For years I have been stalking my friends when they were on vacation with texts or emails saying “Hi! Hope you’re having fun! I know you want to send me a postcard, my address is …”. Of course, I also sent them colorful pieces of cardboard whenever I went someplace nice.
Then I found out about Postcrossing, an online community of people who also enjoyed this hobby and so I finally stopped pestering my friends and begun to happily send and receive snail mail from willing individuals. It’s been awesome and I am very proud to say that I am a postcrosser (yes, that’s a word, we made it up).
The wonderful thing about online communities is that they bring people with similar interests together even if they are very remote in geographical terms. Information gets disseminated quickly and there is a lot of sharing happening all the time so these virtual venues are truly gold mines for marketers.
Businesses have long understood the potential of these online communities
When it comes to market research, a report from back in 2015 showed that fifty percent of market researchers were already using online communities in scoping their audience. An additional 34% said they were considering launching online communities for research purposes.The social business market, which runs largely on community platforms was expected to reach $23 billion by 2019. Advisory firm IDC expects the worldwide online communities market to reach $1.2 billion by 2019, representing a compound annual growth rate of 24.3 percent.
I don’t have the numbers yet 2019 is not over yet but by the look of things, the predictions were correct. Online communities are this huge and taking advantage of their existence to promote your online course is the logical thing to do. Here are some tips on how to proceed.
Learn from them
Before even attempting to sell something via online communities, you should hear their input on products or services similar to yours. Companies pay big money to get relevant focus groups together and pick their brains. If you find your target audience organized in an internet-based form it’s compulsory to ask them about what they would like, dislike, what interests them and what they are already tired of hearing.
Us post crossers, for example, are of great use to postal services around the world whenever they are looking to change, update or introduce a new process. Everybody goes to the post office at least a couple of times a year but on that platform are the few who pay a visit every week and who really depend on those services.
You’ll find that when asked about something of interest to them, people are more than happy to provide you with feed-back.
Learn about them
„Know your audience” is the motto of every instructional designer on the planet. Content and form matter but since learning is meant to drive behavior and that has to do with the individual to whom the course is addressed, knowing that individual in depth is paramount.
Online communities give you the opportunity to get some first-hand, in-depth information about your target audience: you may very well be reaching out to the right people by using basic demographics such as age, gender, and income, but these communities enable you to learn more about their perceptions, their experiences, their values and their general attitudes.
Furthermore, it will give a very good glimpse of how they communicate, what kind of messages have the greatest impact so you’ll know how to talk to them as one of them. The principle of liking is very powerful where persuasion is concerned – we tend to like and listen to those who appear to be most similar to us.
Build strong relationships
Many large companies are now trying to build online communities for their customers in order to gain their trust and build long-term engagement and retention. It’s not easy when you are a multinational corporation, having to abide by all the values and communication rules the board decided upon.
To a freelancer, however, this should come naturally since adaptability is one of the main skills you have to muster in order to make it and stay on the market. Becoming known in this communities in spite of limited (or nonexistent) advertising budget will lead to a high level of trust between you and the (other) members of the online community.
Engagement runs a lot higher in these environments than in social media or as a result of timely promotional campaigns. Getting involved in online communities and later using these spaces for marketing your online course can bring great results.
Online communities are a tremendous source of important information about your target audience. They facilitate a continuous dialogue between you and them and provides valuable insight on both sides. Furthermore, building a trusting relationship is the key to effective marketing.
Raluca Cristescu has over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.