How to Build an Online Community?

A strong online community around your event also causes your events to come to life online. But how do you build a strong community? I ask social media expert Sofie Verhalle.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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A strong online community around your event also causes your events to come to life online. But how do you build a strong community? I ask social media expert Sofie Verhalle.


Hi Sofie.


Hi, Kevin.


Welcome to our studio. Today’s topic is communities. If I start a new business or I organize an event, how do I build a community?


Well, if you start a business, you probably will have to start from scratch. It depends. If you start from scratch, find people who are interested in the service that you offer or the things that you do. Often, let’s say, if you’re a wedding planner, you won’t be the first wedding planner ever. So people are already interested in weddings, in things about organizing a wedding. So you probably can find existing communities in which you can tap into. Let’s say on Facebook or why not maybe databases to which you can send emails. If you’re already active, if you’re business is running for a bit, then probably you have clients. So you have email lists or maybe have a Facebook fan page.


But an email list, is that a community?


Well, a community is seldom something which stands alone. So it means that if I’m your Facebook fan, I might also be interested in your email newsletter. I might also be interested in buying your services, which is what you actually would want. So it’s one of the touch points that you have with a potential customer or customer. So use your email databases, for example, to get, let’s say, people engaged on Facebook. Or ask them for email addresses on Facebook or if you have an event, ask them for an email address. And build a funnel around that. Have people get your invitation in their mailbox and have them confirm, for example, on your website. So a community can consist of a number of people offline and online. And online, for example, mail and Facebook or Twitter and your website.


And you mentioned Facebook, Twitter; is it always Facebook or Twitter? Or how do you choose the platform?


Well, in fact what you have to do is you have to find your audience. If you’re targeting young people who are, let’s say 13 to 18, they’re not really active on Facebook. So it would be better to go on channels where they are active, like Instagram, for example. Or, if you want to build something, a community around cycling… there’s a very large community on Facebook as well as Instagram. So try and choose the communities where they already are to connect with them. But mostly in general, Facebook will be your best bet because it’s the largest in terms of number. And the activity is high, and it is has ages from 13 up till, well, let’s say 75. So if you’re going for the broad audience, Facebook will probably be your best bet.


Okay, you convinced me, I made a Facebook page, what now? Because I want some interaction.


Yeah. Facebook isn’t stand-alone, so promote it where you already have a connection with clients. So make sure that if you have a shop, it’s in your shop. Make sure if you have an email newsletter so you can attract people. And make sure that you start building that community. So attract people. And on the one hand, you want people to come, but once they’re there, you want to entertain them and you want to keep them engaged.


Yeah, I want to get likes, comments, all those stuff.


Exactly. The likes is the first step. You want them to be a fan of your page. But actually the like in itself doesn’t have any value unless you get the engagement. So the likes on your posts, the comments, the shares, are equally important. Because what Facebook does, it has an algorithm. And Facebook thinks, well, we have to build meaningful relationships between brands and consumers. So if you have a page, very well, and you have one hundred fans, well done, and now get them engaged. The better you engage your audience, so the more likes that you get, the more reach that you get, the more people who see your message. Because for every hundred fans that you have, Facebook will say well, we’ll show your message to, let’s say, organically 30% of your fans. Unless you have really good content, you get really good engagement, then we’ll show them to 50 or 60%. And to get the remaining 40%...


You have to pay them.


Well, they want you to advertise, yeah, that’s true.


Okay, what about negative feedback? Because as a community manager, I like to put messages online. But then there’s that annoying guy coming back with difficult questions. How do I handle him?


When people ask you difficult questions or they’re trolling, they are leaving negative comments, just because they like leaving negative comments. Make sure that you have a script, so that you know, okay, if this is customer feedback, we have a number of possible answers. Someone has visited an event and there was a little problem with the parking, for example, okay, I know what to answer. The thing you want to do is you want to find a solution quickly which is positive for the client and which is positive for you as well. Why? Because it’s in public. So you want to get a good interaction. And you want people who also read that message to see okay, they answer quickly, they answer professionally and they’re focused on finding a solution for the customer. So getting the customer happy is very important to them. And in those scripts, make sure that you have a troll option as well. If people leave you very hateful, negative comments, what are you going to do? One of the options is to have a disclaimer. Saying okay, racist, sexist comments won’t be allowed and we will remove that. That’s very extreme. Sometimes you have this grey zone in which you actually ask a client, okay, what seems to be the problem, I don’t really know what your question is. What you can do then is take it privately. So have a private message going and saying, okay, could you give me some more information. And then when everything is resolved, 90% of the cases you will be able to resolve the matter, take it in public again and make sure that you close the bracket. So people see, okay, they are engaged, they respect privacy, but in the end I’ve noticed that they actually try and solve the problem. So in most cases: respond, stay calm, and try and solve the problem.


You mentioned before that you need to entertain your community. That means you need to make content, I suppose?


Yeah, it does.


It sounds like a job, a challenge, to foresee this content.


Lots of marketeers think that they have to hire a copywriter who has to write an article every day. Let’s say you have to have a minimum of three articles per week.


Three per week?




That’s already a lot.


That’s already a lot. Three is the absolute minimum. If you can’t reach it, then you have to question if Facebook is the right platform for you. But, what you could do is there’s already a lot of content about the theme and the topic in which you are involved. Let’s say you’re a dog groomer. People write about dogs all the time. There are lots of funny videos about dogs. There’s lots of information about health when it comes to dogs. Or adopting dogs. So actually, there’s on the internet a vast amount of content already made. So, what you can do is one of your three items per week is something which comes from other articles, other websites, which you share. You don’t copy it, you share it. You mention the source.


Don’t steal it, you mean.


Exactly. What you could also do is try and find, let’s say, a very active community on Instagram and share nice pictures that they have made about their dogs. You use a generated content, and you put it on your Facebook page. To actually give something back to the community and show, well, it doesn’t always have to be about us. Our brand, our product, our event. But it’s actually about you, this theme, and that topic. So try and get a kind of variation between what you write, find good sources which you trust, which offer great content. And try and share that content and get the engagement going that way.


Okay, that’s a good one to conclude with Sofie. Thank you very much for coming over.


You’re welcome.


And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.