Social media is a key marketing channel for any organisation whether small or large, but few are really leveraging the power of social media community for their business growth.
We're all told to ensure that we define our audience before we launch into crafting a social media presence. "Know your niche" is a cornerstone in social best practice for any business owner, however the same level of consideration to the concept of 'community' is rare, but it shouldn't be!
There are a myriad of ways that businesses can benefit from having a dedicated social media community, as long as it's done right.
Audience vs Community
“An audience is spoken to and in turn they 'listen' to your brand, your sales pitches, your values. A community develops a relationship with you as a brand and the other people within. They form a shared identity and actively contribute rather than passively listen.”
While on the surface, an audience and a community may be similar (they both contain people who are potential clients, customers and advocates for your brand), there is a large distinction between the two.
Think about any time you have personally be in a physical audience, whether in a theatre, at a concert or conference. You are a passive participant, listening and taking the content presented to you in, but not participating in the action. You are focused on the central person on stage who is focused on you as a whole, along with the other hundreds of people in that audience.
An audience is spoken to, and in turn they 'listen' to your brand, your sales pitches, your values. A community is different. A community develops a relationship with you as a brand and the other people within itself. A community forms a shared identity and actively contributes to it.
Communities are empowered, they actively look for the information they need and discuss their wants, likes and challenges with others. They ask questions, they give feedback and your role is to listen and act upon this feedback.
The value of social media community
Generating a community via social media provides brands with a number of positive outcomes from boosting sales, to generating advocates to a company or product. They should be an important element in any social media marketing strategy for a number of reasons;
The promote engagement with a company, brand, person and engagement generates exposure and leads. Engagement brings users closer to the brand, they start to feel connection and affinity.
A community increases brand visibility on a social platform, leading to more followers/fans/connections and potential customers.
They foster loyalty and can generate inspiration as members share stories, ideas and connections.
They help to build trust
They create an experience for members, a sense of belonging, a world outside of a 'purchase' or an interest in which they can create relationships with each other and with you as the brand.
Community development within social media
Social media is a no brainer for businesses to market their products and services. With over half the world now using social media (4.62 billion are on at least one platform globally) the potential for brands is huge, so long as they are intelligent about how they communicate.
Long gone are the days where brands and small businesses alike could just post an over advert and wait for the clicks to roll in. Social media users are savvy, they don't want to be sold to. They want to feel affinity to the brands they engage with. In a 2018 Sprout Social survey, respondents ranked social media as the number one channel for allowing brands to connect with their customers, and 78% of consumers wanted brands to use social to help connect them to other people. And this connection is where community really helps brands to achieve.
Social media communities usually fit to a couple of types; a community of interest or a community of tasks. Below I'll outline the difference between these types and forms as each has their merits.
Community of Interest
A community of interest is based around subjects, topics, ideas that people find interesting. These communities are usually formed by the customer and since they are created, maintained and managed on the whole by 'normal' people, they tend to be the community types which encourage the most engagement. They tend to encourage 'stickiness' or a longer 'time on page' as the discussions are natural and organic and focused around areas which the members within have an affinity with.
Community of Task
Unlike a community of interest, a community of task focuses on peer-to-peer content such as reviews, help guides, Q&As with other people etc. Members visit these communities to connect with advocates and to fulfil specific goals such as comparing 2 products and looking for genuine feedback. The information generated in a community of task is as diverse as the people using it, and the more credible the content, the more others will visit again when looking to complete another specific task.
The great thing about community on social media is that very often both of these types can be utilised within one group or page. People are increasingly using social media to find answers to questions, look for recommendations, discuss their likes and wants all in one place!
How does a social media community actually help you do business?
So I think it's clear that a social media community helps people feel connected. Connected to each other, a product, an idea, a brand. Members find other like-minded people who have similar interests, are happy to discuss the same ideas and compare notes to help others in a similar position. When these things happen to revolve around the products or ideas that you sell, the benefits are huge.
Community groups on social media help businesses sell due to the power of the personal peer-to-peer recommendation. People buy from people, and they trust people like themselves. When they see a brand post a positive testimonial, they may take it as intended, or they may view it with a level of cynicism, of course a brand is only going to promote the good reviews, they want the warts and all, and that is exactly what community feedback gives them.
Customers who post on social media community pages or groups are providing a real world perspective to others, real opinions and genuine feedback. The ability for negative commentary actually allows positive reviews to hold more weight and meaning. Community members on social channels are in essence, micro-influencers with the power to impact others with authentic feedback, information or advice. And the best part, these people, who have taken the time to join a community related to your brand/product are usually already advocates, genuinely interested in what you have to sell or say!
So in essence, a social media community can act as a net at the bottom of your sales funnel. A user joins the community and moves through the early awareness phases quickly. The community speeds up the process to purchase as the customer can get the information they need from the other members, and then, once purchase is complete, the member wants to share it with others as another way to engage. You're creating and retaining loyal advocates in a public setting and generating high quality leads for your funnel at the same time!
How do you create a community on social media?
“Be original, show off your style, and tell your story.”
There are a number of ways to create a community on social media, and it will depend on which channels your audience is already using as to which platform you do this on. The most well known way is to set up a Facebook Group, which can be closed or open depending on strategic decisions.
Once you have a group, how do you grow?
Invite your friends
Invite existing customers, followers, advocates through other marketing activity. This initial audience will help establish credibility and build initial trust and reputation.
Use social interaction CTAs
Link your website to you social media community pages/groups, add buttons to email campaigns you run. add a link to thank you communications or provide popups and give people a reason to click on these call to actions. Be original, show off your style and tell your story through content pulled from your community to encourage people to join.
You should always cross-promote your social networks across the other platforms. If you share the links to your Facebook page on your Twitter account, and your Twitter account on your LinkedIn account, it will maximize your reach across all platforms. Be sure to join interest groups that are relevant to your business and then share the link to your business page or page content within the group. Lastly, include a link to your profile pages in your email signature when you send emails to customers, colleagues, vendors, and other contacts. This will help gain exposure for your pages and hopefully increase followership.
Follow other relevant accounts to illustrate a connection between your community and others. Links to non-profit groups with a focus on causes which are close to your business and influencers working within your space will help your messages find people who may associate with it. You also need to ensure you post regularly, this helps to illustrate that you're reliable and begin to foster trust within the community. Retention is supremely important and if you can't show up, why would your members?
Respond to your community
It's imperative to respond to your community. If your followers feel like they're only being spoken at and not engaged with in a conversation, they will assume that your business is self-serving and doesn't really care about their customers' needs. Responding to your followers also humanizes your brand and increases affinity.
Use GIFs, emojis, quote images, and memes
An often overlooked way of building a community would be to use GIFs, emojis, quote images, and memes, all of which comprise the language of the social media space. When used in a relevant way, your content becomes more engaging, relatable, and shareable, and your brand becomes more likable.
Invest in paid methods
Organic community building is seen as the pinnacle, and rightly so. However, when launching a social media community, it's not a bad idea to invest in promotion in order to ensure that people are aware it exists. Brands don't need to spend huge amounts to get their social media community in the minds of their customers, Facebook Ads to targeted audiences, website videos and retargeting can all assist in the promotion of the community to wider audiences.
Work with influencers
There are likely influencers in your sector, regardless what sector that is! Okay granted, if a brand is in fashion, beauty etc, they may have a larger crop of people to choose from than someone in the medical waste sector, but trust me, for every product and service, there is someone at the top of their game that brands can work with to promote their social media community, they just need to find them!
The best practices you should follow
Once a social media community has been built, brands need to ensure that effort is put into maintaining it. There are a number of best practice activities which should be considered and utilised to ensure retention, engagement and growth;
Develop a consistent and authentic voice. A community will recognise an honest, consistent voice and tone. They'll be able to recognise when your brand is speaking which helps foster trust and loyalty. Wherever possible, avoid jargon or being overly formal. Be human, and encourage others to do the same.
Show up. As mentioned previously, responsiveness is key. Your community should know that you care about their comments, and aren't only there to promote your brand. Plus, the more you engage with the community, the more they feel appreciated and compelled to continue participating.
Be helpful, always. 80% of the content shared within a social media community should have a helpful or educational purpose, and cater for the interests of the community. 20% can be about promoting the brand! Support ideas and insights that your brand believes in and ensure you keep the content closely linked to what it is you do but ensure you provide value to the community (discounts and special offers also help)!
Have recurring topics: Consider having recurring topics or a post series that fans and followers can look forward to participating in. This also encourages more recurring engagement.
Use a personal identifier: Think about using a personal identifier, such as initials or a first name, with your responses. This makes the interaction more human and increases affinity, especially with social customer service.
Monitor reaction: Lastly, pay attention to what posts and content are resonating with your audience, on your own channels, and on competitor channels. Then, optimize your post content strategy accordingly. Again, posts should always provide value to your followers and not just be in service of the business.
Struggling with your social media marketing?
If you're looking to grow your business through social media but aren't sure where to start or don't have the resource to dedicate, get in touch with me to discuss your requirements and see how I can help.
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