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The secret of a strong business is a strong community — that’s been the case for centuries.
Think about a general store in the Old West, a Renaissance book dealer, or a small local coffee shop. Every business relies on those regulars who care about them. But the internet has broadened that scale, creating bigger communities with more staying power.
Alexy Goldstein knows a thing or two about building communities. His health and wellness company, New U Life, has a strong worldwide community of people that believe that these products have improved their quality of life. They hold events together, frequent discussion boards, and talk about supplements on social media.
Goldstein has a few tips for anyone wanting to build their own community:
1. Be Authentic
“People have an eye for snake oil salesmen,” says Goldstein. “You may be able to fool them every now and then, but you can’t do it forever. That’s why it’s important to be authentic. No one wants to be lied to.”
You have to actually care about the people in your community to be able to reach them. And you’ll find that if you do really show that care, they’ll talk back to you. If all you’re exchanging is money, it’s a transactional relationship, not a community. To build those ties you have to offer people something more.
Apple is one of the best-known examples of this authenticity. Their products were tied to their founders’ beliefs from the very beginning. Steve Jobs’s insistence that products be made to address needs that people didn’t even know they had yet built a following of people who would buy every new product that Apple put out.
They were convinced of the company’s design philosophy. And Apple’s success is tied directly to the biggest benefit of authenticity: if you’re authentic, people will do your marketing for you.
“You won’t convince everybody,” Goldstein notes. “And in some cases, it’s probably better you don’t. Being authentic often means you won’t reach every market segment. But you’ll reach the people you need to reach.”
2. Build Platforms for Communication
Famous marketer Seth Godin wrote a book about building communities, calling them “tribes.” Godin noted, “A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
No community is complete without a way to communicate. To create a community, you have to give people ways to get in contact with you — and you have to communicate yourself. “Content marketing is just marketing now,” says Goldstein.
“You really have to be putting yourself out there, creating content that people want to read and establishing your company as a thought leader. You need to harness social media to spread that message. And you need to give people ways to get in contact with you too. Communication is a two-way street.”
Building platforms for communication usually means one major thing: a strong social media presence. Social media is one of the primary means for building platforms.
But you have to remember that when you’re on a social media platform, you’re simply occupying space created by someone else. To truly build a lasting community, you want to be able to speak to people directly.
And that means finding ways to talk to them via email, phone, snail mail, or in person. Build out content and landing pages that capture those things and then use them to create conversations. Get a regular mailing list going, and you’ll be on your way to a real community.
3. Listen, Listen, Listen.
“Just like in sales, finding what people really need starts with listening, not talking. Take on what people are telling you and you’ll find it supercharges your business. If you’ve built a community, people will literally tell you what they want from your company and your products,” says Goldstein.
Some of Goldstein’s best-selling supplements owe a debt to customer feedback. And New U Life makes a point of listening to their social channels, feedback they get from their sales team, and anything else that comes back from their ever-expanding community.
There’s a large network of people who believe in New U Life enough to sell their products and pass them on to family and friends, and the company sponsors big events for these people — both virtual and in person — to create the opportunities for two-way conversations.
4. Demonstrate Value
“At the end of the day, a successful company comes down to two things: do people like you? And do they think you’re good at what you do? You can have one and not the other and fail,” says Goldstein. “But if you have both, you’re not only going to have a successful company, you’re going to have a community of people that will do a lot of the legwork for you.”
Think of a company like Patagonia. Sure, Patagonia’s authentic commitment to the environment and enjoying the outdoors shines through in everything they put out. But it wouldn’t matter if it weren’t for the fact that they make incredible products that serve their customers’ needs perfectly.
Community Takes Work
There is no magic bullet for building community. It takes authentic care for your customers. It takes building platforms for two-way communication. It takes listening to what they find important. And it means giving them something valuable for their time and money.
It’s not a hard formula — in fact, it’s the formula for successful relationships in any arena. But it takes work. Companies like New U Life are willing to put in the hard yards, and they’re reaping the benefits.