Campaign Strategy: Online Community Best Practices

12Mar09

Campaign Strategy: Online Community Best Practices

As social media continues to sweep the nations, more and more companies are venturing into the online community space to promote their company’s products or services. Unfortunately, all too many of these companies fail because they are looking at online communities solely as a new way to market themselves, by constantly pushing spammy messages to their members, and not as an opportunity to increase brand engagement, or develop brand evangelists. Jeremiah Owyang, Sr. Analyst at Forrester Research, defines an online community as “an interactive group of people joined together by a common interest.” These groups of like-minded individuals can be focused around a brand or a set of product and services, an when properly developed, customer communities often sprout up some of your brand’s most passionate customers. Successful examples of online communities include XMFan around XM Radio, HDTalking for Harley-Davidson, and IKEAFANS on IKEA products, and who can forget Dell’s online community, which it famously used for a corporate image turnaround in 2007, and due to it’s success remains one of the most highly regarded and highly trafficked customer communities online. So how do you develop an successful online community for your brand? To help you along your journey, I have compiled a list of best practices that will help you develop a solid interactive community.

  1. social_network_id469214_size4401Start with a solid community strategy. Your community needs to be rich with features supporting communication, collaboration, feedback and knowledge exchange. Remember, a community is a social entity. You must give them means to communicate with each other (and you).
  2. Put the needs of the community first. Communities exist to serve the needs of their members, and making sure the community has truly free rein to serve itself — even if it ends up recommending competitor’s products in some cases or becoming a venting zone for customer’s complaints — is essential for the community to thrive through open conversation, honesty, trust, and candor.
  3. Tailor your communications. Do NOT fall into the trap of bulk messaging, or “friend-ing” people you do not know without a proper introduction first. Show them the value your community offers, and invite them to join.
  4. Keep communication consistent. Make sure you communicate and engage with your community throughout the year, not just before large events or promotions. You must engage with your community members every day. Your success, and the return on investment you can achieve are directly related to the amount of time and effort you put in to your community.
  5. Take an active roll in other communities outside of your own network. By contributing ideas, lessons learned, industry information, and your opinion, you will be adding value to their community and promoting yours at the same time. Remember, if you do not add value to your presence, your community people will reject you.
  6. Think outside of to discover new ways to facilitate community. Look outside of industry barriers, and pay attention to what market leaders in other industries are doing in other areas to create a strong and vibrant community that can be found nowhere else. Consider this part of your core competitive advantage.
  7. Give your community a voice, and listen when they speak. Help your community to feel empowered. Ask them to suggest new product or service ideas, vote on topics and speakers, and use the community in new ways you didn’t plan on.
  8. Encourage your brand evangelists. Support and reward loyalty and dedication for those who go above and beyond to assist you with building community value.
  9. Don’t forget about the press. There are many new forms of press/news emerging out of the traditional space, including bloggers, social media press releases, etc.. Work cooperatively with these new voices to cover your conferences, upcoming product/service launches, industry papers, and community by using a variety of new mediums.

Conclusions In conclusion, if you are expecting results from your social media strategy, you must be willing to put in a substantial amount of effort following the guidelines above. Jeremiah Owyang expounds, “ To host a successful community, think of it as you would product development: Start by focusing on objectives, chart a road map, assemble the right team, and plan to be flexible. Then build your success by launching the community with the backing of your most enthusiastic customers and staying engaged as the community grows.” For additional ideas on how to effectively engage with your customers online, check out “So You Have a Facebook Profile…Now What?” If you have any questions about online community building, leave me a comment with your email, and I will be sure to send you a fast reply.

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