Over the last couple of years, more and more businesses and brands have invested in building communities across many social networks. Their communities have grown into the thousands and at the same time social media analytics have matured enough to provide a pretty clear view into the value that the community is adding to the business. As a result, many marketers and business leaders are feeling a sense of pride about the size of their community, but are feeling a little jipped when they compare their community size to tangible business results.
There are a few reasons a community can become bloated. To understand how we’ve gotten to where we are it makes sense to think about how social media for business has evolved over the last few years:
Where we’ve come
The big push for brands a couple years ago was building their community by any means necessary. Contests and giveaways attracted users that had little interest in the brand and unless they got something for free were unlikely to ever purchase from the brand that was investing money in attracting them.
In 2011 the buzz shifted from growing a community and creating a groundswell to generating compelling engagements. We started to differentiate advocates from fans and soon the role of community manager began to grow in demand. It was a great step forward and helped position a community as an extension of the business – a resource for market insight, product feedback, customer service, and lets not forget marketing.
This year brands got smarter about how they could scale engagement and started taking some lessons learned in using social media as a customer service and marketing tool to figuring out how they can drive sales.
This is where many of us get stuck.
There are two approaches to using social to influence sales:
- Listening & Analytics Based Approach – In this approach you invest your budget in listening for users that have indicated they’re considering a purchase and proactively (or re-actively) moving them closer to a purchase with 1:1 engagements.
- Content Based Approach – This angle essentially takes the lessons of content marketing and applies them to social media.
Where we’re going
To really tap the value of communities we not only need to do both, but we need to integrate how we design a social presence beyond just social media. If we don’t consider the impact that search has on social media and vise versa, then we’ll never fully reap the benefits that building a community can provide.
A recent report from eConsultancy suggests that social media’s impact on search is continuing to grow. Social sharing now makes up 5 of the top 6 predictors of search rankings. So while a community is valuable because it represents a potential audience, an active community is creates the opportunity for brands to harness their community to scale it’s impact.
Brands that know how to consistently generate content that resonates with their community, and do so in a way that takes an integrated approach to blogs, social networks, and advocate & influencer engagement have an advantage in ranking for target keywords and phrases.
How To Get There
Invest in content
The best way to build an active audience is to use this question as a gut-check: “Does this add value to my audience’s time spent online?” Remember, marketing via social is a different ball game. We are competing for time, not buying eyeballs so content has to be on the mark and be interesting enough to choose to engage around your brand rather than with friends. It’s a tough task, but it’s possible.
Provide a clear path to conversion
Odds are your audience doesn’t want to receive hard-sells in their news feed. But as a marketer that kind of puts you in a pickle – how can you show social media ROI if people aren’t clicking directly on offers right? A good way to design your messaging is to think of everything through the customer life-cycle and align social networks to the funnel. If a trial is your end objective, think about what the online journey for a prospect should be from Facebook to the offer. If done right, that mix probably involves a blog post and a graphic as stepping stones to the landing page.
Build the right audience
Contests and giveaways can actually be a great value-add if done right. The mistake marketers make too often is that they’re incentivizing the wrong behavior. Rather than giving freebies to acquire new followers, use those resources to reward existing advocates and fans that are driving positive conversation around your brand. The more you reward the kind of behavior you want to occur within your community, the less you’ll have to invest in it.
That said, I’m a firm believer that growing a community organically with the right content is the best way to drive an active community. It’s tricky, difficult, and takes longer, but in the end you have an audience that is interested in what you have to say and ready to drive conversation on your behalf.