Stephanie Baiocchi is the director of audience engagement and community at IMPACT, an inbound marketing agency. She is a speaker, the co-leader of the Chicago HubSpot user group and hosts The IMPACT Show podcast.
Beyond engaging with IMPACT’s Facebook community, Stephanie coordinates email strategy, works with the sales and marketing teams in content creation, and ensures users’ personal data is respected, organized, and personalized.
Stephanie’s current goal is to grow her community, and she is well on her way to achieving it. This year, IMPACT’s online community has grown from 1,500 to 5,000 members — from marketers and business leaders to individuals looking for feedback.
Stephanie says the more people you have in your community, the more perspective you have.
8:13 “An online community is a place where people can come together around a common purpose to accomplish a goal.”
Stephanie has also started an affiliate community for IMPACT’s most active community members called IMPACT Insiders. It rewards active members with small gifts and incentives, and maintains group engagement.
When I met Stephanie at a Wine & Web in Chicago, she sent me her Online Community Management Guide, and I wanted to learn more. The in-depth document walks through how to create branded communities online and on social media.
Audience vs. Community
Stephanie stresses the difference between audience and community. An “audience” indicates a group of individuals who are interested in your business — from prospective customers to stakeholders — but are unaware of each other.
11:02 “While your audience is really just focused on what you have to say, your community is focused on and aware of each other.”
So, a “community” refers to a two-way user experience, involving conversation, questions and the development of relationships and bonds. Stephanie says there are typically two ways to tell if a business has a community rather than an audience:
- If you see recurring people engage with your business — like commenting on your social media posts, responding to your emails, or coming to in-person events.
- If people create an online community of their own initiative around/involving your business.
Benefits of Online Community
Building and maintaining an online community looks like a lot of work. So, why would someone invest time in it?
14:42 “It costs five to twenty-five times more to acquire a new customer than to just retain the ones you already have.”
Stephanie outlines three main benefits online communities give their businesses:
- Build trust.
- Foster retention and long-term customer loyalty.
- Act as a research tool.
An online community can cut research costs by immediately providing you with an accessible sample user base. Users can ask and answer each other’s questions, and the community tends to provide a more transparent glimpse into how people actually view and interact with your business.
For example, when people ask questions in your online community, others naturally will join the conversation and share their honest experience, thus lending outsider objectivity to your business or product.
19:31 “That conversation is going to happen regardless of whether or not you have a community. So by building and maintaining that community, you get to be a part of that conversation, you get to know that it’s happening, and you get to contribute to it.”
Social Media Alerts vs. Online Community
While online communities require attention, time, and dedicated personnel, just like maintaining a social profile, they also provide a more interactive relationship.
Stephanie says you can use online alerts to monitor when your business is mentioned on social media. However, this doesn’t necessarily allow you to see and confront issues as they arise in real-time. That’s what sets online communities apart.
- You can see and confront issues as they arise in real-time.
- They are scalable.
- They allow you to know the reasons why your content or products resonate with people.
- You can build professional connections and network through online communities.
Relationships take time to achieve intimacy. Is intimacy possible in online communities? And is it possible they can produce real relationships beyond utilitarian terms?
Stephanie says yes. Scaling friendship is synonymous with community building. And because of online community, she has met a large amount of people she otherwise wouldn’t have met, and she even sees some of them at in-person events.
35:15 “We talk about ‘How can we scale friendship? How can we measure high fives?’ You can’t — it’s so hard. But that’s what makes us so unique because if you can do it and do it well, you are going to be successful and you’re beating out a lot of competition really easily.”
When to Start an Online Community
She also acknowledges that not everyone should build an online community, but there is a situation in every business for which an online community could be beneficial. You should create an online community when:
- You need to build trust.
- Other people are forming their own opinions of your brand without you in the conversation.
When shaping your online community, Stephanie emphasizes that:
- Your business doesn’t have to be a specific size to have an online community.
- Depending on the goal, having a smaller community can be more beneficial.
- To ensure only qualified people enter your community, create qualifying questions for admission into the online community.
If you’re interested in starting an online community for your business, Stephanie recommends:
- Look at what other online communities in your industry and elsewhere are doing.
- Assess the competition. Join a few communities for a short period, ask questions and see what responses you get.
- Read her Online Community Management Guide.
Stephanie makes a great case for the possibilities online community can bring to your business. If you dedicate time and personnel to faithfully managing your online community, Stephanie outlines how that community can build positive relationships with consumers, save you time in the long-run, and let you get to know your consumer base better.
The bottom line is: online communities help you control consumer conversations.
Stay tuned for a follow-up podcast with Stephanie about my firsthand experience joining the online community at IMPACT.
More about Stephanie:
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