Every business should begin its focus on its audience, the customers. No online community can exist without a firm foundation and if your online community is to truly succeed, you need to know the demographics of your target audience.
What are demographics, you ask? Demographics are the characteristics of your audience. These characteristics are helpful in assessing the changing trends of audience behavior and narrowing down a wide audience into smaller segments.
General categories of demographics use age, gender, life-cycle stage, income, social class, lifestyle, education, religion and location and are collected by varying means of market research. These categories help give shape and definition to your audience and clarify who they are, what they do, their habits and more.
How does a business find out what its audience needs? Ask questions! Engage with your audience to determine what they want, need and desire from your business. This is not a once-and-done type of inventory. Audiences are comprised of dynamic individuals and with time their needs will change organically. Also, external factors applying pressure to the collective audience will also cause ebbs and flows in needs.
By asking and being open to the response from the audience, your business can benefit from knowing not only generically what is needed, but you can gather insighton trends and benchmarks; potential problems or issues; research and development opportunities; product, process and service improvements; crisis communication plans and more.
David Canty, director of loyalty at JetBlue Airways, explains how JetBlue discovers the ever-changing needs of the dynamic members of their TrueBlue community, “We are constantly in dialog with our customers, whether it be online, through email, or face to face. We host a number of customer events all over the country and we use these forums to have ‘human’ conversations about what we are doing well, where we can improve, what would they like and more.
All effective and successful businesses are customer-centric. Without your customers, your business wouldn’t exist. So intimately knowing the needs and wants of your audience can help shape and purpose your business and its future plans. Giving your customers a role and voice in the direction of your business lends itself to creating a sense of community.
As the focus and leader of the community, it is imperative that your business plan is known and understood
by your leaders and staff. How can you expect to rally a community of customers around your business if you
don’t know your own business?
Start with a strategic plan with the goal of mapping out the future based on the needs of now and the
lessons learned from the past. Do you know what your business’s plans for growth, contingencies, expansion,
product and service development, reduction and possible shuttering are?
You should know these answers about your business!
Knowing these answers about your business can lend itself to building credibility as a business within your online community. Audience members learn to trust those representing businesses that know what they are talking about.
You can build that trust by using your knowledge base to answer their questions, listen to their feedback, troubleshoot their issues and—if you can—fix the problems they have with your product or service. Every conversation you have with an audience member is an opportunity to build or destroy your business’s credibility!
Don’t be afraid to ask yourself the following questions about your community-building efforts:
Remember, how you respond to negative comments and complaints is just as much a credibility opportunity as how you respond to the compliments and positive feedback!
While your business can certainly respond to many of the needs of the online community, is it wise for the business to dictate all of the interactions of the audience? Not always.
Consider the possibility that you may not always have the best answer for building the community and may need to let the community build itself. Your customers have the potential to be your best brand ambassadors.
The audience members should be encouraged to build relationships and connections with one another and grow dynamic interactions within your online community. The benefit to you, you ask? Your business is the commonality in the community.
Who can better attest to the viability and relevance of your product or service than the customers? You as a business representative are admittedly biased in your opinions of your products or services and this is limiting. Unbind your community and encourage it to explore the possibilities in the experiences of other audience members!
Recognize and appreciate your community members for participation, brand loyalty, solutions orientation, patronization and for any number of other activities that merit appreciation. Your appreciation will encourage them to come back and visit your online community more frequently, to encourage their sphere of influence to join and even lend itself to increasing their purchasing behaviors with your business!
A few examples of demonstrating your appreciation: