A few years ago, Facebook announced it was redefining its focus to prioritize on building a productive, supportive, and inclusive global community.

Many support groups have popped up on Facebook since that announcement, helping people improve on their mental and physical health, parenthood, weight loss, and other life journeys. Many brands and solo entrepreneurs have also been successful in community building — not only creating value for their customers, but also growing their businesses.   

Community marketing is not easy. It takes time and effort to build a community that aligns with the brand values and augments your marketing and sales strategy.

Ready to build yours? Follow these four simple, yet important, steps on the way to creating a powerful community:   

1. Start with a meaningful purpose.

Until recently, the number of followers a brand had on social media was an indicator of its success. But when it comes to building a community, quality is much more important than quantity. It’s better to have a few dedicated followers who engage with — and advocate for — your brand than thousands who only clicked ‘like’ once.

The key is beginning with a meaningful purpose. Before starting your own community, you need to identify how your brand positively impacts the lives of others. Using this example as the foundation, create a conversation with your customers to get to know them better so you can better meet their needs.

For example, if you are a personal development coach who helps women thrive in the workspace, start with identifying the challenges and issues your audience struggles with most and begin a discussion around those issues. Always look to create content that helps your customers, as opposed to crafting brand-centric sales pitches. Your customers should always be at the center of your work.  

Then, as more people join your community, your small group of ‘first’ followers will become powerful advocates that continue to build on the original mission.

2. Create a safe place.

Often, marketers forget that leaning on a community involves a sense of vulnerability. Members are turning to the community for help with their doubts and concerns. They deserve to do so without fear of judgment.

To create a safe place, communities need to be built on mutual respect. As the person representing the brand and managing the community, it’s up to you to set and enforce rules that ensure truth, transparency, and compassion.

One of the easiest ways to establish such an environment is making sure everyone’s voice is valued and heard. This means promptly responding to comments and questions from the members of your community. Even if you don’t immediately have the answer, let people know you hear them and invite other members of the community to contribute their wisdom.

Also, take time to moderate members’ comments and engagements. While you should not tolerate members who are disrespectful, sometimes, people will have comments or questions that do not align with the community’s values. Respond by educating them about the purpose of your group and why it’s important for all members to behave fairly and appropriately.

3. Make offers, not hard sells.

As with all relationships, a community involves give-and-take. What people say about your brand provides you with valuable feedback to help you succeed. Giving back to community members is essential.

However, it’s important to avoid creating a brand-centric community with content focused purely on generating sales. If you’ve nurtured your community properly, the sales channel will deliver. Offering your community members exclusive deals is a better way to say thank you.

Structure your offers so they uniquely meet your community’s needs. If you know they’re interested in new products, they will appreciate getting early access to your product. If your community is motivated by experiences, organizing a free event is more likely to engage them. For example, one of my clients, Calm, an app for sleep, relaxation, and mediation, adds value with activities they coordinate within the Daily Calm Community, such as hosting online retreats.

4. Don’t do it alone.

One mistake many marketers make is thinking they’re the only one in the community who can build the brand. Every member plays their part. Whether it’s telling a friend about the brand or engaging in an online forum, each individual can contribute.

Find high-potential community members by paying attention to who is most involved with your online groups. Who comments daily? Who shares your posts on their profile? These members might be good candidates to become your community moderators to help you on your community journey.

While they are unlikely to have a lot of experience managing communities, they do have the most important qualification: they trust and believe in your brand. There are plenty of resources and groups that educate admins you can go through with them (for example, this Facebook Power Admins US community). Even if they’re merely monitoring comments and passing on timely information, having additional assistance from your community will make your brand stronger and allow you to continue to grow.

While, for many marketers, Facebook is the platform of choice for community-building, you can adopt the community fundamentals for other platforms that work for your brand. For example, in the B2B space, LinkedIn is the one to watch as the professional social media network brand. It is redesigning the ‘groups’ function to help people interact in groups focussed on their professional interests.