social media

Fostering a social community online

In a world where everything is digital, it is understandable that fostering a community online is a top priority for marketers. Despite recent controversy, such as the Facebook data breach, most of us still use a social media platform at least once a day. In fact, we check our phones around 150 times a day.

The craft behind growing a community online is reaching the right people, at the right place and at the right time. It isn’t just about the numbers which make up those vanity metrics, such as Facebook likes. If those people are not also engaging with your content then it’s a bit of a waste of time. It is this engagement which leads to conversing, committing and (hopefully!) converting to those all-important sales.

There are a few steps to take before pursuing a community online to ensure you are recruiting a true and loyal network of brand supporters. Here are our tips on what and how to get your content in front of the people who will become your community online.

Find your community online

It is a marketing basic to have a presence on social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, avoid sticking to just the obvious. Delve into relevant online forums, social media groups and websites to reach out to your target audience in more ways than one.

Depending on your target audience, some of the most logical choices could be Mumsnet for parents or LinkedIn for businesses. But, the smartest marketing pro knows where to find their niche. They invest in building and sustaining a community online with a focus on quality over quantity. The end game is recruiting brand advocates or ambassadors, and you only need a dedicated handful to make that work.

Keep listening

Although you can create your own community online, or tap into existing ones, sometimes it is best to do neither. This doesn’t mean giving yourself the day off though. Conversations may well be happening where you have no control over what is being said. This is why social listening is so important. It is especially worthwhile when a study found that word-of-mouth marketing has influenced 74% of buyers in their purchasing decisions. It is crucial to be aware of what’s being said about your brand online, even if you don’t directly contribute to it.

A great example of this is ITV’s Love Island. Activity has been rife on social media with apparently unofficial groups creating memes or other types of shareable content based on the show. This wouldn’t necessarily be a place to add in sales messages. However, it provides invaluable insight on what is and what isn’t resonating with audiences. This will help when you are creating your own content, such as targeted social advertising, by knowing the likes and dislikes of the people who support what you are doing.

Age is not just a number

Most industries operate within specific rules, regulations and legislation. An awareness of this should be standard practice for their marketers. For example, the alcohol industry must only target people who are legally old enough to drink. You may think that sounds simple enough but it’s a little more complex for international companies operating in a number of countries which have different legal drinking ages. Most companies use age-gating to overcome this obstacle on their owned platforms – but this can be increasingly difficult in, for example, online forums. So, pick your platforms carefully to ensure you do not become the victim of any legal pitfalls. In addition, be aware of the terms and conditions of the platforms you are using to foster your community online, such as competition disclaimers on Facebook.

It is also important to pay attention to any issues of copyright around the content you use to build a community online. For example, user-generated content is a great way to add authenticity to a campaign. Research has found that brand engagement increases by around 28% when people are delivered a combination of user-generated and professional content. However, ensure you have permission to repurpose that content. A simple email or comment to the person who owns the image could overcome this barrier, or include it in your digital terms and conditions.

Keep that conversation flowing

If someone comments on your content or replies to a question, acknowledge it. That may seem quite laborious but it doesn’t need to be. It takes two seconds to tap out a quick reply. But, it is time well spent as it demonstrates to that person – who is a potential customer – that they have been heard and are appreciated. Engagement should never be taken for granted when you are building a community online.

It is also important to step in if something goes wrong. If someone complains or posts something inappropriate, ensure it is responded to and, if necessary, removed. Answering a complaint on social media actually increases customer advocacy by up to 25%. So, don’t waste that opportunity to turn a negative into a positive. A robust set of guidelines should cover what is acceptable and what isn’t within your community online. So, you have grounds to act if something does go wrong.

In summary, fostering a community online is a brilliant way to organically grow a buzz around your brand. It can help to change potential customers into brand advocates who will positively communicate with their peers about your brand, which puts you in a strong position to grow as a company.

However, it takes an investment of time and skill to get that community off the ground in the first place so the worst thing to do is then neglect it. Keep asking questions, posting relevant content, sharing blogs, tips and advice and you will soon see your community online flourishing, which can only be good for business.  

Want more?

Read our social media blog on how to keep your social media accounts ticking over here.


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