Part 5

Build a community

How to create loyal fans 

Community has become one of the most effective business tools of the 21st century, so it’s important to learn the basics. The smart use of community-building tools has allowed brands to connect with potential customers more quickly, deeply and efficiently – and successfully parlay that fan love into sales. Here’s a rundown of what’s in the community toolbox.

Brand content

As opposed to ‘branded content’ such as native advertising, ‘brand content’ is simply that – organic content that your brand puts out into the world, whether it’s a video explaining fun and unorthodox uses for your product or a Medium post written in the first person giving behind-the-scenes insights into your company. Creating such content humanises a brand. Engaging content doesn’t need to be expensive or outsourced – for a video, there’s plenty you can achieve with a decent camera and a light-filled leafy space. The goal is less propaganda and more utility: what do people need and what valuable content can I provide them?

Word of mouth

It’s incredibly difficult to engineer good word of mouth – yet few things are as valuable to your brand as satisfied customers recommending your business to friends and family. For east London-based kombucha brewers Jarr, the process is intensely local. ‘For any new startups or existing businesses, always make sure you know who your local community is and talk to them,’ says the company’s director Jess Seaton. ‘It’s an important symbiotic relationship and ultimately, they will be your first-adopters and advocates.’ Jess adds that Jarr always looks to its community first for employment, too – ‘you’ve got to engage and support your locals first!’

Your customers are savvy and understand how important it is for your brand to get the word out. A simple message asking if they’re satisfied can be effective. This could be as easy as a follow-up email, a fun message printed on a receipt or clever and  ) cheeky messages during a check-out process on a web shop (or at the point of sale in a brick-and-mortar shop).

Social engagement

Organic engagement on Twitter and Facebook is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge, as social media companies constantly tweak their algorithms to generate more revenues. Recent research by social media analytics agency Locowise, for example, showed that in April 2019 a post on a Facebook page was seen by just one in 18 of its followers if it wasn’t supported by paid media. To make the most of the community-building opportunities offered by Facebook it’s worth budgeting to boost some posts to ensure your best content doesn’t get lost.

Instagram’s algorithm is also updated periodically so it’s necessary to keep up to date with the community guidance. Including relevant hashtags is good – there are differing opinions, however, on whether posting such hashtags in the post itself or in the ‘first comment’ is more effective. Be careful: peppering posts with too many hashtags could be reported as spam and lead to you getting temporarily banned from posting.

Above all, social community building takes time – lots of it – and it can be tempting to take shortcuts by buying followers. This isn’t a good idea; not only does Instagram specifically mention that it’s against their community guidelines but your followers will work out quickly what you’re up to and your credibility could be damaged.

So-called ‘influencer marketing’ can potentially be effective if done carefully, but is more often than not a minefield with uncertain ROI. If you want to experiment, try bypassing celebs who get vast sums for brand plugs and connect instead with ‘micro-influencers’ – people with far smaller follower numbers (fewer than 50,000), but high levels of engagement – and find out how you can work with them. It can be surprisingly affordable. Beyond a straightforward brand mention, effective strategies are product giveaways, competitions and exclusive discount codes that the influencer can share with their followers.

↓ KEEP IN MIND

If you’re tempted to leave yourself a great review online, think twice. Known as ‘astroturfing’ (i.e. the opposite of grassroots support), it’s not only unethical – it’s intensely humiliating for businesses when they get caught out.

Case study

Patch

Founded in 2015 as an online store for Londoners who want to add houseplants in their indoor and outdoor spaces, Patch has made a name for itself with a series of plant care videos billed as a ‘houseplant parenting course’ and an ‘urban gardening course,’ all fronted by journalist and gardening writer Alice Vincent. Franky Athill, the company’s Head of Marketing, says that these have been ‘fundamental’ to building the Patch community. ‘Sharing engaging educational content with our audience is key to their success as plant parents, and therefore to our customer lifetime values,’ he says.

‘When we approached this problem, we found that search queries like ‘How to water a houseplant’ pulled up thousands of wordy blog posts and related books on Amazon, but no punchy video tutorial.’Quality content should be promoted – something else that Patch has tackled. ‘We send the courses to all our email subscribers and customers, while they also soak up search traffic on Google and YouTube,’ says Franky. ‘We’re considering a Facebook Messenger version of the course too, because it may work better than email for some of our customers.’

Case study

Guthrie & Ghani

Lauren Guthrie, founder and director of haberdashers Guthrie & Ghani (G&G), was a finalist in the BBC television show Great British Sewing Bee in 2013 – the same year she opened her Birmingham shop with her husband Ayaz Ghani. The attention from the primetime show helped the brand get off to a flying start – six years on, the business is thriving, with healthy online sales, a series of in-store workshops, and a newly-launched product: monthly sewing kits, which were an instant sell-out.

Lauren and her team have since worked hard to build a community, via videos and blogging, regular email newsletters and constant updates on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. ‘Having a community of customers who feel that they can come to G&G for advice, help and support with their sewing and dressmaking questions and share their sewing adventures with us is really the heart and sole of the business,’ she says. ‘With competition online very strong I think as a business just being there and selling stuff just isn’t enough.’

Lauren has converted her community into a customer base by trying to understand them and see the world from their point of view. ‘I’ve tried to work out what obstacles they might have to sewing and dressmaking, what they are thinking and feeling and what issues I can solve for them.’

Her advice for startups looking to build their own communities is to identify your goals and be consistent. ‘Find the style and personality that represents your business and what you are all about so that customers can feel something they can relate to and can connect to,’ she says.

Partner Content: Mailchimp

“Mailchimp’s marketing platform makes reaching new customers even easier”

At Wingback, founder Alasdair MacLaine designs and makes men’s lifestyle accessories the right way. Which often means the way things used to be made.

I started the business in 2014 as an antidote to fast fashion and throw-away products. It seemed like a real problem that so many things you buy only last a couple of years, then need replacing. Wingback has become a cherished independent brand for leather and metal lifestyle accessories, and we’ve done it by focusing on long-lasting materials and iconic designs.

Mailchimp has been part of Wingback’s story right from the beginning. “I launched the business by crowdfunding, and needed a way of communicating with around a thousand people who believed in the vision. Mailchimp just made everything so simply. It was a pleasure crafting those first launch email campaigns.”

From speaking to other small business founders, Alasdair knew one of the hardest things at the beginning would be driving website traffic. “We used Mailchimp to make our email subscribers into brand ambassadors, and it became the biggest source of new customers after word of mouth. Thanks to Mailchimp’s CRM and analytics, we’ve been able to drill down into understanding exactly who our audience is. That’s helped us reward customer loyalty, for example, giving our best customers first dibs on new products or special editions.”

Wingback is now using the all-in-one marketing platform features to reach more people. Alasdair and his team spent the last six months or so building the strongest, healthiest list possible, and the new landing page feature – part of the marketing platform – has been really powerful.

“We’ve been able to partner with like-minded brands to create bespoke landing pages where people can join our customer list by entering a competition. Anyone who’s run that kind of partnership will know, there are all sorts of regulations related to GDPR that you need to be aware of. Mailchimp has all the compliance built-in – it’s just unbelievably easy. And the user-friendly interface is really simple to use. The results speak for themselves: we gained nearly 5,000 new subscribers, and using a segmented approach to follow up with info about our brand and products, I’m thrilled to say that most of them are now actively engaging with our newsletters, and many have bought their first Wingback items.”

This Courier Workshop guide is brought to you by Mailchimp