Everyone who sells online already has a "tribe" whether they've actively built it or not. Of course, by that we mean your current customers, your previous customers and the shoppers who drop in but don't actually buy.
Building a tribe is not rocket science. Like all relationships, follow the Golden Rule
In working with John Lawson, aka ColderICE, on his breakout book, Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs, we gained a lot of insight into the subject of finding your people online and keeping them close.
The book is an essential tool for anyone who pursues social commerce, but for this article, we talked to a group of e-preneurs who, like Lawson, have found success with their own methods of reaching their customers.
Follow the Golden Rule
"Building a tribe is not rocket science. Like all relationships, follow the Golden Rule," says Anna Copley co-owner of PickleballCentral.com. "Treat people the way you want to be treated. Take responsibility for the relationship."
It's hard to get a concept older than the Golden Rule, but then that's why the rule is so golden. You already go out of your way to provide exceptional customer service to the people who shop with you. It turns out that many of the sellers who spoke with us are still using relatively old approaches in our new way of life.
It starts with customer service
Nothing tops great customer service. The better you treat your customers, the more "good buzz" you build. That's true of both the people who have shopped with you already and those who browse and are thinking of buying. Copley shared with us an email from a shopper who did go on to buy from her.
"Thank you for helping me decide which paddle to purchase," the customer says in the message. "I love this paddle! It's helped my game, and I tell others that notice I have a new paddle about the great customer service I experience when I make purchases at PickleballCentral.com!"
Notice the plural "purchases" in that last sentence! Not only did Copley's staff make this sale, they now also have a loyal new tribe member who is happily offering the best form of advertising for a business: word-of-mouth.
A human touch helps
Sam Oh, founder of Moneyjournal.com, agrees it all starts with good customer service.
If your tribe gets the sense that you are solely out for their wallets and not to genuinely help them, don't let the door hit you on your way out
"Solid customer service converts leads into sales," he explains. "It seems obvious, but after analyzing sales patterns, I found that 34 percent of the people who asked a detailed item-related question pre-sale, purchased the item within 24 hours of receiving a reply."
It's an old story that some people just need to talk to a human before they can actually buy, and Oh took this as an opportunity, not a dam in his revenue stream. He also made good on another old-time e-commerce recommendation.
"Use offline marketing to keep customers online," he recommends. "From the very beginning, I created a simple website with an opt-in for my customers to get updates and exclusive offers. I printed a fancy postcard-sized letter and mailed it with each package. After customers had opted in, they were encouraged to share with others more personally."
Did these old ways pay off? "Both referral and return business were contributing factors to well over $500,000 in third-party sales over my nine-month experiment," Oh says.
Forums work, too
If you sell a niche product, there is another old-school tool you can use to build your tribe. Long before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the rest, the dinosaur online services such as CompuServe and AOL offered forums where people gathered to share information and opinions on specific subjects.
These forums are still alive and well today, and they are rich in potential customers who are passionate about your products.
"A website with a niche product or service could easily build a community on a Web forum," suggests Sean Gallahar, social media director at i7 Marketing. "These forums bring in a group of people with a common interest. This type of tool allows not only a place for discussing topics of interest, but also allows for exchange of information. And a place that allows exchange of information can easily attract new audiences and grow the community."
People become loyal to others who take a stand and lead a movement. This requires a certain amount of courage because you need to share your opinions and points of view
Since you most likely know more about your niche than any customer, here is an opportunity for you to shine as a trusted and well-respected expert in your field.
That, of course, means you enter these forums, or any social media outlet, with the intention of giving more than you get. Making yourself a trusted part of your own tribe can only happen when the tribe members value what you know more than what you sell. So, get into the neighborhoods that your customers occupy, and be a great neighbor.
"Actually care about them," adds Meredith Liepelt, owner of Rich Life Marketing. "Ask your followers what they need, what they care about, what they are struggling with and what they are celebrating. If your tribe gets the sense that you are solely out for their wallets and not to genuinely help them, don't let the door hit you on your way out!"
Be the expert
In nearly all things online, you're told to depersonalize your responses to your customers, remembering that you're the professional and rising above the opinions of the disgruntled or chronically dissatisfied. Well, here's a chance for you to be the thought leader you are and shine a bright light on all things relative to your products.
"Take a stand," Liepelt recommends. "People become loyal to others who take a stand and lead a movement. This requires a certain amount of courage because you need to share your opinions and points of view. That means some people will love what you have to say and others will not. But pure vanilla isn't interesting, and doesn't build a tribe and create word-of-mouth buzz in the same way that salty caramel or lemon blueberry do."
You already know you're not going to please everyone every time, so you might as well make yourself known for the thought leader you already are.
Listen to their input
When my customers continued to ask to see how I style my own accessories, I created a fashion blog to show them
Sandy Bodeau of Sira & Mara accessories did just that and found success by literally putting herself in the middle of her tribe. Bodeau designs, creates and sells affordable accessories.
"In the three years since I founded my company, I have learned that developing your own voice and listening to your customers is what made Sira & Mara popular on social media," she tells us.
Since affordable fashion is a big part of who Bodeau is, she posts a lot of pictures of herself wearing not only her jewelry, but her day-to-day outfits.
"I make a point of sharing this with my customers," she reports. "Similarly, when my customers continued to ask to see how I style my own accessories, I created a fashion blog to show them. The fact that they see their input put into work has helped us build a very loyal fan base."
So, from the old-school ways of popping postcards into packages to the 21 century tool of creating a blog so you can better share your expertise with your tribe, the old constants are still true: Treat others the way you wish to be treated, enter relationships intending to give more than you take and, as Oscar Wilde once said, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."