I’d argue the fundamental principles for building a community are largely the same whether you’re building your fanbase on Facebook or Google+, your subscribers on YouTube or followers on Twitter. It’s clearly not enough to establish your presence on these platforms and expect the community to grow of its own accord. It needs investment, careful nurturing and a coherent content strategy to drive sustained growth and engagement. For simplicity, I break it down to the following 6 steps.
Whilst there will be some organic growth, a community will rarely gain critical mass without promotional investment. So it’s important to deploy a range of techniques to drive traffic to your platforms:
- Owned media – It’s essential you leverage your existing customer touchpoints as much as possible so that your audience can easily follow you via their preferred social channels. So make sure you create a social media hub on your branded website, include signposting on CRM templates and also promote between platforms (eg link your Facebook and Twitter platforms to your custom YouTube channel).
- Paid media – To genuinely accelerate growth, it’s worth investing in paid media to promote your social properties such as print, TV, radio ads, OOH, paid search, pre-roll YouTube ads, facebook advertising etc
- Earned media – If you succeed in creating an engaged community and galvanise your evangelists you will illuminate your properties through word of mouth, sharing, likes, embeds and so on.
Choosing where to host your community is the easy bit. The challenge is coming up with a compelling reason to join. So think about the social proposition for the community and the value exchange which underpins this. For example, you may be offering one or all of the following:
- Breaking news and exclusive content
- Invitations to VIP events
- Exclusive special offers
- Customer service response
- Connection with a passionate community of fans and customers to share stories and experiences
- Consultation on future developments of brand
Your ‘Illuminate’ phase should really encapsulate this desire and provide a tangible reason to join, either by articulating your umbrella social proposition or perhaps some compelling content which can only be accessed by becoming a fan (eg a new Facebook app or livestreaming event). “Fan gating” techniques can also be employed on selected tabs to make it more ‘desirable’ to become a fan of this page.
The reason for visiting a custom YouTube Channel is to find all your best branded video content under one roof. So create playlists so that visitors can immerse themselves within a particular product range, service offering, technology, campaign or storyline. The ultimate aim is to convince all your Youtube visitors to subscribe to this channel in order to remain up to date with the latest videos as they become available. As for Twitter, your profile description is the only opportunity where you can really exaplain why anyone should bother following you.
First impressions are key so make sure you give your fans or followers a warm welcome from the outset. Since you don’t always have complete editorial control on your Wall, all traffic to your Facebook page should always be directed to the Welcome Page. This allows you to creatively explain what’s so good about your Facebook page and why they should like you (as defined in the ‘Desire’ phase above). I’ve also found a ‘What’s new’ carousel quite a useful device to signpost the latest and most compelling content/tabs.
With Twitter you have the advantage of being able to welcome your followers with an automated or personalised DM message.
We all know by now that it’s no good recruiting a large fan base if you don’t cultivate their interest and keep them engaged over the longer term. Engagement rates as a proportion of total fans will be a key metric of success. As will ‘fan attrition rates’. So employ a range of engagement strategies and tactics which will cultivate your communities in such a way which builds positive brand opinion. A coherent content strategy should keep the community engaged and try to stimulate dialogue, participation and debate. At the end of the day, you want an active and lively community not a passive one.
But it’s not just about driving engagement. It’s about galvinising your fans to become believers and evangelists. So set yourself KPIs which encourage advocacy and deploy engagement tactics which deliver against this. So it’s about seeding content which is worth sharing, making sure any content can easily be shared such as embedded videos, Add This plug ins, facebook opengraph etc., This will prove critical in ensuring the community enjoys periods of sustained organic growth without the need of having to resort to paid media all the time.
Many communities leave it at that but I think it’s also important to find ways to migrate social handraisers or fans onto your marketing databases or at least nurture them through the purchase funnel in some way. This will involve either implicit or explicit lead generation techniques from encouraging web referrals and invitations to subscribe to your CRM programme, to even integrating e-commerce funcationality. Some of you may dislike this approach and feel that’s inappriopriate for social channels but I think there are ways to deliver this in a tactful and sensitive way. After all it’s only the leads or sales you generate from your social platforms which will ultimately deliver an ROI so if we don’t make a concerted effort to coax fans through the purchase funnel it’s a missed opportunity in my view.