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How to Turn Your Customers Into a Community

7 minute read

By Taavi Kotka, CEO and Founder of Koos

It’s tempting for every founder to think of their customer base as a community – a loyal band of followers who love what you do and are thrilled to be a part of your story.

The problem is that most of the time, this isn’t true.

A typical customer base comprises a group of unconnected individuals engaging with a brand in a purely transactional way. If an alternative brand comes along offering a product or service that’s better, cheaper, or more convenient, the majority will switch over without a second thought as to what they’re leaving behind.

This is why community building is such an important part of the brand-building process – and why it should be something for you to consider at the earliest stages of your growth journey.

Clare Sutcliffe MBE is a community strategy consultant who has dedicated her career to harnessing the power of community for purpose and profit. She explains:

“Community building involves making customers feel connected to your brand – and to one another – through a shared set of values, mission, or passion. Once customers are engaging with you at an emotional level, they will stay with you longer, and can become proud brand advocates, enthusiastic sources of feedback, and even a support channel for other customers.”

The key difference between a customer base and a community is that community members are connected with each other, as well as with your brand. Hence, not every brand will find it easy to turn customers into community. A toothpaste manufacturer, for example, may be better served by being the most affordable or best-regarded product in their category, rather than trying to cultivate an impassioned collective of toothpaste aficionados.

But for any brand that carries an emotional resonance, community building ought to be a top priority from the get-go. Here are the five core phases you’ll need to work through on the road to nurturing an active and engaged community.


There is no point trying to create a community if you haven’t created a great customer experience. As Sutcliffe notes, “Every interaction with your brand shapes customer perceptions – from the first time they hear about you, through to consideration, purchase and beyond. If your customer experience isn’t set up to meet expectations across this journey, you’ll find it hard to turn customers into fans, and fans into community.”


The benefits of customer loyalty that stem from a sense of community belonging are manifest. But community-building offers so much more than this, providing you understand how you want the community to serve your business.

For example, a thriving community could provide vital feedback and insight as you iterate upon your products or bring new services to market, saving you time and money on research and helping avoid missteps further down the line.

Similarly, communities can improve customer support and reduce the burden on your in-house team, sharing experiences and offering tips and advice to lead to faster issue resolution. According to Sutcliffe, “This won’t work for routine enquiries – your community will quickly get bored answering the same questions over and over. But it’s a very effective approach for solving edge cases.”

Whatever your goals, you’ll need to undertake serious customer research and discovery to determine what customers might seek to gain from joining your community. When you overlay these two sets of goals – what you want from your community, and what your community wants from you – you can find the areas of overlap where the magic will happen.


To get your community underway, you need a shared mission or purpose. Start by creating a mission statement for your brand that resonates with customers and defines your values. And once this is in place, be transparent about it – don’t just hide it away in the dark recesses of your website.

Next, create a space for open discussion and conversation, through social media, a forum, or a dedicated platform, and issue a call-out for opinions, feedback, and ideas. Encourage customers to share their thoughts with your brand and each other. The more you respond to feedback, the more customers will feel motivated to join the discussion, building trust and creating a more intimate connection.

Finally, while it would be nice if every customer eulogised about your brand at every opportunity, the reality is that only a handful of customers will ever be true super-fans, and you need to figure out who they are. It may be obvious based on sales data or historic social media posts, but it could also be that the ongoing discussions make it easier to spot new super-fans.

Bring these super-fans into your inner circle, as they will be keen to play a central role within your community. Ask more of them and be prepared to give them preferential treatment in return.


You can’t just set up a community and then leave them to it. You have to create moments and milestones that encourage community members to carry on engaging with the brand and each other. Creating great content is the lynchpin of day-to-day community building – sharing helpful tips and tricks, behind-the-scenes glimpses of your brand, or stories that inspire your audience.

However, content alone won’t be enough to realise the community’s full potential. You need to think about events and meetups – moments that bring customers together, either online or in-person depending on preferences and location.

“As a brand, you have to work out what links people together and create the right incentive to encourage them to come along,” says Sutcliffe. “A little creativity can go a long way. I recently saw a Danish sportswear brand that sold tickets to a big group workout event, offering an entire outfit as part of the package. Not only did the event sell out, but everyone showed up in the branded workout clothes, creating an incredible content opportunity and letting everyone meet in-person.”


Just as it’s important to reward customer loyalty, it’s important to recognise the value that loyal community participants bring to the table.

Firstly, you should acknowledge and reward your most active members, through exclusive discounts, early access to products, or other perks to show your appreciation. Some nascent brands are going further with their incentives to try and give super-fans genuine skin in the game, introducing tokenised reward schemes – such as Koos’s virtual shares platform – whereby the more they contribute, the more they benefit from the company’s future success.

Secondly, you should empower your community by giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed. According to Sutcliffe, this will look very different from brand to brand. “For a B2B services provider it could be giving community members access to industry insights, networking opportunities, or mentorship programmes, whereas for a B2C lifestyle brand it could be giving them access to relevant festivals or masterclasses,” she explains.

Thirdly, you should celebrate your community's successes and milestones, highlighting individual achievements, hosting shared events, and recognising top-performing members.


Building your community won’t happen overnight – it takes time, patience and skill. Even if you’re deploying dedicated resources to the project, it’s probably going to take at least six months before you start to derive clear value from your community. Rush the project and you’ll likely miss people out or receive pushback because it won’t feel like an authentic, reciprocal process.

Community-building also requires continuous improvement, learning from feedback and experimenting with new initiatives, iterating on existing programmes, or investing in new technology. It’s important to trust that your community will have good ideas worth listening to, but it’s also important to capture feedback via multiple sources, rather than focusing on the most vocal advocates.

Finally, because community-building needs investment, you’ll want to put in place clear measurement systems and metrics to determine the success of your efforts and optimise your strategy based on the results.

As Sutcliffe concludes, “There’s a danger to being too prescriptive over what your community ought to look like at the outset. Consider your business objectives, create community goals in relation to these, but beyond that, be flexible.”

By making community-building a collaborative, iterative process, you’ll quickly see what works and where the most value can be gleaned, making it easier to measure the success of your efforts as your community grows.

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