividends for organisations of all sizes. 

Why? Because instead of limiting your communications to sales messages, you’re starting a much wider conversation. With time, this can attract a much larger pool of interested prospects who are receptive to your other marketing. 

What is a brand community?

When you hear about community building, you might think it refers to recruiting die-hard fans who love to talk about your brand on social media. However, most small businesses will struggle to find very many of those! That’s because people don’t really talk about brands, they talk about what interests them. 

Successful brand communities understand this, and they don’t push products and services. That said, you still want to attract the sort of people who might buy from you. So how do you strike the balance?

Let’s say you’re an online fashion retailer. There are lots of ways you could start building an online community of people who fit your ideal customer profile. You could start an Instagram community for people to share outfit ideas. Or, you could publish a compelling fashion blog, or set up a private Facebook group where people turn for advice. 

The key is to create content that goes beyond what you sell but to keep it relevant to the general theme of what you offer, while always giving value to the community.

Community building example: The Trainer’s Training Company

It’s not difficult to see how a big business like Starbucks can mobilise a community. They have a ready-made audience for their popular and very comprehensive Starbucks Rewards program – everyone loves coffee, right? Especially if it’s free!

But what if you’re a small business starting your community from scratch?

Sharon Gaskin is the owner of The Trainer’s Training Company: a community of freelance trainers. Community members interact in closed and open Facebook groups. They are also invited to join exclusive virtual events such as webinars.

The community is marketed through SEO, content marketing and an active social media presence. 

The community message is pitched to a very specific audience, and there is content for people at all stages of their journey. If someone isn’t ready to join one of the Facebook groups, they can sign up for the newsletter or read a blog instead.

It’s very clear when you arrive at the website that if you’re a freelance trainer, this community is for you. 

This is the key lesson for small businesses: it’s not about attracting millions of people; it’s about attracting a smaller, focused, and highly engaged niche audience.

Getting started: building your own community

There is no shortage of digital platforms, channels or content types. For this reason, it can be difficult to know where and how to start building your own online community.

The first step is to try to put all of that aside, and simply focus on your audience. How can you best help them? If you run a decluttering service, people would likely follow you to learn how to organise their homes. 

If you sell to new parents, they might prefer a group where they can share common challenges with each other.

Once you know what problem you’re solving, the decisions around platforms and content should be easier to make.

Facebook or LinkedIn groups are great for encouraging conversation between users. Instagram and Pinterest, on the other hand, are better suited to visually focused communities, e.g. food or travel. It’s about choosing the platform and content that best serves the purpose of the community you want to build.


If you would like further help with your business’s social media strategy, please explore our selection of social media training courses. We’d love to help you get your business visible on the right platforms!

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