The significance of online communities and social media for businesses can only grow and develop with time. Currently, online communities serve many purposes, from social media marketing to online reputation management. The only problem with the entire notion of social media marketing is the difficulty to measure the tangible ROI.
However, this difficulty should not be an impediment for companies to use the potential of social media to the fullest, simply because the value that the online communities provide is not measured only in direct income from social media marketing, but in the direct communication with the costumers, which allows the companies to work on the flaws of their campaigns way before it all blows up in their faces.
Where to begin building?
You are definitely in need of a strong online community which will support your brand and share your values.
But where on Earth do you begin?
The answer is quite simple – start where your audience is. Now, finding your audience can be tricky. With so many social networks, forums and blogs, it is difficult to differentiate between what is truly important and what is a pure waste of time.
Before you begin, you will need to ask yourself, or your client, several questions which sound easy enough, but can prove to be a bit tricky once you dive into them. Taking one step at a time is the best solution for everything that seems hard. Rinse and repeat. The questions you need to get answered can be formulated in the following way:
- What is it that separates your business from the sea of similar enterprises?
- What is unique in your offer?
- Why is your business significant to your clients or customers?
- What is it that will make your business stand out?
- What type of relationship do your customers/clients expect from you?
- Who are your partners?
- Who are your competitors?
- Who do you respect in the industry?
Finding answers to these questions will help you get a clearer picture of the online presence you need and of the type of community you want to build.
The next thing you need to do is to find out what your typical customer/client is like, e.g. create a customer persona.
- What age group they belong to?
- What is their gender?
- What is their social/educational background?
- Is any occupation typically associated with your clients?
- What do they need?
- What do they expect from you?
Once you answer all these questions, it is time to start digging.
Setting up the Community Pillars
Choosing the networks where you will start your communities is often tricky business, first of all because your business is often associated with several customer personas which are typically scattered across different networks and are members of more than one network. Basically, if your business is not associated with some highly specific demographic group, you should go for the most popular networks which are suited to the type of content you are planning to provide.
My personal favorites are Google Plus and Pinterest, as highly visually stimulating networks, with Google Plus enabling me to include loads of different stuff, including text.
However, going for Facebook and Twitter is absolutely fine if you think they are better suited for your needs. Whichever networks you choose, there are resources you can use to make your search easier and less time-consuming. For example:
Followerwonk is a really useful tool you can use for many things, including a certain degree of analytics. More about the Followerwonk options can be found on the website itself, and we will deal in more detail with the section which enables you to locate the potential members of your Twitter community.
In the Search Twitter bios tab, you will find a field in which you are supposed to type in a search criterion. Mine was “writers”. The next step was to expand my options, and I typed in California in the extended search options. You can also include the number of followers, the number of people the person is following or the number of tweets as criteria. Once you choose all that, you get a list that you can then dissect according to what you need.
This is a tool for finding people on Google Plus, through the community itself provides plethora of useful resources, shares circles, etc. and all you need to do is follow several prominent members of the community. For the beginning of your community building efforts, you can use this website to find people relevant for your business, as well as several providers of great resources on Google Plus.
This website works in a similar way as Followerwonk, but the options are different, of course. On Findpeopleonplus, you have more options which are already provided, so it is a bit easier to browse, and you can still type in any search criterion you want. These tools are something you can really have fun with, while making different cross sections.
Pinterest boards are what you need to get started on Pinterest. They are thematically organized and usually thematically named, and you can follow a single board. So, first you create boards related to your business and then you start pinning and following other boards.
You need to develop a strategy, but you do not need any additional web directories of Pinterest members, you just use the names of the boards to find those who pins things similar to yours and who would be interested in your business.
Community is Growing, Now What?
Now you need to take a deep breath and start sorting out and filtering. Some things you simply need to do manually, and it would be great if you could use an Excel sheet to collect information, but you can start building a community right away if you so wish and deem desirable. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is not only the quantity that matters, but the quality as well. You need to find the right balance.
Things that you would want to consider are some of the following:
- Frequency of activity
- Volume of activity
- Following and followers numbers and ratio
Bottom line, you should aim for a healthy mix of small and big things, guys who will follow you back and notice the content you are posting, but also those who have a lot of followers and who are influential in your industry, because once they notice that you are interacting with their content and providing value they might become a valuable asset.
Relationship Marketing 101
Relationship marketing is different from content marketing in the respect that in relationship marketing interacting with people, being positive, helpful and responsive builds your community and rewards your marketing efforts with a good word-of-mouth, whereas with content marketing it is all about the content you share and the way you share it.
Your online community created using relationship marketing will be a great asset for your reputation management, among other things, and it will provide you with feedback of utmost value.
Benefits of Loyal Online Community
Your online community can be of great help if your company starts being bullied by another company or you start having problems with spam reviews aimed at weakening your business position. There are certain things you need to keep in mind and proper ways to behave in such situations, but remaining calm and respectful and keeping your community posted, as well as calmly explaining your position can restore the trust potentially damaged by the competition’s negative campaign against you.
It is way easier to manage the situation if you have a large online community with which you have built a firm relationship based on trust.
Mixing Things up for Best Results
This is just the beginning of your social media campaign, which will have to include relevant and curated content at one point, and it will probably become a necessity to hire someone to help you. The best option would be to hire an agency, because there is also on-page and off-page SEO to be done, as well as different SEM campaigns to be carried out, and it is a lot of work for just one person.
However, if you feel confident enough you can make an in-house team, and you can venture into creating and carrying out your own strategy, and if you follow guidelines of experts, you have a fair chance at success.