When I begin working at booj I was just an SEO. At that point, an SEO was just an SEO. Now we have to be much more than that. We’re made of creatives, marketers, content strategists and data scientists. Those that have to get buy-in turn into salesman, too. The field is much more complex and it’s a lot more hard work than it used to be. We earn links rather than acquire them. We build relationships with our customers. We believe in inbound marketing. We believe in community.

Community building is just a fancy term for building an engaged audience around your brand. Through hard work and nurturing relationships, these people become your brand advocates, your content sharers, your link builders, your blog commenters and your biggest fans.

Seems too good to be true, but if you truly focus on your customer first, not your products and services, you’ll begin to build a loyal following. If you’re always focused on revenue and sales goals, not only will that be transparent to your customers, but you’ll be ignoring your brand. Focus on building a community and it will likely be the best decision you ever make for the future of your brand.

Starting Conversations with Your Audience

One of the most important aspects of building an engaged audience around your brand relies on getting conversations started. Starting conversations can be tricky, especially if your audience is a little… shy. So how do you get that shy little audience of yours to talk? How do you begin to attract more thought leaders to join your community and participate in meaningful conversations?

It’s not easy, but there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re attempting to get more conversations started on your blog and social networks.

1. Talk about your community interests.

This part should be easy! Let’s say you sell or service outdoor equipment. Your customers are interested in a healthy lifestyle and enjoy getting outside to enjoy nature! Your goal should be to become a thought leader in that space.

Therefore, your content could be surrounded on new places to hike or rock climb, great camping trips in the area, healthy recipes, local races, etc. Stick to the 80/20 rule. 80% of your sharing should be topical articles from around the web and 20% should be your own content/messages.

2. Avoiding conversations that end with a yes or no.

If you want to start a conversation, yes or no answers are a show stopper. Rather than “do you love rock climbing?” try “Where is your favorite place to go rock climbing in the Denver area?” People love talking about themselves and their personal experiences, so provide an opportunity for them to do just that.

3. Be responsive and show a genuine interest in the conversation.

It’s very important to respond to your community and keep conversations going. The Director of Community at Moz, Jennifer Sable Lopez, once said something that really stuck with me. She said when Moz was just starting out they would respond to everyone. No matter how many followers they had, if someone tweeted at Moz they would get a response. That’s powerful and no doubt a major factor in the growth of their community.

4. Give away some value and facilitate community participation.

If there is ever an opportunity to include members of your community, do so! This could be as simple giving your community a chance to ask you (the expert) anything they want. This will help you discover interests and start conversations with the topics that matter most to your community.

You could also post a question yourself and let your community know that you’ll include the best answers in a blog post you’re putting together. Not only will you get a crowdsourced blog post, but the prospect of getting name-dropped can drive more people to respond. And again, if the question leads to personal experiences, well then, your might get even more responses.

5. Stir the pot when necessary.

Whenever there is a topic that is timely, slightly controversial and relevant to your community, try to bring it up. Nothing gets a conversation going like a little controversy! However, it’s important to make a strong statement without actually taking a side. You don’t want to alienate any part of your community specifically.

Above all, make sure everyone feels heard. If visitors to your blog or social profiles don’t feel like they can participate or feel like no one is listening to their comments, they may never come back. Your job is to make sure that doesn’t happen. Building a great community around your brand is going to take time and LOTS of conversations. Hopefully these help to get that started.

If I missed anything or if you have your own methods, share in the comments below. I might just have to add them to the list.