You aren’t alone. Marketers are finally understanding the bigger picture: how many ‘likes’ you get doesn’t necessarily translate to more sales. As a result, savvy social media strategists are measuring engagement metrics—how often their audience members interact with posted content and each other through their channels.
But when it comes to Facebook and Twitter, you’re still presented with some pretty clear obstacles. How do you encourage more visits to your page? Even if you get visitors, how long will they stay before something else draws them away? Will users who engage with a status update or other piece of content continue to discuss after an initial post?
Social Networks have an Identity Challenge
Social networks have an identity problem. Audience motivations and perspectives don’t always align with the expectations of a brand.
Online communities, on the other hand, arrange themselves around clearly defined goals, messaging and values. Imagine what a brilliant online niche community offers to the business trying to reach a clearly defined audience. Filter out the white noise and engage your target audience directly.
How is an Online Community Different from a Social Network?
In general, social networks make use of real-world relationships, visualizing how people map their personal connections. They don’t necessary hone in on a specific topic, interest or goal.
Online communities like LitReactor (for writers and avid readers) and Built In Chicago (for Chicago-based tech professionals and entrepreneurs) focus discussion around shared interests, regardless of previous personal interactions.
They occur both on B2B and B2C levels and span the gamut from professional interests to hobbies to like-minded group goals.
Consider the following four reasons a brilliant online community has more potential than your current social networking strategy:
1. Actual stakeholders willingly identify themselves.
There’s a mess of data on social networks. How do you sift through it to find your audience? Shouldn’t it be simpler?
Engaging the right online community ensures a prime selection of audience members—actual stakeholders who may be tied up in the topic on personal or professional levels. These are your key influencers—audience members with the potential to become brand evangelists or major customers. Within the walls of the community you’ll find a treasure-trove of behavioral and personal data.
2. Limit distractions and white noise.
Facebook feeds constantly update, cluttering your target’s attention with information that may or may not be related. You could be competing with a best friend, a comedian, a musician or another brand for that attention.
In most cases, a community newsfeed won’t update as rapidly. You know exactly why your audience visits: to network and converse around the community’s interest. Distractions are limited to content that doesn’t take your audience out of the mindset that makes them receptive to your brand.
3. Participate in targeted, unadulterated discussion.
An online community evens the score. It’s a venue where brands and customers can talk to each other on a personal level. With the support of the community, members are more likely to offer honest feedback. They feel protected by other members and expect fair treatment.
You have a clear opportunity to build a personal connection between your brand and your audience members. Inside an online community, you can engage on a more effective level around targeted content.
4. Members get a say.
The conversations aren’t the only pieces of content shaped by community members; in a strong community, members can shape the site as a whole. As a result, members have a stronger connection to the online community brand. Earn their trust, and your brand can enjoy insider status, too.
If you can’t find the right online community for your audience, you have an opportunity to create one. All it takes is putting the right communication tools in place and getting the word out.
Before deciding to build a community under the umbrella of your brand, consider the alternative. A brilliant community that represents the interests of your brand without explicit sponsorship means a level playing field and a true opportunity to engage with your audience.
Guest Author: Michael Silverman – In addition to founding and leading Chicago-based Duo Consulting, Michael Silverman has headed up a number of online community development projects for 15 years. He just launched the book on online communities, Capturing Community: How to Build, Manage and Market Your Online Community.
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Image By Jon McGovern