Turning Your Website Into a Web Community

 In Web Strategy

“Companies and their brands need to reach out and speak directly to consumers, to honor their values, and to form meaningful relationships with them. They must become architects of community, consistently demonstrating the values that their customer community expects in exchange for their loyalty and purchases.”
-Simon Mainwaring

What’s the purpose of the Internet?

This isn’t a question that’s often thought about; with most people caught up in today’s overwhelming variety of online experiences, it’s quite easy to miss the forest for the trees, so to speak. When you think about it though, the answer is patently obvious.

The Internet is about connecting people.

And connecting people is about community.

In some ways, this underlying principle was easier to see in the earlier days of the Internet. Even before webpages and browsers existed, the Internet consisted of primitive chat rooms and forums, each an idiosyncratic community unto itself. In this day and age, internet communities take much more interactive and sophisticated forms, from social media websites to mega-forums like Reddit. Nevertheless, the underlying theme of connection has stayed very much the same, and almost certainly won’t change any time soon.

But what does this mean for your personal or business website?

The Power of Community

Gone are the days where having a static, brochure-like website could be considered a successful web strategy. While that might work for the Thai restaurant down the street, your business or cause deserves better.

(And frankly, so do the folks down at that Thai restaurant.)

An effective web strategy goes beyond just disseminating information; it should engage your users in meaningful and constructive ways. It should inspire conversation about your company or cause, both online and in person. Most importantly, it should turn your website into a social point-of-interest; a proverbial landmark worth visiting and talking about.

The punchline follows naturally: effective web strategy involves fostering a community of people around your site.

While there are tons of ways to build a community around your website, here we’ll talk about just two: creating exclusive member content and leveraging social media.

Creating and Managing Membership Content

Perhaps the most obvious way to build a user community is to actually have people register for membership to your website. This generally involves providing personal information in exchange for access to members-only content, which can include forums, documents, webinars, etc. This is such a common approach that the average person (myself included) probably couldn’t list all of the various sites that they have accounts on.

Having your users register for a member account is a great way to give them a sense of belonging to your site and to collect leads for potential follow-ups or campaigns. However, there is a golden rule when it comes to setting up a member registration system:

People will not provide personal information unless they’re getting something in return.

This “something in return” can be interpreted loosely; it could be subscription to a monthly newsletter, access to a members-only forum, or even a free PDF download. But it has to be something. In an age where the average web user contends with an inordinate amount of spam advertising and lives under the constant threat of identity theft, it’s hard to blame people for being picky about giving away their personal information. Convince your users that your membership registration process is safe and worth their while.

Using Social Media Effectively

Without a doubt, the meteoric rise of social media over the past decade has dramatically changed the way that companies engage with their customers. In this day and age, you’d be hard-pressed to find a major company that lacks a social media outlet, even if it’s a neglected Facebook page or Twitter account. However, for better or for worse, we’re still in a period of relative infancy when it comes to social media. Most of us, people and companies alike, are still learning how to use these platforms responsibly and effectively.

By far, one of the most common social media mistakes that companies make is choosing quantity over quality. Sure, that massive list of social media icons might look impressive on your website, but what is it actually doing for your company? Or, more importantly, for your customers?

When incorporating social media into your web strategy, choosing quality over quantity can make all the difference. Be picky about which platforms you choose; they should be relevant not only to your business, but also to your customers and target audience.

For our friends over at the Thai restaurant, an Instagram account showcasing their menu and restaurant decor could be a real benefit. A Twitter account, however, probably wouldn’t be a great fit unless the restaurant had some great need for a syndicated feed of news and updates. Every social media outlet involved in your web strategy should serve a purpose; in the eyes of your users, an idle or irrelevant account is oftentimes worse than no account at all.

Take the First Step

Ready to improve your web strategy and engage your customers through community-building? We’d love to help!

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