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Building a Community Around Your Business

More than ever, businesses need to connect meaningfully with their customers to stay relevant in the competitive business landscape. Roshni Mahtani, Group CEO and Founder of theAsianparent, has built a thriving business by creating a highly engaged online community, listening to her audience, and giving them exactly what they need. She shares actionable ways in which you can start building and sustaining a community around your business.

GAIN ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS TO:

  • Step-by-step actions on how to go about building a community
  • Why stellar user experience should be at the heart of your community
  • Why the best customers are the ones you already have

WHY COMMUNITY MATTERS

Communities are so much more than “just another brand touchpoint” – they represent a priceless opportunity to connect with your target audience firsthand. Building a solid community gives your customers a very active role in your brand’s ecosystem. Instead of being receivers of your brand message, they can help craft it.

Social media has amplified the voice of consumers; and more than ever, their feedback is invaluable. This is what you welcome in your community – your target audience talking about your brand and the things that matter to them. This is where they can raise their concerns and you can address them directly.

I always enjoy attending our mum and baby events, because I get to interact with our mum community in a fun setting, and end up learning so much from and about them. These interactions are in the back of my mind whenever we come up with strategies for theAsianparent. Sometimes, these conversations spin off into new products or campaigns!

THEASIANPARENT STORY

We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, now that village is online.

While we’d attained substantial success with theAsianparent.com, it was when we committed to building our parenting community through events, social media groups, and eventually the app, that we experienced exponential growth for the brand.

Now at close to three million installs, theAsianparent (TAP) app is the hub of our community. What started out primarily as a Q&A platform among parents, supplemented by experts, has since evolved into what we call a “one-stop app” for mums and dads. They can now also access exclusive content and helpful/fun features such as a pregnancy/baby development tracker, nutrition guide, medicine guide, a photo feed with milestone stickers, etc.

An incredibly hard working team aside, what’s behind our success is putting content at the heart of what we do while remaining relevant with tech.

Many talk about User Generated Content (UGC) as if it were a resource, a cog in the content supply chain. But it’s so rich and dynamic that it’s practically a living thing. It’s the beating heart of the virtual community. For us specifically, parents sharing not just advice and parenting hacks, but also their specific and real concerns, is what led to our thriving community and sustains it to this day. This lends authenticity to our platform and what makes it truly useful to our users.

On the back-end, we use data science and machine learning integration in our platform to gain insights into our community. This constant learning lets us tweak our strategy in-line with our ever-evolving community.

FOUNDATIONS OF COMMUNITY BUILDING

Strong communities are built around core principles that define the parameters of how you interact with your audience.

For us, first and foremost is providing a safe space. We’ve always been adamant about publishing non-judgmental content, and our community platforms are no different. Here, mums can share diaper rash photos, questions about sex, concerns about their in-laws, their fears and insecurities when it comes to raising children, or even just how exhausted they are. It may be curiosity (or algorithms) that leads them to theAsianparent, but it’s the support that makes them stay.

Second is to add value. What do the members get out of being part of the community? Is it information? Rewards? Access to content or exclusive events? Discounts? A community needs interaction, two-way communication. If the community reaps benefits (tangible or intangible), it encourages increased engagement and loyalty.

Lastly, focus on experience. Constantly make User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI) improvements. No matter how excellent the content is, it is ultimately ineffective if users are unhappy and frustrated with your platform. Small things like design details or pop-ups or the registration process – these can add to or take from user experience.

HOW TO BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY - A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE

Find a niche

Especially if it’s an online community, break through the clutter by serving a niche. Be unique; attract your audience instead of scrambling for their attention. This involves a lot of market study, so don’t be afraid to do a deep dive into data on what’s already out there. You’ll save time and effort in the long run, alongside streamlining the resource allocation.

Build your brand and infrastructure

I’ve always been passionate about building brands, but it’s when I started thinking like an engineer that I was able to grow theAsianparent to the next level. So don’t shy away from technical details - whether complex or tiny - and hire good talent with the expertise to help you along your growth journey. Again, it goes back to user experience; and while you will be fine-tuning as you roll out, it’s best to get most of it right from the get-go.

Grow your audience

This is the exciting part, though it may require monumental effort from your team. Instead of worrying or feeling hopeless when numbers trickle instead of skyrocket, focus on drumming up creative ways to draw people in.

Refine your product

This is such an important part of community development, yet is also a common pitfall. So much effort goes into building the platform and brand, then growing the community, that there are no more resources dedicated to – simply put – making things better. Study your audience data, get feedback, spot trends, and act on these insights.

Expand

When things are good and settled, don’t get comfy. Think of how you’re going to continue engaging your users, further develop your community and grow the business.

FOSTERING ENGAGEMENT

Engagement is a matter of relevance. Always ask yourself if you’re connecting with your audience in ways that are meaningful to them. Flashy gimmicks don’t hold a candle to genuinely useful content and features. Focus on giving your audience what they need more than dangling things they could possibly want.

As with any product, word of mouth works best in bringing people in. So you should make sure your platform keeps bringing its A game, while also incentivising the action you desire. Make it worthwhile for your current members to invite new ones.

MONETISING EFFECTIVELY

To avoid concentration risk, diversify by having multiple revenue streams. For example, theAsianparent’s revenue streams include display advertising, content marketing, a KOL platform, events, market research and commerce. Remember to make it as non-intrusive as possible for the community.

“Don’t let revenue get in the way of terrific user experience.”

THE DOS AND DON’TS OF COMMUNITY BUILDING

STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST

It is okay to emulate but not duplicate. It may seem like everything’s been done and it’s hard to put forth something truly original, but innovation is limitless. After all, what works for others may not work for you. It’s okay – oftentimes fruitful – to get inspiration from trends in the market, but find a way to make it your own, and meaningful for your community. In the process, learn from the mistakes others have made and avoid them.

For example, when mum influencers were on the rise, we saw this as an opportunity for both our clients and community. Figuring out where the pain points were, we established the TAPfluencer Network, our community of mum and dad influencers. Through this programme, brands can work with multiple influencers at once, instead of tracking them down one by one; and in turn, TAPfluencers get deals without having to reach out to brands. This also adds real mum and dad content to theAsianparent, which is helpful to our audience, especially when it comes to product reviews.

COMMON MISSTEPS

Forgetting current recurring users and focusing solely on new users is a mistake many brands make all too often. Sometimes, building a community becomes this shiny new project, and those who technically already belong in it get neglected. Chasing new members requires far more effort than convincing past and current customers to stay loyal. You have to concurrently put in effort and allocate resources to ensure loyalty among current members.

Most importantly, leaders need to remain in sync with the community. Disconnected leaders will not fully understand the community, which could lead to poor decision-making and implementation of the wrong strategy.

THE BENEFITS OF HYPERLOCALISM

Focus on hyperlocalism where small but active communities are built. While size matters, we see many successful hyperlocal communities with very impressive engagement numbers. An analogy could be how IPOs get all the attention while some low-profile companies are raking in the profits. Ultimately, results are what matters.

NURTURING YOUR COMMUNITIES

The difficulty in building a community lies within resources required and team know-how. Community development demands a lot of nurturing. Even for companies that have prioritised it, sustaining momentum after you’ve gained that initial traction is not an easy feat. At theAsianparent, we continuously gather feedback from our users and maintain engagement to ensure that we are fulfilling their needs, in turn encouraging them to stay within our community.

CHALLENGES YOU’LL FACE

The main challenge you’ll come up against as you build your community is business sustainability. Building a community can be capital intensive, which brings to attention the greater concern of the sustainability of the business. It is important to plan strategically to ensure that the company has sufficient runway while it gradually reaches critical mass.

The second challenge is that there will be a lot of curveballs coming your way. There’s never a dull day in office when you’re growing your community, and surprises come in all forms, from minor mistakes to technological hiccups.

You’ll also be facing intense competition, and this is a constant challenge. It’s not a level playing field and competition can get nasty. It’s difficult to maintain brand loyalty when all it takes is a click to change perceptions and sway users.

The best way around these challenges is to anticipate them and plan for contingencies. Have a budget and team in place, set rules and a community culture, and don’t forget to deliver on your promises to your community so members feel connected to your brand. Always be honest with your community. Don’t hide behind excuses when slip-ups happen. The trust you worked so hard to gain can be lost in an instant, along with your numbers.

STEPS TO TAKE IN 24 HOURS

1. Find Your Niche

If what you’re passionate about already has a few players in, find where the demand is. When I started theAsianparent, I was nowhere close to being a parent myself. But it was such a neglected space – I had to take it.

2. Study Successful Communities – Big and Small

Be on the hunt for best and worst practices. We’ve worked with many brands and organisations, all with their own communities and they all have different approaches. Learn from what’s already out there and create your own playbook.

3. Seek Collaborations With a Related Community or Cause

Why start from scratch when you can synergise and collaborate? Do your research to find if there are opportunities to partner up which would boost your launch plan.

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