Community Marketing: What Is It And How Do I Get Started?
In a time not long ago, digital marketing focused mainly on ad placement and search engine optimization. In recent years, the value of social media marketing has risen; and, although still in its infancy, it has evolved to better reach and connect with consumers. It’s clear that consumers no longer respond to faceless brands. Consumers want to know the people behind the mask and the process behind the products. Most of all, consumers expect to be able to engage in honest conversation with a brand. That is why we must transform social media marketing into community marketing.
Community Marketing is about taking the impact of in-person relationship building to the social media space. It’s about transforming brand messages from one-way communication to two-way communication. As digital marketers, we have placed importance from the number of impressions our messages receive, to their level of engagement. An engaged audience is much more valuable. Community building through community marketing has many other additional benefits.
Before working with the folks at Mastin Labs, I never considered the potential for reputation management from a company’s online community. I had witnessed reputation mismanagement many times, such as the recent boycotts of Trump supporting companies, but never the opposite. Until we began working with Mastin Labs, I had never experienced such a vibrant and supportive community built around a brand before. One recent example of community support was when a photographer tried to bootleg the Mastin Labs Presets. Almost immediately the private Mastin Labs Facebook User Group caught wind and went on the defensive. This community supports each other so fiercely I almost feel bad for any one that crosses them. I once witnessed them take on a poorly conducted Mastin Labs Review. I won’t go into detail, but we eventually had to ask everyone to leave the poor author alone. But that’s what happens when you’ve put time and energy into making each community member feel like you have their back – they have your back too.
When you spend time adding value to a community you build up social collateral. With every free webinar, blog post, and engagement opportunity you offer, you are slowly building up credit with your community that one day you can cash in when you need them the most. The work that the team at Mastin Labs has done to build up their community has clearly paid off for them. By supporting and championing every single member of the Mastin Labs community, Kirk Mastin (founder and CEO) has built trust and loyalty within the community. The Mastin Labs team has a genuine interest in the success of every member, and it’s easy to see that in every interaction.
When you are a start up, you are lucky if you have 1 full-time dedicated customer service staff member (if you have a staff member at all ). An engaged online community is a great way to help supplement your support, especially on the weekends. You can’t expect your community to do all your work for you, by expertly answering every question, but if you set the expectation that members of the community empower and encourage one another, and if you pay attention and weed out the members that aren’t doing so, you’ll build a virtually self-sustaining community.
Having a dedicated social media manager to cultivate your public knowledge base is also important. A community manger will use techniques to connect folks together to help each other with similar issues, monitor any controversial conversations, and publicly answer any unanswered questions within the community. Your social media manager can also compile and maintain an easy-to-find online support center of resources to be referenced.
Gather User Insights
When your community feels they are being heard and appreciated they will give you valuable feedback. Community managers can communicate this feedback to benefit future product development. Having a pulse on your community through a dedicated community manager, can help you identify your marketing impact, issues with your brand message, bottlenecks in your sales funnels, and ideas for product development and future innovation.
An established community can also act as a built-in sounding board. If you have an idea for a brand new product, your community can give you feedback. This approach is much more effective than hiring a third party to conduct market research on an idea. Not only does that take time and money, but your community is literally your target market, and no sample group can compare. If your new product is aimed to attract a brand new target market, getting feedback from your community may not be sufficient, but it’s still a good place to start. Plus there’s the added benefit of testing your potential new products by getting your community involved early on. Robust community marketing allows companies to adopt a customer-focused product development cycle.
An engaged community is more valuable to your bottom line. When customers feel positively about the company, you are more likely to build organic marketing. Organic marketing is a word of mouth strategy that is developed by energizing your customers to advocate on your behalf. Although community marketing is mostly focused on enriching the experience of current customers, it does hold some value for attracting new customers as well.
It’s hard for anyone to trust a faceless brand. Consumers are naturally skeptical of brands, so companies immediately have to fight an uphill battle to earn trust. Community Marketing increases company transparency, and opens window into your brand and core values. Consumers also are rapidly becoming more and more interested in where and how products are made as well as who is making them. By engaging authentically, you can pull back the curtain to show consumers the behind-the-scenes of your company, giving them the opportunity to trust you.
Tenants of Community Building
Be a Resource, Not a Vendor
Being part of a community, even if it is centered around a product or service, is about bringing like-minded people together to help each other succeed. Community building should focus on “raising the tide to raise all boats”. When you put your goals above the goals of the community, you will fail. For our clients, we use the rule of thirds when it comes to marketing messaging. The rule of thirds is a social media best practice that states that no more than one third of your messaging should be directly about your product or service.
One very effective way to do this is to provide resources for your community, even if they are unrelated to your goals or company. At Mastin Labs, we host weekly Facebook Live ’round table’ sessions where we address the basic business problems that photographers face, such as growing their social media following, blogging best practices, etc. Although these topics are not directly related to the Mastin Labs products, they are very much relevant to their target audience and established community. Events like this build social collateral because they demonstrate that the company wants their community to succeed.
Create a Safe Space
The ‘comments’ section of your social media channels is a good place to have two-way conversations with specific customers, but isn’t really designed to build a community. In order for a community to thrive, there must be a space to facilitate the conversations. Where this should take place varies depending on your product or service, as well as where your target market lives online. Community spaces include specific hashtags, private Facebook groups, Reddit boards, Instagram pods, or even private message boards on your blog or website.
Once you’ve built your community space, it’s important to define the culture of the community. It needs to be a safe and moderated space with clear ground rules. The internet can be a space where people forget there are other humans on the other side of the screen, so it’s important to remind people early on and make it very clear that disrespectful posts are not tolerated. Allow for productive conversations that build a healthy community, but prohibit negativity and personal attacks. You want folks to feel safe, inspired, and gain value from participating in the community.
Let Them Lead
Even though your community revolves around your brand you can’t constantly dominate the conversation or direction of the community. You have to let your community lead. A great way to do this is to elect ambassadors and moderators from the community who naturally lead the conversation. These folks already have a natural instinct and interest in participating so giving them a formal status will help them take an even bigger role in the community, relieving you from that. Assign a community manager to moderate any rule breakers, but try to keep administrator involvement to a minimum.
Always Be Listening
Listen more than you talk. You have a unique opportunity to gather insights directly from your customers, both negative and positive. Don’t get defensive if you hear something bad about your product or service take it as an opportunity to listen and engage. You should always be advocating on the behalf of your customers, not your company, in order to drive customer satisfaction and retention. It can be tempting to ignore negative conversations about your brand. Resist the urge to live in blissful ignorance, or ‘defend’ your product; instead, listen empathetically.
If you approach your online community marketing earnestly, you will earn a rewarding and invigorating group of people rallying around your brand or service. It takes some practice and fine-tuning to figure out how to best build and engage with your community, but once you do, you will be happy you invested the time and energy to build a positive community.
As prevalent as social media is, many companies new to the idea of using social media as a relationship-building platform. If you’re stretched for time, money, and resources, just committing to a daily posting schedule can feel like a daunting task, not to mention community marketing through social media. That’s where we can help. If you’ve recognized the value in community marketing, and are interested in learning more about how we can help you nurture a positive, healthy, thriving community, reach out to us!