I’ll just say it: a strong e-commerce business doesn’t focus on profits. Let me clarify: it doesn’t focus on profits exclusively. Instead, a profitable online business is built on community.

A strong community is the foundation for a successful e-commerce business. It generates sales, fosters growth, and turns your business into a brand. Read on to find out how.

Why does community matter for online businesses?

So why exactly should your e-commerce business start building a community? For a start…

Customers want to be part of a community

People like feeling part of something bigger. Take a look at the fan base of any major sports team and you’ll find a community of passionate individuals who live and die for them. Jerseys, caps, bumper stickers — people are proud to show their allegiance.

The same applies to your e-commerce brand. Your customers typically share the same interests or characteristics, and are active within your niche.

Your online store brings these people together under one banner, validating them and engaging them with your business. This, in turn, strengthens their love for your brand, increasing their chances of purchasing again further down the line.

Traditional ads only go so far

Consumers today are more ad-savvy than they were 20, 10, or even five years ago. They know when they are being sold to, and can detect a sales pitch from a mile off.

Consequently, traditional marketing methods such as paid ads or product copy only go so far in convincing customers to part with their hard-earned dollar. While they still play a vital role in your marketing efforts, you shouldn’t solely rely on them.

Customers instead look to a brand’s community when they’re researching a purchase decision. A brand that provides great content that delights or informs is a brand that customers can trust.

It creates powerful social proof

In this digital age, social proof is vital. Customers have a wealth of options at their fingertips for researching a brand, from Trustpilot reviews to social media. Consequently, your brand perception is vital for generating new customers.

So when an online store has a strong community behind it, it creates its own social proof. It nurtures a positive perception across review sites, social media channels, and word-of-mouth.

A good e-commerce community willingly sings your brand’s praises. When they receive good customer service, they tweet about it. When they receive a product they love, they share it on Instagram. And when their friends ask for recommendations, they’ll mention your brand by name — this is all money in the bank for your online store.

It makes your brand stand out

E-commerce is a saturated business.

With a low barrier to entry, affordable online store builders, and a plethora of easy-to-use marketing tools, anyone and everyone can become an e-commerce entrepreneur. Indeed, e-commerce is almost a commodity. It’s possible to buy or sell a business with ease — literally, entrepreneurship you can buy like a loaf of bread.

Consequently, it’s difficult to get yourself noticed. But a strong community transcends that, giving your digital business depth. It makes you more than just an online store — it makes you a personality, a resource, a collective of like-minded individuals, invaluable in such a competitive industry.

How to Build a Community

So you know why community matters for your e-commerce website. But how can you build and nurture yours?

Discover who your customers are

Firstly, find out who your customers are. It sounds simple, but it’s worth taking a deep dive into. Communities are all about people, so put people first.

Do some consumer research to find out what makes your customers tick. A trawl of your social media analytics will throw up their shared interests, highlighting what they care about outside of your brand.

Your keyword research also gives you an insight into your customers. It reveals what your target market searches for online, highlighting their pain points. Use this to inform your community building strategy, giving it direction to appeal to your customers’ wants and needs.

Spread yourself across social media

If your content strategy is the backbone of your community, your social media presence is its hub. It’s the most important touchpoint with your customers, and it is through social that they will most frequently encounter your brand.

Post regularly on social media. As well as sharing your blog content, post updates or questions to your customers (Instagram’s Stories feature in particular is great for this). React to real-world events and invite your followers to share their thoughts. Indeed, you could even share their own content on your social channels as part of a UGC strategy, great for strengthening customer love for your brand

For more ideas of what to post on social media, check out our round-up of ideas: 27 Types of Social Media Posts to Engage Followers 

This goes two ways too. Respond to their comments and be genuine — it is this that turns you from a business into a brand, a personality that cares about your customers’ input.

Create a content strategy that appeals to your customers

Your brand’s content is the backbone of your community. It’s where you outline your brand personality, contributing to your customers’ experience and perception of your business.

Create content that your customers want to read — the research you did in the step above will inform this. Comprehensive keyword research generates plenty of ideas to help create an editorial calendar that delivers value to your customers.

The key to a community-driven content strategy? Diversity. Your content should span:

  • Industry updates: set up a Google Alert for industry news and simply rewrite them for your own content.
  • Intriguing infographics: use a free infographic maker to turn hard stats and data into visually-appealing content.
  • Inspirational quotes: find a thought-provoking quote, select a royalty-free image, and then apply a text overlay and hey presto! Instant feel-good content.
  • How-to guides: use keyword research tools to identify commonly-searched queries made by your customers, and then create comprehensive guides that answer them.

These are just a few examples for inspiration — as long as it directly appeals to your customers and what they want, it’ll strengthen your customer community no end.

Start a charitable initiative

Nothing rallies your customers quite like a charitable initiative. Every brand worth its salt has a social or charitable commitment as part of its business strategy. Doing so shows that you are invested in your community, willing to give back and contribute. As well as strengthening your community by associating with a good cause, charity collaborations boost your brand equity — highly valuable for your business.

For e-commerce brands, implementing a charitable commitment can be as simple as donating a percentage of your profits to a nonprofit. Alternatively, you could go bigger with fundraising events or a dedicated product line to raise money for your charity of choice.

The key here is to find a charity that aligns with your customers’ ideals. Obviously, every charity has its merit, but certain demographics will be drawn to certain charities. For example, an online pet business would naturally partner with an animal protection charity.

The key to a profitable e-commerce business in 2019? Community. Focus on building a following of loyal, locked-in consumers, and enjoy the benefits of your community for a long time to come.