Call it a target market, tribe, or online community: In all cases, building and maintaining an audience for your products or services is now key to maintaining a competitive edge. What’s more, with the amount of time that audiences spend online rising, even as attention spans are declining, it’s more imperative than ever for businesses to find clever ways to engage end users.
But a good strategy can help communications pros create and nurture a successful brand-focused community.
To begin, consider that online communities fill a unique—and uniquely crowded—space in the business world. Finding ways to differentiate and add value (such as by providing thought leadership, demonstrating unique or novel ways to utilize your solutions, or helping shoppers save time, money, and effort) is key to standing out. Learning to scale is equally important: People-based platforms only grow when enough people routinely utilize them. How can you create enough of a critical mass to attract a crowd, and spark user-generated growth? Incentivize early adopters into becoming evangelists by creating communications campaigns that feature both these individuals and their insights or creations (i.e. in the form of online videos, photo galleries, or highlighted profiles), and offering ample rewards, prizes, and special deals or discounts for community membership.
Likewise, social media is one of the most powerful tools you can use to encourage people to interact with your brand and community. You can do so by sharing news, opinions, and feedback on the latest trends; fostering dialogue and discussion; crowdsourcing feedback, ideas, or audio/visual content; and asking questions or conducting polls and surveys. Likewise, from a communications standpoint, someone must be assigned the task of monitoring both community and social media platforms on a 24/7 basis to respond to breaking news and developments. Customer expectations when it comes to both engagement and response times are sky-high. Be prepared to stay connected and leverage processes, platforms, and people that can help you respond to your community at a moment’s notice.
Similarly, it helps to grow an online community around a brand by encouraging real-world interaction, e.g. through live events and programming. A key to successful community management is proactively cultivating grassroots connections. Like a political campaign, the broadest possible message succeeds when it is repeated in small, intimate pockets. Can you build ongoing event programming, user groups, local city and state chapters, teams, or special interest groups around your brand and solutions? If so, as part of a holistic communications campaign, it pays to host events—in-person, online, or virtually—that can put faces to names, and take people behind the scenes of your latest offerings.
One hugely important step to creating success with an online community is to define some simple objectives and rules that can help you define success from the outset. Your goal as a market leader could be to get customers to galvanize around virtually any topic from how to create better photos and videos to coaxing the best performance from home security or A/V systems. Similarly, key metrics used to determine success might include the number of users active in your community, the amount of time they spend online, or the length of their average engagement, just to name a few possible suggestions. In any event, all goals you’re aiming for should be measurable and objective – and set in the form of numerical hypotheses (get X many users, drive Y number of new leads) that you can test. To get started defining your vision and approach, professionals recommend asking questions like:
- How do you define engagement?
- How quickly do you hope to increase engagement?
- What level of engagement increase will you consider a success?
Defining a clear vision and purpose, creating a profile of audience members you specifically wish to attract, and adhering to meaningful metrics will help you stay focused as you build your online platform. And remember, humans may be social creatures, but they’re seldom predictable. However, the more you can incentivize them as a communications pro to take part in a community around your brand—whether by sharing their thoughts, asking questions, uploading videos, connecting with thought leaders, or otherwise—the more you’ll watch your community thrive and grow.
Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and a bestselling author of several business and leadership books. The CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, he can be contacted at www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.