Now that most businesses realise the importance of being online, they need to look at the next step – building an online community.
Google is getting closer and closer to favouring those users who are committed to connecting and engaging in a genuine way. Therefore, this would be an obvious direction for the business community to follow.
A move in this direction would mean that business owners are beginning to understand that pursuing online vanity metrics is a complete waste of time.
Yes, there are still companies that buy followers / friends / likes for bragging rights or that are misled by ‘gurus’ but even they are now questioning such an investment of resources. Furthermore, unfortunately, some still believe that a simple online presence can achieve some nebulous marketing goal.
In our opinion, a social network is just that – social. If brands want to be part of an online community they can, of course, join one but preferably, they should strive to build one. One that is relevant to their business and one in which they are willing to participate in an authentic way.
That is, a business must add something of value to its community. If they don’t focus on the number metrics, they will have the time to concentrate on the people who matter – people, such as existing customers, natural prospects, suppliers and staff. In other words – human beings that are relevant to your business and not spambots, fake accounts or click-farms.
For instance, this might sound intensive, but each morning we check (using Nutshellmail) our twitter account’s new followers, for humans. If they are, and they ‘fit’ with our engagement strategy then we follow back.
Our objective is to build a relevant community that educates and/or entertains each other. We want to get to a stage where we have a relationship with other industry influencers and not just treat them like professional assets.
When developing an online community you should not collect followers, you should befriend them.Click to tweet
So I guess what we’re saying is that collecting followers for the numbers is a waste of your precious time. Ideally, amongst your online community there will be a sharing of favours and advice. This will only happen if people in the community trust each other, almost as friends would.
Of course not everyone online wants to be your best friend but at least you should be in that frame of mind when engaging with them. Accordingly, ‘selling’ into the community, for instance, is definitely a no-go area – for us anyway.
Earn online community respect by being a good listener.
Sometimes, all people want from you is to be a good listener, particularly if you are providing a service support online. This is also important for brands that use online platforms for customer service. If you are neither of these, always show your gratitude for a share, a mention, a comment or even a like. These are the people that are interested in what you have to say and maybe in your brand.
Once you have committed to the mindset that building an online community takes time and effort you can start thinking about growing it. Commence by leveraging people you know, blogs you like, existing communities – they are the ‘early wins’. Thereafter there are many ways to research your target community.
Using #hashtags for your keywords / industry will show you who and what is topical and being shared. There are also message boards, lists, forums etc. A good point to remember is that there will be existing rules / etiquette already established in most of these forums. Platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn (groups), twitter lists, Google+ circles, YouTube and Pinterest boards will all have ‘a way’ of participating.
Spend a little time observing the various traits and personalities before stomping in trying to take over the conversation. Think of it like attending a party that you haven’t been formally invited to. You’d dress up and bring a bottle of wine – wouldn’t you?
All we’re saying here is to care about and have respect for, the community you want to join / build. In the above party analogy, the other partygoers will probably know each other and are usually distrustful of strangers, at first. They have accepted the invitation to be there because they want to be there.
3 points to remember when identifying your online community.
Who are you and what type of community do you want to build?
– ask yourself what business you’re in, what are your values, what value do you offer and why should people care?
Be clear on your business goals.
– understand what online tools you need to use to help you achieve your business objectives. It may be SEO, content marketing, social media, PPC or a combination of many tools.
Where does your target audience live online?
A summary of the above is to remember that your purpose online is to provide value. If you want to advertise online use the appropriate tools to do so. But at the end of the day, be the kind of community member that you’re looking for: knowledgeable, generous and engaged.
Tips and Timesavers.
We have mentioned some ways of researching where your target audience is living online such as social media digging, sifting through blogs, searching forums etc. However we think that there are 10 questions that you need to ask yourself about your online community in the first instance:
- What specific industry will you be concentrating on?
- What are the basic demographics of your online audience?
- Are your competitors active online?
- Are you aware of the influencers in your industry?
- Are you a member of any existing online/offline associations/groups?
- Why would it right for your brand to be on this platform?
- Do you attend offline networking events?
- Do you have RSS feeds to existing blogs / articles?
- Are you personally active online?
- What would be the key metrics for your brand on this platform?
Building an online community is a really good idea for any business. The trick is to avoid thinking of it as a social network for your brand. Ultimately, such networks should be a distribution channel for relevant customer content. With regard to measurement, success should be determined by the level of engagement by community members and not the actual number of members.
“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.
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