Growing an online social community is not the same as growing the most effective social media communities to strengthen a brand and increase sales. Attracting people who offer your brand something of value requires a deep understanding of effective social media strategies.
By Joshua Ferdinand
Social media is a technology that can deliver huge competitive advantages or huge brand damage. Between the two extremes are mediocre results that include not growing a vibrant social media community or results that companies constantly have to "chase" because they are unintended consequences of marketing mistakes.
Ultimately, the goal of every business utilizing social media is to grow their business by getting people talking about their brand in a positive way. Just like marketing or sales functions grow a business by implementing well-designed coherent strategies, so should the people managing social media for the business whether trying to attract consumers or doing B2B marketing.
Under the Influence
It is easy to jump feet first into social media because of its accessibility. However, it is a relationship building tool. Thinking of it as merely a marketing technology does not embrace the concept of relationship building, and this is where so many businesses find themselves wondering why their social communities are not growing, the business is constantly on the defensive, and their business voice is being drowned out.
Miscommunication is probably one of the greatest dangers of social media used inappropriately. There are plenty of examples of big brands that have made huge mistakes or attracted the wrong audience, despite all the talent and money invested in growing their online relationships with consumers and businesses.
Attracting the right people to social communities is a common goal of all businesses of all sizes. Attracting the wrong people leads to wasted resources as employees spend time nurturing relationships that will not lead to new business, sales, recommendations or new "right" connections.
One of the important concepts to master is influencer marketing, a driving force behind growing a social community. An "influencer" is someone who has a large following, usually on multiple social media sites, and likes the brand so is willing to promote it. The key is to find the influencers who are aligned with the brand and not just people who have large followings. The influencers are people who have a large following and promote your products and services.
This is a modern approach to the old-fashioned testimonial. Unlike the traditional testimonial, social media allows people to offer unfiltered comments, and the positive comments are powerful marketing statements.
Successful influencer marketing can lead to a large following of people who are actively offering interest in or feedback on products and services. These are the people who need attention, so the business should focus on managing the influencer communities.
Some companies partner with a technology company to provide the data and analytics that enable the business to identify and manage influencers, and to adapt its non-social media marketing efforts. The comments people make on social media offer a wealth of useful information, but the information it contains needs capturing in some form.
Another reason companies utilize suppliers like diverse technology companies with expertise in social media marketing is that social media is ever-changing, and it is challenging to keep up with the changes in algorithms. When a business does not keep up, it can lose control of the messaging or fail to capture the data it needs. By successfully capturing brand-related data from organic growth, the business can develop marketing strategies to purposefully grow its social media following of influencers.
Another key best practice to grow a social community relevant to the brand is making sure the in-house users have in-depth knowledge of the social site platform's features to take advantage of their features. Consumers and suppliers are regularly updating their skills in order to take advantage of social site features.
Companies like Facebook regularly change and adds features. Since the goal is to build a strong brand, understanding and using all the marketing features makes sense. For example, Facebook has an excellent marketing tool called "Audience Insights" that provides detailed information about the audience targeted. Facebook's introduction to Audience Insights says, "Get to know the people who matter to your business, so you can understand what matters to them." The tool offers insights on location, behaviors and interests that can be used to create relevant content. Other social sites like Instagram have lesser known marketing features.
Communicating a Culture
After attracting the right people, the next goal is to encourage them to share posts, videos and images related to the brand. The business perspective that works best is to view social media as an opportunity to share more than products or services.
Social media can be used for things like conveying a positive organizational culture and proof of social responsibility, and engaging employees by giving them public recognition for their successes. For B2B marketing, posts are used to create thought leadership, demonstrate expertise, and offer solutions, in addition to increasing brand awareness. B2B marketing campaigns need alignment with sales strategies and goals, with marketing and sales working synergistically.
Above all, remember that building social communities is about online interaction between people. Keeping a line drawn between personal and business community building is wise, but one can impact the other.
People in top corporate positions and popular media personalities have learned that what they say on their personal social media accounts can have consequences for their business lives. It is important for top executives, senior managers and other leaders to consistently project a positive image when online because one slipup can go viral.
Go Ahead … We are Listening
Growing a strong social community is a relationship building exercise. Businesses managing social media sites should utilize them as listening tools as much as sharing tools. Positive two-way communication can identify customer needs, leading to innovation, and identify issues concerning the brand before they impact sales or the public image.
Forge relationships with influencers, manage organic growth emanating from influencers, and develop a marketing plan for targeted online growth in the social community. Above all, be a great social citizen that honestly cares about its online and offline communities. Successful social media marketing is a combination of mastering technology and relationship building.