Community building was a term once reserved for activists, religious groups and charitable organizations – when they built a community, it was a network of people with a similar goal in mind. With the explosion of social media as a vital marketing tool, the concept of community building has expanded to include brand cheerleaders as well as the professionals bringing them together. At the end of the day, our brand communities aren’t built any different than social communities of old.
Social media is an invaluable tool to bring people all over the world together into an interactive world that explores just what your brand can do to make their lives easier. Community building on social media sites is as valuable to the small, low-budget Mom and Pop website as it is to multinational corporations. Sure, you can use your community to make people aware of your brand, but you can do so much more with these tools.
Building community means forging a bond with your social media followers. Whether that means taking polls, posting user submitted photos of your product in use, engaging in interesting discussions of topics relating to your product (but never inflammatory, polarizing issues) or simply announcing new seasonal products or special offers is up to you. The more you engage your social media circles, the more tightly bound your community will become.
Social media is a fickle mistress, she’s demanding, but she doesn’t like it if you’re overly engaged. There’s a fine line to walk when it comes to expressing your brand’s core principals without getting too personal. We’ve all seen what happens when companies like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby press the tightly held beliefs of their owners too hard – they alienate customers and the media backlash can be brutal.
Building your community requires you to put a part of yourself out there, but you must carefully pick and choose which parts best represent your company as a whole. There are always exceptions to the rule, but most companies benefit from social media when they follow these rules:
- Engage the customer in a fun way. Prevent social media marketing efforts from devolving into flame wars by keeping the tone light, focusing on your products and avoiding polarizing issues.
- Present your customers with special opportunities only available through your social media platforms. Offer coupons for online checkout, giveaways or day-ahead sales fliers exclusively to your brand community.
- Post every day, but don’t post too much. Many members of your social media circles may check in several times a day, but the majority only check their account a few times a week. Too many posts from you may overwhelm these casual users, alienating them. Stick to one or two posts a day.
- Keep your message clear. Even though social media is cluttered with memes, photos of puppies and everybody’s new grandchild, that doesn’t mean your message needs to include these things. When Bob’s Pretzel Store comes out with a new flavor of pretzel, that’s all his social circle really wants to know. They’re treating your community as a type of news source – don’t junk it up with off-brand messages.
The Internet is a constantly evolving creature, making marketing for this platform a unique challenge. Keeping an eye on current trends, engaging your customers by providing them opportunities to express their opinions about your product and maintaining a light tone can go a long way to effective community building.