How to build an amazing user community around your startup – even post-COVID

In the early stages of launching your startup, investing beyond product and growth might seem counter-intuitive. But developing a strong community around your startup isn’t just a nice-to-have – it’s also a crucial business driver.

A strong community creates an organic ecosystem to be leveraged in multiple ways; it can lead to easier market research, greater organic word-of-mouth, and an increased sense of customer loyalty. After all, while many startups can build a similar product, not many can replicate the way they make their customers feel – and that’s where the beauty of an engaged community lies.

But in the age of corona virus, getting started with community-building might seem a little more daunting. What would typically involve both online and offline initiatives are that little bit more challenging – but they’re definitely not impossible to get around.

Here are eight tips for converting your customers into lifelong evangelists – even in the age of coronavirus.

  • Create online spaces around your startup. There’s no doubt about it – your customers are more likely than ever to be spending time online right now. Creating your own space for them provides the opportunity for two-way conversations, learning more about their needs, wants, and interests. Whether it’s a Reddit thread, a Facebook group, or a custom-built forum on your website, creating a space for your customers to connect with you highlights how you value their input.
  • And make sure you’re fostering these spaces! One of the advantages of being able to reach your customers online is the capacity for dialogue which will help you tailor your startup’s product around their feedback. Create polls, ask open-ended questions, request feedback when you share new product features – you can even ask customers to vote for what they want to see next! Not only will your customer feel valued, but a lengthier conversation will segway into a better connection and brand loyalty in the long term.
  • Connect with relevant influencers. Influencers are prominent figures within a certain community – whether it’s fashion, tech, or lifestyle – where people trust and value their opinions, with the ability to sway purchasing decisions. This is exactly why you should consider leveraging influencers to grow your own community quickly and effectively. Not sure how to start? You could ask an influencer to host one a community event, or take part in an Instagram Live interview. Read our influencer guide on how to build your strategy.
  • Create an exclusive email list. Belonging to a community connotes an air of exclusivity, and creating an email list is an effective way to build a strong sense of it. You can use the email list to send newsletters and updates, but also exclusive codes and discounts.
  • Host virtual events. While in-person events might be off the cards for the foreseeable future, technology like Zoom enables you to mimic the effect of connecting with your customers face to face. Events might include a behind-the-scenes look at how you built your product, a founder Q&A session, or a panel discussion of key thought leaders in your startup’s industry.
  • But if that sounds like too much work right now, start with the more informal method of virtual meetups. Similar to more formal events, meetups are also a valuable way to get to know your customers, for them to get to know you, and crucially, for them to get to know each other. When you can see someone’s expressions, hear their voice, and learn their mannerisms, you get to know them on another level, building that all-important trust which inspires loyalty.
  • Develop a reward scheme to show loyal customers your appreciation. Rewarding those who regularly engage with your startup is a great way to demonstrate how you value their loyalty. Consider giving discount codes to those who frequently post on your community forums, or who publish user generated content of them using your product. This will keep your customer’s retention rates high, while boosting the chances of positive word of mouth.
  • Share customer feedback and testimonials. Have you received kind words from a happy customer about your new venture? Make it go further and amplify it via your communications. Not only does this encourage other customers to do the same, but it also allows your customers to recognise commonalities with one another, and trust your startup that little bit more.

Looking for more digital communications advice? Check out our article on 10 social media tips for early-stage startups.