An engaged social media community is integral to your success online. It’s the very reason businesses join social networks in the first place. Your social media community isn’t just composed of prospective buyers; it’s also full of potential advocates—the people who will spread your message beyond your reach to their own networks. In a business climate where 92 percent of people trust earned media, such as recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising, these social media advocates are indispensable.
Earning this community isn’t as simple as buying followers. You need a social media community that is supportive and long-lasting. Since consumers on social media are in control of what and who they follow, earning their support means making a connection with them beyond simple advertising.
So how do you build those relationships and create your social media community? There are three main stages in that process, and we explore each below.
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Stage 1: Building a Foundation for Social Media Community
The first step towards creating a social media community is to build a foundation that will help you attract and keep followers.
Social media communities are basically groups of users rallying around a common interest or goal (ideally, your business or product). ‘Rallying’ in this case can take the form of following, engaging, sharing and promoting your content, social presence or brand. For any of these actions to occur, you must first build a social presence worth rallying around.
The foundation of social media community is built on two-way communication. Yes, you should regularly be sharing high-quality content that provides value to your followers, and talking about your business will be a part of that. But a social media community requires a greater focus on personalized interactions. You need to respond to all questions and inquiries, thank people for sharing your content, engage users who are talking about your industry, address negative feedback, and generally be a resource to social media users. These conversations show a level of commitment and accessibility on your part that will help turn followers into community members. They show that you put people over products.
Social media listening is a core part of this. Listen to your existing followers, to prospects not yet following you, to your competitors, to people following your competitors, and get a sense of why they use social media. Let that insight shape how you communicate with your community moving forward.
Stage 2: Growing Your Social Media Community
Once you’ve built a base for your social media community, it’s time to scale. You don’t just want to grow your following, you want to build a targeted audience of engaged social media users and influencers.
The reality is, not all followers are created equal. The reason you shouldn’t simply go buy 100 followers is because they likely won’t be engaged or get involved in your community, and they might not even be real. Earning 10 engaged followers yourself is a far more valuable use of your time.
Here are three best practices for growing the right kind of social media community.
Engage in strategic conversations
Find people who represent your ideal community member: someone who is interested in or knowledgeable about your topic of interest, someone who is an engaged and regular social media users and someone who has an existing following. Reach out to them and engage in a personal, one-on-one conversation about the subject or industry as a whole—not your product or business. If you can make these influences a regular part of your community, they’ll prove invaluable in growing your audience.
Connect with your offline community
Most businesses have existing offline communities. These are the people that regularly buy from your stores or use your services, attend your events and sales and live or work in your area. They could also be vendors or partners. You’ve managed to make a connection with these people already. There’s no reason you can’t shift this offline community onto social media.
To do so, make sure your social media profiles are listed on your website, and physical materials you distribute (print ads, flyers, even pizza boxes). Social media should also be an integral part of any events you host. And if you’re very close with members of your offline community, you could always actually ask them to follow you on social media. You might be surprised by how many people do just that.
At some point people got it into their heads that their following to follower ratio was important. Ignore this. What’s important is whether or not you’re achieving your social media goals. So be generous. Follow users that follow you, and engage with the content they share. Shout-out community members who contribute positively to your online discussions. Don’t skimp on Favorites or Likes. And if you’re able to, reward the people who stand out in your community. Send them swag or discounts. Send them hand-written letters. Just do what you can, within your means, to show your appreciation. This will pay off ten-fold as other users begin to see the benefits in being active members of your community.
Once you’ve grown your social media community, never forget to always been engaging. It’s not enough to grow a community and then shift your focus to your product. You need to maintain that engagement or your community will disappear.
Stage 3: Leveraging Your Social Media Community
Ultimately you’re still a business, and you’ve worked hard to build a community so that you can leverage it to achieve business goals. There are a number of ways to leverage your social media community. It’s important that no matter which ones you choose, you should never ignore the principles on which you built this community. You don’t want to throw everything you’ve built out the window for a quick sale.
Here are just a few of the ways to leverage your social media community:
Collect feedback: Your community will be very in-tune with your social media presence as well as your business. You’d have a hard time finding a better audience from which to collect feedback. Conduct surveys and polls and ask your community to be honest. You don’t want them to be positive, you want them to tell the truth. This feedback will help shape your social media and broader business strategies moving forward.
Crowdsource content: If your social media community is truly engaged, you shouldn’t have a hard time crowdsourcing content from them. This could be very simple. Hootsuite occasionally asks our Twitter followers a general social media questions and uses their response as inspiration for a blog post. You could also run a photo contest and post the entries on Instagram. Or you may want more advanced content, and tap your community for blog writers or case studies. User-generated content is one of the greatest benefits of having a social media community.
Amplify your news: When you do have a big announcement or piece of news you want to share widely, ask your community for help. If they have an interest in your business or product, many of them won’t mind sharing your news with your networks. This doesn’t only benefit the reach of your news, but also the impact since, as mentioned above, people trust their friends and family more than anything else when it comes to purchasing.
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