Courtesy of Huff Post
If content is the bread that sustains the social web, communities would be the hams, cheeses and salads which nourish it.
Without communities, the most intriguing and fascinating content would lie fallow. In fact, one of the must dos in social media marketing is to build your social networks, recruit your fans, inculcate brand love, and get them to spread the word.
Over time, who knows? You may even be able to reduce your marketing and advertising spend!
Before you get over-excited, however, understand this. Communities are not just target audiences ready to be marketed at and sold to.
The folks who decide to join and participate in your online or offline community are not there because they fit your preferred demographics, psychographics, or buying behaviours (although ideally, that should be the case).
Rather, communities exist because the folks in those networks find value in joining them.
While strong communities could help to supplement your share of voice, extend your influence and improve brand visibility, they do require you to invest a significant amount of time, effort, and emotional energy to keep them going.
Moreover, communities are not short-term solutions. Many of the most successful communities (like the legendary Harley Owners Group or HOG) have been around for decades. Like a well-loved garden, successful communities require a lot of tending and caring. While some communities appear to organically grow and develop, the likelihood of this happening is slim.
How then should companies create, build and sustain communities – be they online or offline?
Consider these 10 tips to building thriving and successful communities.
First, you need to distil the Circle of Influence around your company, its products, its industry and its target customers. If you can remember Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, the Circle of Influence is the focused area where your company can possibly influence its stakeholders.
Ask yourself the following questions:
During the initial stages, you should choose to build your community around interests and not brands.
What this means is that you should centre the topics or themes covered in your community on issues, news, and developments that not only concern your products but extend beyond it. These topics should nonetheless be focused on what your community members are keen on.
A good example is the BabyCenter community by P&G which provides useful tips to expecting and new mothers.
Identify your core group of influencers and find ways and means to reach them. They could be grassroot leaders, bloggers, or even ordinary folks who share a deep passion for a related area of interest.
Reach out to these folks and invite them to be a part of your community. These “alpha” members are vital in keeping the community going when times are dry. Over time, they help to become your leading voices on their own social networks.
If you are really serious about building communities – especially online – you need a dedicated person to manage it. He or she should preferably be someone with an interest in the subject areas covered.
For online communities, this person needs to be fairly active on social networks and au fait with how they work. The community manager will generate content, trigger conversations, respond to feedback, and organise activities to keep the group active and growing.
Activate online communities through occasional face-to-face get togethers. These could include cocktails, lunches, product launches, or other events. If possible, get your senior management and even top executives to host these events – your community members will love you for it!
Remember to make these events so fun and memorable that community members have something to brag about on their own social networks.
Be consistent and reliable in how you interact with them. Establish a regular content production schedule, respond to queries and feedback, and speak with the same tone of voice.
Being friendly, sincere, responsive and transparent usually works. This helps you to grow your likability and develop trust over time.
Don’t just make your community a one way dissemination channel. Listen more than you tell if possible.
If there is a lot of “chatter”, change your role from that of a content producer to a conversation moderator. However, always be present.
Respond quickly to complaints and negative feedback but don’t get defensive… ever!
Explain where possible the reasons why certain things are done in a certain way. If you were wrong, just admit that you’ve screwed up but will work harder to do better. If you were right, take the pains to show them why, with utmost respect and civility.
Remember that community members stick around because of their positive experience. Keep the good vibes flowing.
Where appropriate, get your community involved in product development and marketing decisions. These should be especially important for your core group of brand ambassadors.
Get them to be your focus group members when testing new products or services. The more engaged they are, the greater their communal sense of ownership and the higher the likelihood that they’ll help to spread the word on behalf of your business.
Finally, don’t be afraid to get personal with some of your members. If they’re online, leave a comment or a “Like” on their Facebook pages, or retweet their tweets if they’re meaningful. Surprise them with a positive comment if they’re feeling down.
Caring for your community makes a whole world of difference. This also means that you need to treat it as more than just a job.
What are your thoughts on the above suggestions? Are there other ways to build an online community?
What I’ve covered above is just the tip of the iceberg. Social media marketing covers many other areas – from understanding how each social channel works, knowing which content format to use, to measuring and managing success.
After almost 10 years in social media marketing, I will share what I know in a comprehensive two day social media marketing workshop. The next run will be in June 2016.
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