Social media and online community aren’t oil and water. They are a screwdriver and a hammer. And they should both be in your toolbox if you’re trying to engage with your customers, fans, partners, or prospects (your “people”).
Social media includes all of the big social networks; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. Places where you don’t own the turf, but your people are hanging out.
A branded community is an owned virtual space, tied to your web property, where you can interact with your people. It can be powered by a SaaS platform or software you host yourself.
There are marketers out there who will go all Hatfield and McCoy on you if you dare to talk about one strategy or the other.
“Go where your people are.” Period.
“Hunt down your people and drag them back to your cave.” Period.
I’m here to call a ceasefire between the social media managers and the community managers. We’re all on the same team!
The best marketing strategies take a diversified approach. It should never be “all eggs in one basket.”
You must look at your own business situation, not everyone else’s. Choose the tools that will help you accomplish your business goals.
The digital world is shifting rapidly; you need to be flexible, as your audience’s habits and needs will change too. Aren’t you glad you didn’t go “all in” on MySpace?
Now that we’ve decided to work together, here are some concrete ideas that will help you start leveraging the best of both worlds.
Social networks and branded communities are a two-way street for engagement and content creation.
A quick note about privacy – there are slightly different tactics if you’re dealing with a private community (like an intranet or customer service situation), where it’s trickier to leverage social media. That’s a topic for a different blog post. For purposes of this article, I’m talking mostly about publicly accessible branded communities and public social media accounts.
First, get very clear on what your business and marketing goals are.
Figure out how you’re going to measure against those goals. Set up your metrics on all platforms, both social media and community.
Use social networks as pointers to the community hub. Consider the social networks as “feeders,” and include a link to your community site in the profiles of all of your social networks.
Do member outreach through the social networks. Encourage your community members to share content from the community, and make it easy for them to do so. Every once in a while, post an invitation to join the community, via your social updates. (Don’t overdo this.)
Use social network numbers as social proof within your community hub.
Use online community to have deeper, more lasting discussions that won’t disappear in the timeline. The greatest thing about having a community hub is that you get the SEO value of hosting dynamic, expert content on your own domain. That content remains as useful, searchable content that will persist over time. We’re talking about an asset that adds lasting value to your customers.
Be more nimble in your social networks, while maintaining a longer-term strategy with your online community. It’s great to be able to answer quick questions in social channels, and then have the deeper dive happen in your community.
Allow members to promote themselves/their projects through your social network tie-ins. Use your powers for good! Offer to help promote your community members’ projects, news, and expertise through your social network. The more light you shine on your community members the better.
Use the ripple effect for member recruitment…your social network followers’ followers may be interested in your subject area. Use a tool like SocialBro, Followerwonk, or SimplyMeasured to find people who might fit your member profile, and consider reaching out.
Take advantage of embedding to pull social content into your community automatically. Most of the social networks offer simple embed code that you can pull into your branded community, where it makes sense (for example, consider pulling in a stream from a relevant Twitter hashtag or your latest YouTube video).
Conversely, many community platforms offer embeddable content that you can pull out to other platforms, to highlight interesting community content, recent members, etc. It’s great to tease the valuable content you offer.
Remember that any marketing strategy is not “one-size-fits-all.” Find the right mix of community tools for your business, and leverage them together! What strategies do you use? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.