How to build a dedicated online community of users
Using newsletters, forums and social networks to remind customers you're there
It’s not enough to get customers to visit your site once. You’ve got to get them to keep coming back and build a loyal community of users. But how do you remind them that you’re there?
By using tools such as bulletin boards or newsgroups, scheduled on-line chats, and electronic mailing lists, you can develop a community of users who return to your site even when they aren’t ready to buy something. Each time they return, they are exposed to your new products or special offers and in turn give you increased traffic numbers to boast to your advertisers about.
One way to get visitors to return to your site is to send out a newsletter by email. If you can visitors to give you your email address this is really cost effective way of reminding them of your presence.
However, the newsletters have to be more than just page shouting ‘come back to our website!’. You need to offer a hook. If your site contains editorial content then give a headline and a brief outline of your latest feature or news story. If you run an e-commerce site then use the newsletter as a vehicle to showcase your latest special offer.
Be careful how often and who you send the newsletters too though. Send them too often and you could start to annoy your customers. Likewise if they haven’t given you permission to send them regular emails they may just view your newsletter as spam. Let them know how to unsubscribe to the newsletter too, preferably with a direct link at the end of your email.
Forums and discussion groups
Another way to build up your site’s online community to in take part in forums and discussion groups. This doesn’t have to take up much of your time. By joining a forum or discussion group that is relevant to the type of visitors you attract to your site, you can direct more traffic back to you. If there’s a question of a forum you feel you have the expertise to answer, put your views forward and include a link to your site at the end.
However, avoid asking people to directly visit your site, as this will not only come across as spam, but may also get you banned from the forum or group.
Social networks are transient and what occupied the top spot a few years ago may not be the same network to focus on today. The main thing to remember with promoting your business via social networks is to direct your efforts towards the space your customers are congregating. If your product or service is aimed at company MDs, you’re probably not going to gain a lot of traction through youth network Bebo, but a business-focused network such as LinkedIn could prove useful for making valuable contacts. Used effectively, social networks such as Twitter and Facebook can be an excellent way of interacting with your customers. For tips of using social networks to promote your business read more on Harnessing Social Media.