Digital Marketing

Building An Online Community

Colleen Thornton


Every business has two main entities: its brand and the people who are interested in it. Both are continuously evolving. As Shopify partners, we know that on one hand, you get to decide how you want to portray your brand and the type of audience you want to reach. But on the other hand, as you may have noticed, you don’t have a lot of control over whether people actually like your brand enough to engage with it. 

Engage is the word of the day here. It’s not an add-on, a part-time strategy, or a weekend warrior in the world of e-commerce in Ireland or anywhere else in the world. Engagement is the backbone of your online community.

There are many ways to engage with a brand, which you’ve probably realised as a consumer. You may be familiar with a brand and tell other people about it. Perhaps you follow it on a particular social media channel. Maybe you’ve bought the brand’s service or product once or twice. You might even be a regular customer. 

Think about all the brands you physically engage with throughout your daily life: your morning coffee or the French press you use to make it. Your top-of-the-line trainers for your workout. Your mobile phone. The food you eat and the stores you buy it from. The list goes on and on. Now imagine that each of those brands has an online community, that is, a group of people who follow, digitally engage with, and buy from it. 

You don’t even have to imagine it because they do. Every single one of those brands has an audience. They somehow managed to target you, and you may not even be aware of how your engagement with any of them began. Chances are they organically popped into your life through word of mouth, as the result of an online search, or because they placed the right ad at the right time using the right words, and you happened to see it and were compelled enough to pause and notice. 

All three of those vehicles that garnered your attention to a brand––recommendation, organic search result, targeted ads/PPC––are effective, necessary, and not as hard to cultivate as you might think. They’re also not an exhaustive list of engagement strategies. As ecommerce website specialists and designers, we’ve learned that there are dozens of ways to attract and build an online community.


You have control over your audience to a point, and that’s because there are two types of communities:

  1. A branded community to which you hold the reigns, such as on your website through a membership basis. Here you can control the collection and management of data.
  1. Social communities that contribute to your brand’s reputation. Here you can influence––not manipulate––that community narrative about your business.

As you might have experienced, the public perspective of your brand can be a great thing or a nightmare, depending on what people are saying and, as a business owner, how you handle their engagement. The opposite of a great reputation isn’t necessarily a bad one, it’s a lack of one. Quality of engagement isn’t everything, presence is. 

Now that doesn’t mean you should strive for engagement at any cost (obviously you don’t want negative attention). Rather, expect that some attention isn’t going to be all that great, but how you manage it can be the difference between 100 new followers or 1000 new haters because we all know that people love to share bad news. 


Know your target audience and what they’re about. 

That means you need to understand them. How do you do that? Listen to them. Who are you listening to except crickets when you don’t yet have an audience? The customer avatar you construct. 

Imagine the one person and one person only with whom you wish to connect. World-famous business coach Marie Forleo recommends this as a necessary and powerful activity around which you build all of your brand’s communication. Where does that person live? How old is he or she? How does she behave? What does she love? What does she hate? What does she like to do, read, eat, wear? Is she a let’s-go-camping kind of person or a luxury-hotel traveller, or somewhere in the middle? What size shoes does she wear and what does it feel like to walk a mile in them? 

Then you want to know some deeper stuff. What does she need, like deep down at the soul level? What makes her crazy with desire or insecure about her life? This is not to prey on those vulnerabilities, but rather to better understand her in order to market your product or service appropriately. Once you have a sense of who this significant person is you can begin talking to her. (For the sake of ease, we’ve chosen ‘she’ as the referent).

Showcase your customer and keep an eye on your brand, not the other way around.

Create targeted, interesting content that speaks to who your customer is and where they’re at. 

Notice how we didn’t write “solve the customer’s problem?” That’s for later. Remember, engage is the word of the day. But let’s not forget that your content must still link the customer to your product. You’re not in this business because you’re interested in analysing behaviour, and you have to keep an eye on your brand. 

While some people say that your content should showcase your product or service, we think that’s a narrow approach. Your customer wants to read something interesting and informative, that impacts her life in some way. Contrary to popular opinion, the goal is not always to get her to buy from you. Instead, you want to engage her as effectively as possible, keeping in mind that effective doesn’t mean all the time

Providing your customer with useful insights, how-tos, and other types of content (see a list of examples below) makes your brand “sticky” in that it stays in her mind a while. And as she responds or doesn’t respond, you’ll develop a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t so you can adjust your approach. Then she’ll be more likely to buy from you when she’s ready. 

We want to highlight a concern common to all types of e-commerce business owners-

Interesting content sounds easy enough, but no one’s a bottomless wellspring of ideas.

Creativity is paramount here, but don’t worry, you don’t have to be the maker of spectacular innovative ideas for content. Much of the inspiration will come from your audience if you’re regularly engaging with them. For example, you may recall the title of the previous blog, “I have 15 “add-to-carts” but no one’s buying!” That panic-stricken statement was taken directly from a public online forum. It was a desperate e-commerce owner’s plea for help from her online community. Pay attention to what your customer is doing, watching, following, questioning and complaining about to know what content you need to create.

Now, optimise your content. SEO isn’t difficult and it doesn’t require a bunch of expensive and sophisticated tools. Choice keywords, meta-descriptions, calls-to-action, and calls-to-share are the fundamentals of basic, on-site SEO. If you’re in the Shopify realm and want more comprehensive optimisation, we’re a Shopify partner, which means we can help you. Give us a call for a free consultation.


Where is your customer? What’s her online flavour - Twitter? Facebook? LinkedIn? TikTok? Go there. Ensure that you repurpose and optimise your content for that channel. If going viral with your content is your objective, that’s great. But it’s also a hugely ambitious goal that tends to create unnecessary pressure. It also showcases your brand, not your customer. Again, make your goal engagement by focusing on your customer until the time is right to focus on your brand, and then you do so by linking your product or service offering to the customer. 

A bit of planning is useful, but jumping right in is usually the best way to test out the waters. Keeping track of how people are engaging with your content is critical. Imitate the style of high-performing content and repurpose it where possible. 

Easy concrete tools for engagement:

  • Diverse and valuable content. Checklists, infographics, blogs, free downloadable e-books, audio such as podcasts, interviews, Q&As, quotes, contests and games, email campaigns, and more.
  • Tag people if you mention them in a post as it increases the shareability and expands your community.


An authentic voice is key for building real relationships. You don’t have to assume the voice of a greasy marketer to draw attention to your brand. But there’s a tendency to fall into such a trap when you put your business hat on each day. Keep these four key behaviours in mind whenever you set out to create content or speak with a customer:

  • Inquire. Show interest by asking them questions about themselves, don’t bore them by speaking about yourself or your brand. Find out what they need, what they don’t need, what has worked in the past, and what hasn’t worked.
  • Listen. Accept their answers and question what you don’t understand. Invite them to offer their insight and accept it with gratitude and a plan to address it.
  • Respond. Take the interactions to heart and respond appropriately. Your customers will develop more trust in the brand that listens, cares, and responds than the one that asks but doesn’t follow up. 
  • Follow through. You don’t just want a one-time customer, you want repeat business and referrals. This is the main contributor to that positive narrative we mentioned early on. Once you’ve solved your customer’s problem, it’s not enough to wash your hands and move onto the next task. Now’s the time to reach out and find out if your product or service was everything they were looking for. Email marketing is a straight-forward and effective way to accomplish this. 

Proceed with patience. Building an online community is a process that requires dedication, commitment, and in many cases, tolerance. Some people carry hatchets and loud opinions. Your online presence is your brand’s reputation so keep that at the forefront of all your interactions with customers. 

To find out more, contact us today.

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Colleen Thornton

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