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Are You Doing These 3 Things to Foster Brand Community?

It's never too late to course-correct and treat your customers as if they are welcome guests and members of a valued community.

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When Bird scooters started popping up in towns across America, an opportunity to earn money came with them. The unseen people keeping Birds running are freelancers who gather the scooters during the night, charge them and deliver them back to their roosts by morning. Bird claims that becoming a "charger" means entering an empowered of night owls. But those who have tried the gig felt no such belonging.

opolja | Getty Images

Some chargers signed up expecting a fun way to make extra money only to find a system wrought with fraud and frustration. Bird's success is dependent on enough people buying into the idea of joining the charger community, making them more like members than employees. But when fellow chargers essentially steal income rather than share, it only drives people to invest in their own scooter.

What consumers want.

Bird, as well as many other startups, is missing out on the extensive benefits of a community. For the average consumer, being a part of a community creates a sense of belonging and the opportunity to share positive experiences with likeminded people.

This brings better retention and engagement, more purchases and better insights into what consumers want next. Research by the Content Association revealed 40 percent of people (58 percent of customers aged 25 to 34) in a branded community in the U.K. will spend more on the brand. And 37 percent of community members stay loyal and aren't lured away by attractive competitors.

Many companies with the resources to develop a community aren't doing it. Some companies perceive that memberships are beneficial, so they simply label customers as "members" without creating the right environment to deliver on the moniker. Offering "exclusive member benefits" in an email blast doesn't equal a community, and consumers know it.

Related: Tips to Build an Awesome 'Harley-Davidson Style' Online Community

Startups also tend to get so excited about their cool new idea and getting the first "yes" from consumers that they overlook the value of continuity and the second "yes." The significance of the second "yes" is especially undervalued for subscription-based businesses where recurring revenue is assumed (but not guaranteed).

This is really important because retention is critical to long-term success. Research from Bain & Co. shows that just a 5 percent increase in retention can increase profits by 25 percent to 95 percent.

It's not just startups that struggle with developing a meaningful community. Even seasoned brands completely miss opportunities to capitalize on something that might be right under their noses. It's never too late to course-correct and treat your customers as if they are welcome guests and members of a valued community.

Here are three ways to get started:

1. Take your time with onboarding.

Don't slam new community members with a single in-depth welcome packet. Take a deep breath and spread out the onboarding over the first few months.

Slack has fantastic software that feels human as it explains itself to new users in simple, digestible steps. The interactive platform engages users without overwhelming them, attracting and retaining a growing number of people. Since 2016, Slack communities have grown 2.5 times to more than a million members.

Put yourself in your new members' shoes. What's going to make them want to be engaged in the community? What delivers on the promise you made to these new members when they first said yes?

Parse your potential member engagement points, and create a step-by-step guide to making the most of each of those opportunities. Then, follow up to make sure the invitation to engage was accepted.

Don't wait until you are about to ask for a second "yes" (a renewal, for example) to do the work of onboarding. Get going on it immediately after that first "yes," and spread it out over the "honeymoon" period to make your new customers feel welcome and empowered to use their fresh new community.

Related: 5 Examples Your Brand Can Follow to Build an Online Community

2. Compare feedback now and later.

An effective way to measure and improve retention is to ask about member experiences early and continue down the line, right up until asking for renewals or additional purchases. Compare answers and track changes to continually gauge your customers' of your brand.

This listening is especially important with publications. Health- or hobby-oriented newsletters are conducive to community building, but they have a history of not engaging with their constituents, therefore missing out on better retention rates, better ancillary sales, deeper engagement and conversions from free subscribers to monetized customers.

Blue Apron attracts many new customers, but McKinsey & Co. research found that the company had a churn rate of 40 percent, with more than a third of its customers cancelling subscriptions in less than three months and more than half within six.

Never assume your new members understand what they signed up for. It's your job (and opportunity) to guide them and reinforce their decisions at all the critical points in the relationship.

If your retention is lower than you want, you likely failed to deliver in one of two key areas. If you did not live up to the promise you made in getting the first "yes," take a look at your acquisition messaging and see where you fell short on delivery. Or it's possible the perceived value did not live up to expectations. For example, let's say you rolled out a promotional "free trial." If the value didn't meet perception, getting customers to pay full price later will be an uphill battle.

Related: How to Really Hear and Use Customer Feedback

3. Show gratitude early and often.

Saying thanks without asking for anything in return is perhaps the simplest way to connect with customers and build loyalty. Pet supply brand Chewy is focused on not only delivering value through products that simplify the busy pet owner's life, but also delivering fantastic customer-centric engagement.

In one testimonial, the company refunded two months' worth of prescription cat food after the pet passed away before the food arrived, encouraged the customer to donate the food to a shelter and even sent a bouquet of flowers and a note expressing condolences for the loss.

Obviously, you can't anticipate every opportunity for engagement, but make sure your front-line staff members know they are empowered to do (almost) anything it takes to make the members feel heard and valued. Nothing turns members off faster than to think their community is tone deaf and driven by policy and not by people.

Fostering a meaningful community takes more thought than banner ads and weekly newsletters, but community ties are a powerful force that can sustain your company after early-stage excitement fades.

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