Long story short: if you have any doubts or questions then you shouldn't grow a community for your business.
Why? Try to make 10 strangers on the street sing and ask others to sing along. Building a community is like this, but even worst: you don't have eye contact and you need to convince 100 times more people. To grow a community you should not only attract a new audience (which is a challenge itself) but also make these people talk with each other. But texting with strangers is insecure, unpredictable, and takes energy and time, so it's not obvious why at all people should do it.
It's the hardest way to make sales through social media, so if you have any chance to achieve your business goal with other kinds of social media activities you should use them.
If building a community dramatically increases sales, it means the communication between participants gives some value that leads people to make purchases. If people communicate with each other, it means they have a strong reason to do this and handle all the negative emotions (fear, shame, insecurities, etc).
So there are two main questions: — why will people communicate with each other despite the negative aspects? — which value does regular communication gives to people that encourage them to make the purchases? (Pay attention: not with you, but with each other. It's obvious how regularly communicating with you or your company will increase sales, but it's not a community.)
To understand this let's go deeper into theory and see what communities are and how they could affect participants.
Ridings et al (2002) define communities as groups of people with common interests and practices that communicate regularly and for some duration in an organized way over the Internet through a common location or mechanism.
Hagel and Armstrong (1997) define communities as a group of people drawn together by an opportunity to share a sense of community with like-minded strangers having common interests.
Whittaker, Issacs and O'Day (1997) identify the core attributes of communities as:
— a shared goal, interest, need, or activity that is the primary reason for belonging to the community;
— repeated, active participation, and often, intense interactions, strong emotional ties, and shared activities among participants;
— access to shared resources, and policies determining the access to those resources;
— reciprocity of information, support, and services among members;
— shared context of social conventions, language, and protocols.
So we can see that to be able to name some social media account as a community followers should:
— have common interests of participants
— communicate with each other regularly.
To define the communication characteristics we can use several classifications of communities.
First, we can separate communities types by consumer needs (Armstrong and Hagel 1996): — transactions: facilitate buying and selling of products and deliver related information. — interests: bring together participants who interact extensively with one another on specific topics such as interior design and gardening. — fantasy: create new environments, personalities, or stories. People can explore new identities in imaginary worlds. — relationships: formed around certain life experiences that are often very intense and can lead to the formation of deep personal connections.
Second, we can separate communities by type of communication: one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many (Rothaermel and Sugiyama, 2001). It's about the format of interactions: how many people participate and how exactly. One-to-one — it's like texting in messengers. One-to-many is like lectures or live. Many-to-many is like a mastermind/support group.
And third, we can use the classification by Lazar and Preece (1998) that offer four different parameters: — attributes (shared goal or interest, strong emotional ties, access to shared resources, language, etc) — supporting software (Newsgroups, Facebook groups, telegram chats, etc). — relationship to physical communities (geographically-focused groups, online scholarly or hobby-based communities, etc) — boundedness (tightly bounded community — where a majority of the social relationships take place among the members of that community; in a loosely bounded community, community members have more social ties with people who are outside of the defined community).
So to build a community you should clearly understand the characteristics:
- Consumer needs (choose the main one: transactions, interests, fantasy, relationships)
- Type of communication (choose the main one: one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many)
- Attributes (mark all the options that provide the reason for being a part of the community: shared goal, shared interests, shared access to resources, shared activities, language, emotional ties)
- Supporting software (list all the software that separates participants from other groups)
- Relationship to physical communities (is there a relationship to any physical offline community?)
- Boundedness (choose the one option: tightly or loosely bounded community).
This is a good start to understanding what exactly you build and how to do it more efficiently. Use it as a checklist.