By Karly O’Brien
The ins and outs of creating an online community
By Karly O’Brien
The old methods of creating a customer base still exist, but if you’re
not tapping into online social media networks then you may be missing
opportunities to grow.
The old methods of creating a customer base still exist, but if you’re not tapping into online social media networks then you may be missing opportunities to grow.
In a recent study by Forrester Research, more than 20 per cent of consumers trusted a brand more if they had a presence on a social media outlet, while more than 50 per cent of consumers didn’t trust companies that didn’t have a website.
The demand for an online presence is there, but deciding where to start can get people nervous. It’s easy to look at the hundreds of different social media outlets and be a little wary of stepping into a new online world. Facebook and Twitter are two of the most recognizable brands in social media, but does that make them the best networks to invest in? Maybe not. There are other forums out there such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress and Tumblr that may better suit your needs.
Take a moment to contemplate, and research the options. Remember though, it all boils down to this: how do you create an online community? With new options popping up while others are shutting down, how do you navigate which to choose and which to ignore? As one social media consultant puts it, you don’t. “That’s exactly the wrong question to ask,” says Randall Craig, president of IdeaSpace and the author of Online PR & Social Media. “The real question to ask is, what are your goals that you want to achieve using social media?”
From the bottom up
Start by determining the weakest link in the company and examining it. It can be anything from improving sales to increasing the trust that customers associate with the brand.
Craig gives the examples of bringing awareness to a new coffee machine that is launched, or encouraging purchases from new customers. “Once you determine your goals, that is when you look at social media and figure out which ones will complement it.”
After goals are established, and a social media network to complement them, it’s time to create a community of followers to support the company’s products, and the company itself. Managing such a community allows business owners to tap into their markets with ease, but it is just as easy to get lost in the crowds and be forgotten if you’re not doing it right. Craig explains the best way to cultivate a relationship is through something he calls a “relationship curve.”
According to Craig, the relationship curve states that consumers go through four stages before making a purchase. Those stages are awareness, preference, trial and commitment.
He explains that it is important not to create a website or a social media page with the expectation it will boost the company’s online presence, because it won’t.
When I say being online I don’t just mean create a website or a social media account,” he says. “It’s about what you are going to put on the page, and how it’s going to be presented to the consumer – even if it’s just Facebook.” He points out that companies tend to practise awareness, but do not carry out the other three stages to actually see a benefit from the money put into creating awareness.
“The idea is to put wind in the sails of the brand by making it interesting and engaging for the people who actually choose to get to the social media site,” urges Craig.
He adds that it is important to create promotional contests, post customer testimonials, and educational and support videos. “This is so important because then the community can then like it using Facebook, follow it using Tumblr or Pinterest, or share it using WordPress or Twitter, thereby broadcasting your website or your brand to their community and followers.”
Craig notes that there is a synthesis between what happens online and offline, which he finds people often forget about. One idea he mentioned is to have a QR code on a product that encourages the customer to “Go Here.” The code could link to the company’s Facebook page, LinkedIn page, website or support videos that help the purchaser install or use the product they bought. “This could help reduce support costs,” he says. “If you have any special deals or coupons that is also a good incentive to go online.”
Getting your feet wet
Canadian Vending and Office Coffee Service also spoke with Kristen Busai, MEI’s vending marketing manager, who is armed with the right tools and know-how in social media. She shared some tips, and provided a break down of how to capitalize on some popular outlets.
Blog: On MEI’s blog, there are customer testimonials, educational videos that are linked to YouTube, and weekly how-tos that provide tips for vendors and operators.
“It’s all educational and very informative,” she says. “We try to put something original up every week.” Original content drives people to come back, and by posting reliably once a week readers know how often to check for updates.
LinkedIn: Dubbed the business forum, LinkedIn is a way to initiate discussion, share thoughts and debate.
“We created a group on LinkedIn where we will post something daily of interest to the members,” she says. “We also try to tell people to come on the group’s forum at a certain time and date to host a debate or discussion on a particular topic. This works out great, and there’s always a ton of feedback.”
Twitter: This forum is more fast-paced compared to blogs or LinkedIn. It is designed to relay information that is of immediate interest to followers. If they find it interesting, there is the option to retweet, quote retweet, make it a favourite post, and the user can also create a 140-character comment or post. Busai compares it to breaking news.
“For Twitter, there’s the benefit of sharing content quickly,” she explains. “I always try to go on it several times a day to update it and see what else is going on in the industry.”
She adds that is also a great way to promote the business and offer deals.
Facebook: This outlet is a way to display the organization’s culture that also offers the ability to upload several photo albums and long posts (more than 140 characters, unlike Twitter), and a section to talk about the company’s beliefs and vision.
“Facebook is a little bit more personal compared to, say, Twitter, which is more business-like,” Busai comments. “We find that we get a lot more employees and partners liking us on Facebook and joining in on the discussions there as opposed to Twitter.”
Videos: Any video can be posted on a website, posted on YouTube (or any other site that allows videos to be uploaded), or posted on both. Videos are a way for a company to inform the public and engage on a more personal and interactive level.
“We use our videos as educational,” she says. “We use [the videos] to host discussion panels, demonstrations and Q-and-As, among other things.” She adds that the company loads videos onto its website and from there they are automatically uploaded to YouTube.
With more than one social media platform to update on a daily basis, Busai recommends using the information across all platforms to help give the message a broader reach and also to make the platforms manageable on a day-to-day basis.
Busai adds one last tip that she believes is most important: “Just try it out,” she urges. “It’s great to bolster your company’s image, interact with others in the industry, and once you get the hang of it, it’s amazing how you can enhance awareness of your company.” o