With new social communities popping up everywhere, it is hard to ignore them as a new means of communication with your target market. Social communities have broken the communication barrier between marketers and consumers. With Social Bookmarking sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Del.icio.us; Social Networking sites like LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook; and Social Content Sharing sites like Reddit, Technorati, Newsvine it allows marketers to interact with their market like never before.
Unlike traditional advertising, social media allows for people to have an engaging experience by being able to start or take part in a dialogue with another user, community, or group. It allows for users to voice their opinion, comment on a topic, start a group, ask questions, give recommendations, and easily communicate with others who share their same passion.
Here is a breakdown of how you can create an effective social community strategy:
Before you can create a social community strategy that will be successful, you need to find out where people are talking about you and your products. I don’t care what market you are in, people are already talking about your company, product, service or industry. The key is to find out where that is. It could be a blog, a social community, a discussion board, a wiki, a social networking group or all of these. Do a search for your company name, brand name, products, and services. See what comes up. Look and see where people are talking about you.
Some of the best feedback you will ever find on your company and industry can be found in a social community.
Choosing Your Medium
Once you have identified where people are talking about you, you need to determine yours means of communicating with them. What is the best way for you to interact with your audience?
Start a blog: A blog is a great choice for a company looking to add fresh, new content to their site. It is a way to educate consumers about your products, services, and industry news. Most importantly it is a way to get a conversation started between you and your readers. A blog can help build your SEO because each post will add a new page that will get indexed by the search engines.
Start a Discussion Board: For companies that have a lot of support questions, a discussion board is a great resource for customers to ask and answer troubleshooting questions for you. Customers can ask questions about the product they just purchased or a particular problem they may have with it. The community can act as your support team and start to answer questions to similar problems they have fixed. This can significantly reduce the amount of money you spend on a support team, because a great deal of consumers questions are already being answered on the discussion board.
Start a Social Group: For companies that have a strong brand or product name, starting a social group in Facebook or MySpace can be a centralized location for loyal consumers to discuss your brand.
Take a look at the famous Victoria Secret “Pink” group on Facebook. With over 400,000 fans, Victoria secret has created a place for people to share their opinion on VS products, tell stories, share their passion for VS and interact with each other. User generated content has become a powerful marketing tool for companies. This example shows that! Victoria Secret can now listen to what users are talking about which may help understand their target audience better.
What are they talking about? What are they looking for? Are their noticeable trends in demand? Are their problems with certain products?
You can find all of this information out just by listening to what people are talking about.
Start your own internal Social Community: Medium to large companies may have a tough time communicating and sharing ideas with each other because of geographic differences, different time schedules, and company hierarchies. Having your own social community will allow your company to break the communication barrier by having a location for employees to share ideas, give feedback, ask questions, share experiences, etc…
Creating Useful Content
No matter what medium you choose to reach your target user or market, you need to create content that is useful and interesting. Nobody wants to visit a blog that is uninteresting and has no value to the reader. Easier said than done, but create content that is unique, intriguing and easy to read. You also want to make sure you optimize your content for search engines.
Engage in the Conversation
Once you have started your social community strategy, make sure that you monitor it closely. I would suggest dedicating at least one person to your medium so that they can monitor comments, answer questions people may have, and overall keep the conversation going.
If someone asks a question about a blog post that you just wrote, make sure you respond to their question. The faster the better. If a user sees that you are following up with their questions they will be much more apt to keep reading your blog and taking part in the discussion.
Spread the Word
Don’t think that by writing a few articles or blog posts that the readers will just start pouring in. You need to go out and promote your social community. Here are a few ways you gain more traffic to your social community site.
Make Friends: Become friends with people in your industry. Whether you meet them on a niche community site, Linkedin, social bookmarking site, or blog; it is important to make friends along the way. Tell your friends about the new blog you set up or the social community you started.
Social Bookmark Your Best Content: Bookmark your content to sites like Sphinn, Furl, or Digg.
Q & A Sites: Find questions on sites like Yahoo! Answers and AnswerBag and answer questions people have about your topic. Link back to a post or site that is related to the question.
Guest Blogging: Write an article or post for someone else’s website and mention your social group or blog.
Contests: Start a contest or giveaway to simulate interest.