Ever wonder what the heck digital marketing people are talking about when they throw around the term “Community”? I was at a NVTC networking event last week explaining to a colleague that I help companies develop communities to further leverage their marketing programs. My colleague was asking questions like: “Do I really need one? Do I already have one? Do I have to spend money on it? How much does it cost?”
Every business has a community of users/customers/clients/members. Wikipedia says that marketing “is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development”. What digital marketing folks understand is that the tools we use in the digital medium add a new layer to the way we sell, communicate and develop a business. The approach taken may seem more extemporaneous, but don’t be fooled, careful planning is required. For many CMO’s, where to begin can be overwhelming, tools intimidating, ROI abstract, company culture averse, and other priorities endless. So typically companies dip their toe in the water by setting up a Facebook page and hope for the best. AND THEN NOTHING HAPPENS!
HERE ARE SIX BASICS FOR ESTABLISHING A LOYAL COMMUNITY
Tip #1: Your Key Business Goals Drive Where you Start
Dipping your toe in the water and creating a Facebook page may not be a bad idea but if you don’t establish it’s purpose, the page is likely to fizzle quickly. Customers won’t know what to do there and your other company priorities combined with the lack of activity on the page will cause you to loose interest quickly. Then you’ll be left with a digital asset that is negatively effecting your brand. Go back to your annual business goals to establish priorities. So for example, if increasing product sales by 10% is your goal, then engagning your community to gather great product application examples may be the right strategy. Then integrate these “use cases” into your other marketing materials throughout the year. You also have great content for your ongoing communications (see Tip #2).
Tip #2: Be Predictable – Create an Editorial Plan – and Stick to it!
Once you’ve identified which channels will best support your other marketing efforts, creating an Editorial Calendar will make it part of your week. That calender should be two dimentional and include the topics you’ll be publishing about yourself, along with what content you would like to elicit from your community. If you don’t ask the community for participation, they won’t typically jump in so make an interactive element a part of every editorial package. Rest assured that not everything you publish has to be completely original. There’s lots of relevant content already out there on the Web. You can harvest great content you’ve read and put your own context around it (with appropriate attribution, of course!). Then ask your community for other ideas. Derive your motivation from knowing that content begets content. Think of your job as the inspiration and your community can validate and embellish. You’ll know you are getting traction when your community votes, rates, shares or comments.
Tip #3: Publish Once and Leverage Different Channels
One beautiful thing about digital media is that technology allows you to publish once and then have your content appear in multiple places. For example Facebook and Twitter can be linked so your tweets can automatically post to Facebbook. LinkedIn will display your tweets on your profile page. Customers can be provided with the opportunity to subscribe directly to your website’s content feed and receive email updates when you publish. Your content management system can often leverage RSS technology to help you create a dynamic newsletter. Configuring all this to happen automatically will save you several steps and give your content a few different lives. Your users will choose the channel that is most appropriate for them and you’ll have your content exactly where your customers want it.
Tip #4: Be Proactive
Whatever digital channel you choose (Facebook, Twitter, eMail Marketing, Mobile Apps, RSS, YouTube, etc. ) will require you to build a following before magic can happen. This takes time to cultivate so start early. Use your internal customer database to search digital media channels for your customers and invite them to get involved. Of course, your traditional marketing materials should always inform customers about where you can be found in digital media and highlight why they should join in. Great examples I’ve seen include:
- Like us on Facebeook and see what we are reading this week
- Vote on Facebook for menu preferences
- Follow us on Twitter to find out about our holiday specials
- Send us a Tweet with your best idea for a seminar topic
- Register for our eNewsletter and get weekly customer tips
Tip #5: Model Behavior
The majority of the folks who find you in digital media will NOT participate — they will lurk. So in order to get the 1% who are likely to jump in, you’ll need to give them an idea of what you are looking for. “Seeding” the community with the type of comments you would like more of will be necessary. When participation starts, make sure you respond and encourage so customers know you are really there.
Tip #6: Use the Principals that Guide your Personal Relationships to Guide You in this Endeavor
It’s a give-and-take. You can’t get involved in a personal relationship without nurturing it or you’ll be forgotten. The same applies to cultivating a community. With 35% of Americans owning smartphones, you MUST be accessible in the digital medium or your customers will have to work too hard to communicate with you. You WANT them telling you all the reasons they do or don’t love your product! Conversly, since you can access your customers from virtually anywhere, every business becomes a publisher in at least 140 characters. Mind your manners and make sure you respond to your community once they engage.
Watch future articles for Tips on:
- Measuring success
- Selecting digital media channels and customer interaction tools
- The resources you’ll need on your team to help you be successful