Launching a business is an exciting challenge, but it always comes with adversities to overcome. Elements such as low brand awareness, smaller budgets for marketing and the realisation that headcount is a huge expense can make it difficult to change the world straight away. If you and your team can engage and collaborate with your early adopters in the right way through an online community, you’ll start to open up lower-cost options for success. Let’s look at three ways in which a community can bolster your small business.
Creating a group of trusted advocates
For smaller businesses, your customers have more of an impact than for larger corporations – each and every one is important for your success. During our time at giffgaff, we made sure to create a way in which we could talk directly to our members and discuss elements from behind the scenes. By being transparent about the challenges we experienced, it created a genuine sense of trust between members and the staff team.
Once this trust was built, we could be very frank about how our (now advocating) members could help us to succeed as quickly as possible. We collaborated on processes to refer friends and family, how to present products & services on the website and how best to use marketing material. Members actively wanted to help us succeed and their input saved the brand money on support, marketing, innovations and even site & app development. We found that highly-active members also referred many more new customers to us than less-active people. It was their success as much as ours.
Your strongest (and cheapest) source of customer insights
Customer insight is essential in order to innovate in the right ways. Market research and large surveys are conventional ways to gather valuable data, but this can be a challenge for smaller organisations where budget and reach are more difficult resource-wise.
By asking your community members for their feedback during your launch and/or new product development, you can gain incredibly useful learnings at a lower cost than traditional methods that help you shape things better in a collaborative way – beneficial to any startups trying to operate as economically as possible. You can introduce dynamic feedback loops with your community, ensuring they are involved at every step of the process. In our experience, product/service discussions through a community always allow for quicker product iterations than conventional insight tracking and market research. Members are engaged with the brand and have developed trust with you, meaning they’re more inclined to steer you in the right directions with practical feedback. Win win.
Fig 1 – A simple community feedback loop
Ensuring you have a customer service network
Finally, it’s important to ensure your business has a great support network, especially in its early stages. It’s much easier to lose a customer than to gain one. However, you might not have the resources to create your own large customer support team. This is where community can naturally come into play, even if it was built for a different purpose.
You can apply work you do to strengthen insight tracking and advocacy towards a constructive support strategy. Your members are best placed to help you highlight where support is needed, how it should be structured & presented and where support material may be missing that you need. It’s essential to ensure you’re on the right track with your support content. Collaborate with your members on what they need and expect.
Members can also collaborate with each other on the topic of support. With the right engagement approach, your community team can educate members on how to help each other, as opposed to needing conventional customer service platforms. You can allow members to create their own content individually or in groups, which can be verified by the brand and circulated to those who need it. Members gain a sense of fulfilling ownership within your brand’s network while also helping others to resolve issues and, hopefully, turn newer members into advocates themselves.
You’ll notice that through each of these 3 points of focus, transparency with your network is a common theme. When your business is small, you need to focus more on building relationships and trust by being open with your members in constructive ways. At Standing on Giants, we’ve seen first-hand how important transparency is for small businesses and how it has helped them grow into major industry players. A community is the most powerful and cost-effective way to achieve this.
Community Business Developer
“I’ve been part of the Standing on Giants’ team since its launch but started my career at giffgaff. I then spent a number of years working as O2UK’s community head where I worked very closely with their highly-engaged member group. I now help other organisations realise the power of community – Something I love doing. Community behavioural analysis and member profiling are my passions and I really enjoy settling differences for the common good.
When I’m not working, you’ll find me watching sci-fi, walking my dogs and exploring old antique stores but never buying anything.