Growth Marketer Academy: Episode 21 – Build and Sustain Online Communities: An Epic Guide
An engaged social online community is the holy grail of social media management.
It’s true – people think of social media as a free pool of people to market to. But just like so much else in digital marketing, appearances are deceiving.
Paths that get you leads for “free” generally take a lot of time.
And that time can be wasted if you don’t do it right.
A social following is NOT a community. And that’s what most marketers will try to sell you – followers.
This is a key distinction. An online community requires that you create an environment that fosters relationships and organic conversations.
Lay The Groundwork
Define Your Goal
Online community development is just like any other marketing task
You must define your goal before you begin
How else will you know if your efforts were successful?
What do you hope to gain by developing your brand’s online community?
- Increase revenue?
- Drive brand awareness?
Make your goal SMART.
Your community goal is to increase engagement.
That’s too vague to build a community around.
Break this goal down the SMART way:
- how do you want engagement to increase?
- and from whom?
Let’s say you want more new members to engage in conversation on your discussion board.
How easily can you collect data to measure progress towards your goal?
You should have at least one strategy in mind to achieve your goal.
Your goal needs to be relevant to what you’re trying to achieve.
Your goal is to increase engagement
Your metric for success is an increase in ROI
There’s a clear mismatch in what you’re doing and hoping to achieve.
Goals should be achievable within a sensible time(weeks or months)
Setting a goal helps you identify the kind of members your community needs.
Decide The Metrics You’ll Use To Measure Success
You’ll need to identify the most relevant key performance indicators (KPIs).
You use these to determine the performance of your community in relation to your goals.
It’s how you justify the time and resources you’ll devote to building a community.
On social media, it’s common to measure the following:
- Applause (follows and likes)
- Engagement (comments and shares)
- Link clicks
- Page visits
How do you determine which KPI matters?
Simply Measured put together this cool table
Breaks down the metric you should use based on where a community member is in their buyer’s journey.
If you already have an established online community, you could measure campaign success by looking at:
- Micro-Conversions (downloads, form completion, video watched)
- Return visit (page views)
- Direct conversions
- Customer acquisition cost
These will be a bit harder to measure
They are highly reliant on the campaign you’re running
Only consider these if your audience is already reasonable engaged.
Identify Your Audience And What They Care About
Figuring out the purpose of your community is just the beginning.
Next: identify a target audience to base your community around.
Isn’t every follower of your brand a target?
Your community needs a strong underlying theme.
Time to pull out those audience personas we talked you through way back in Episode TWO.
Quick recap – for each persona, you should know:
Pick ONE persona amongst those of your customers
Whoever you feel would benefit most from your community and offer the most returns for you as a brand.
This is your core audience.
Key question: What motivates them or grabs their attention?
What motivates them or grabs their attention?
If you want to create content that your community actually engages with, you have to be able to answer this question.
For example, Someone interested in running might want to learn about the training regimen of other runners more than reviews of gear.
Running an interview series with fellow runners will be more effective than product-focused posts.
Note: there is no mention here of promoting yourself or talking about your upcoming sale!
How to find what your community members care about:
In your Facebook Ad Manager account, click on “Insights” under tools.
The first prompt will ask you to select an audience.
No following yet? Choose “Everyone on Facebook”
Already have a significant following? Go with “People Connected To Your Page.”
Narrow this audience down further by entering the following information:
DON’T list generic interests.
You run a sports blog
Most of your content and community is tailored towards runners
Choose something like “Runner’s World” as your interest.
The results provide a good overview of who your community members are.
To find out what they care about, click on the “Page Likes” tab
- a list of related categories this audience is interested in
- some of the most popular pages within said category.
This is a goldmine of content ideas for your community.
For example, let say your research shows your audience of runners shows a strong interest in diet/nutrition
Don’t waste time and resources developing content around the latest shoe
Instead, create content like “food to fuel marathon training.”
Twitter Followers Dashboard
Twitter has its own analytics tool…
If you have existing followers, you can see related topics (or related accounts) that they find most interesting.
Head over to Twitter Analytics > Audiences > Your Followers.
Sample of the Followers Dashboard:
Better yet? This info updates in real-time
You monitor changes in interests as they happen.
Helps you compose tweets that will resonate with your community.
Another option = FollowerWonk.
Lets you see who your competition is talking to on Twitter.
These are potential community members that you may want to try to win over to your brand.
Choose the “Compare Users”
It’ll give you a visual overview that shows where different accounts overlap in terms of common followers.
- get a clickable list of followers unique to each account.
- be able to compare social authority of each account.
Social listening tools
Social listening is kind of like eavesdropping on your customers
You want to know what your audience is talking about.
About your competitors.
And to each other.
Just select a few keywords you want to be notified for.
Tip: don’t just put your brand name here.
Keywords should be related to your product or a problem you solve.
Assess the popularity of the content being shared
Use the most popular ideas as inspiration for your next post.
Check out sites like GrowthHackers, Inbound, or Reddit.
Note topics being upvoted in your niche
This is a good indicator of what’s popular in your community.
You’ve laid the foundation
It’s time to build your community.
Follow these guidelines:
The 80/20 Rule
Nobody wants to hang out with someone who’s constantly talking about themselves.
Don’t make your page or community all about you.
Make 80% of your content something community members will appreciate or love.
The remaining 20% can be promotional.
“Wait, I thought you said not to be promotional??”
You can be promotional here
BUT I’d recommend against it.
Instead, use the 20% to deliver more value to your community.
The 80/20 ratio is not set in stone.
Adjust it until you find what works for your community.
Good news: you don’t have to create the bulk of the content.
- user-generated content (UGC)
- run interviews
- or even share your competitor’s content.
User-generated content = pictures, videos, or testimonials created by your community members as content.
Great way to get members active while promoting your brand.
Designer brand MarcJacobs ran a competition on Instagram to find a model for their brand.
They increased engagement in their community
People followed the brand to vote with comments.
Also gained a steady stream of content for their feed.
What if you don’t have an established, active following?
Entice followers with a prize or contest
Once you have created an environment of follower posted content, your community will require less enticement and more moderation.
Engage, Engage, and Engage
A community requires you to do more than just provide value.
Communities are about relationships
You need to actively engage with your members.
Read their comments
Join in the conversation.
Being humorous and showing your personality goes a long way.
Just look at the number of retweets this reply from Wendy’s garnered.
It’s not enough to just respond to requests and follower posts.
You have to be proactive
You have to create conversations.
Some ways start a conversation:
- Invite active members to hang out on a webinar or contribute to beta testing
- Follow community members and comment on their content
- Randomly send a message to your less active members so that they don’t feel left out
- Host a Q&A
HootSuite regularly hosts chat sessions with their community.
You won’t make friends overnight but keep at it.
You’ll eventually capture the hearts of your community.
Engagement doesn’t always mean conversation.
Consider suggestion made a moment ago:
Follow your community members and share their content
(through shares, retweets, and repins).
Show your followers that you respect their thoughts and opinions enough to promote their posts
They’ll be more inclined to feel positive about your brand.
To encourage activity among your community members, be consistent but not overbearing.
You want to seem genuine
Patience is a virtue here.
Lay Down the Law
It’s easy for a community to be consumed by negativity.
A few bad comments or trolls can consume your community
Turn the sentiment of the community
Lead happy customers away.
Negativity breeds more negativity
Set the rules
Don’t let negative comments go unchecked.
Just make sure you stay friendly.
Establish the rules
Spell out exactly what is acceptable behavior in your community.
Here’s an example from National Wildlife Federation:
Provide a behavior guideline.
Include penalties for breaking the established guidelines.
Example, warn that violators could be banned.
Don’t deviate from this guideline
Don’t apply different guidelines for different community members.
What if the rules are broken?
Don’t haul out the ban hammer immediately.
Be gentle and kind to new offenders.
A person may have been having a bad day or simply didn’t know the rules.
Provide a polite warning
Make sure they know what they did wrong.
Reserve banishment for people who break the rules repeatedly despite warnings.
This will make your community better for everyone.
Listen to your community
Your community is made by its members, not you.
Pay attention to issues your members bring to light.
What if it’s negative?
Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist and delete their concern.
Respond with kindness and seek to solve the root of the issue.
Members often go back to retract, edit, or apologize for their initial negativity once their issue is resolved.
If this happens, make sure to acknowledged and thank the person.
This discourages trolls who feed off your reaction.
Getting annoyed or angry encourages trolls
Don’t feed the trolls!
Instead, respond with kindness
They’ll lose steam and look elsewhere to get their kick.
Measure, Test, And Repeat
Like most marketing activities, you need to measure the success of your efforts.
Waiting to test until after you’ve ‘finished’ building your community is risky
Create a monthly report that helps you oversee the progress of your KPIs.
Compile data that answers
- what is going right,
- what went wrong,
- and new opportunities worth exploring.
If something went wrong:
Aim to understand why to avoid the same mistake in the future. (maybe the timing of your content was poor.)
Ask your members what they liked and didn’t like.
Modify your plan of attack accordingly
Before you begin the next cycle of testing.
Don’t confuse a passive audience with a community.
A community will read, watch, listen, participate and share. Its a group of individuals that are invested in your brand.
They can be champions of your success – if they’re properly nurtured.