Tag Archive for 'marketing'

Promoting Your Community Efforts the Right Way

Last week, I started a series focused on corporate communities with posts about planning and getting started, maintaining a successful community, and structuring your community. In this final post for the corporate community series, we will spend some time on the right and wrong ways to promote your community efforts. Some of this advice also applies more broadly to promotion of other social media efforts as well.

Good ways to get the word out about your community

I wish there was an easy answer to the best way to get the word out about your community; however, it really comes down to basic marketing principles. Do your research to find your audience and talk about your community efforts in places that your target audience will see it. The specific methods you use to promote your community will depend on the type of community and the target audience. If your company already has an existing customer base, you should be using existing promotional vehicles to reach your customers. Look at the ways that you typically market your products, and include information about your community efforts in those promotions.

You should augment your traditional promotions with social media keeping in mind the guiding principles that I talked about in an earlier post. The key is to engage with social media on the community’s terms with a focus on having a conversation with people, not a focus on pushing your messages at people. Talk openly and honestly about the new community on your corporate blog with information about why you launched it, what you hope to get out of it, and what you hope the members will get out of the community. People involved in the community effort can write personal blog entries or Twitter posts that talk specifically about their involvement in the new community. Audio or video podcasts might also be a good idea.

With any new community, always run a limited beta with your existing customers or a few potential customers if your company is still new. There are many benefits of running a beta. First, you can get their feedback and make improvements in the community before you launch. Second, you get a good base of initial content from people outside of the company, so that when you launch, it already looks like an active community. Third, these existing beta users can help promote the community by bringing in coworkers, friends, and others who might be interested in joining your community.

You might also consider providing small incentives for people to join and participate. You do not want people joining just to get the incentive and never coming back to participate, but some small incentive (t-shirt, etc.) can sometimes be a nice thank you gesture for signing up. Don’t forget to make a special effort to find some way to reward the early beta participants after launch with special status, discounts, t-shirts, or something to say thank you.

Things to avoid when promoting your community

Do not promote your community on your competitor’s sites. This is just slimy, and it will not be productive. The potential for backlash and negative publicity is not worth the one or two customers that you might pick up. It will also encourage your competitor to retaliate by promoting within your community.

Do not use social media (twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.) with the sole purpose of pimping your products (go back to the guiding principles post for more details). If you are already using social media, you should talk about your ideas, thoughts, and products with a personal spin (what YOU are doing as an individual in the new community).

Should you promote your products in the community?

The short answer is no, but it isn’t really an absolute (yes / no) answer; it is really more of a continuum. Do not use your community to sell anything. Think of the community as way to generate awareness, not a place to close sales. Use your community to get people excited about your products: answer questions, talk about new features, and encourage people share stories about your product or company (customers and employees). If you can get people excited about your products, they will be motivated to figure out how to buy them.

ForumOne’s report on Marketing and Online Communities does a good job of highlighting the challenges associated with using your community as a marketing channel.

I would be interested to learn more about what has or has not worked well for you in the comments.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts

Social Media: A Different Approach for Businesses

Jeremiah Owyang’s recent post about The Many Challenges of the Social Media Industry got me thinking about how social media requires a different approach from the way that many companies approach traditional marketing or customer engagement. Jeremiah’s post seems to be more targeted at companies whose main products and services are based on social media, but I’m going to take some of the ideas that he discusses and outline how they can be applied to companies using social media as part of their strategy for engaging with customers or communities or users.

Profits

Jeremiah talks about a current lack of profits where few bloggers have been able to generate significant revenues from their content. Companies (and even most individual bloggers) should not be focused on generating revenue directly from social media efforts. I always tell companies to think about social media as being in the early awareness portion of the marketing funnel (you know, the part way at the top far away from the bottom of the funnel where you generate leads and make sales.)

Blogging, community engagement and other social media efforts should support other efforts that generate revenue. For example, this blog generates $0 revenue for me; however, it has made a big difference in my career. I’ve been invited to speak on panels, been offered jobs, and had consulting gigs come my way as a result of the expertise demonstrated on this blog. In other words, I receive a substantial financial benefit indirectly related to my blogging efforts, while receiving no direct revenue from the blog. Companies can get similar benefits by using blogs and social media to get the word out about the company. While generating revenue won’t happen directly, it should be an indirect benefit.

Noise

Jeremiah also points out that “excessive noise drowns out signal“, which is an increasing problem for individuals and companies who create content. This is actually two separate, but related issues: first, how can you create content that rises above the noise; and second, how can you find what others are saying about you online.

Content creation. Too many companies and individuals have blogs that no one would want to read. Company blogs are often little more than press releases and marketing fluff (see my “Are Corporate Blogs a Joke” post for more details), and many individual blogs have mostly regurgitated content with little original thought and analysis. The outstanding blogs (corporate or individual) focus on thought leadership with interesting original ideas and deep analysis of industry trends. The posts focused on interesting original content will get linked to more often and will show up more prominently in search results; therefore, rising above the noise.

Monitoring discussions. You also want to be able to monitor and respond quickly to what others are saying about you, your brand, your content, your competitors, your industry and more. You can buy expensive software to monitor all of this, or you set up a few Yahoo Pipes with RSS feeds to track what people are saying. I go the Yahoo Pipes route with searches of Twitter, blogs, and other places to find where people are discussing the content that I create.

Brandjacking

As Jeremiah points out, “brands –and individuals– can easily be brandjacked as others take their user name, domains, and assert themselves as someone else.” The best thing you can do to minimize the threat of being brandjacked is to be already participating in the community. Monitoring is also critical (see above), but even with monitoring, it can take a while go through the process of getting the content removed even if you find it quickly. By participating and having an active presence on places like Twitter and Facebook, it will be easier for people to figure out which is your official presence and which is the fake one. When you don’t already participate, it will be easier for people to assume that a brandjacked presence is the real one. The recent Exxon Mobile Twitter account is just one example.

Marketing and Communities

Jeremiah makes an excellent point about how “marketers move in without community consideration“. I spend quite a bit of time thinking about how marketing should / should not participate in online communities, and there are important nuances that marketing should understand before engaging with online communities. I won’t elaborate in detail in this post, but I suggest that you look at my recent Online Communities and Marketing presentation for more information. This presentation offers some fairly comprehensive advice for how marketing can participate in online communities. It is also worth the time and effort to put employees (not just marketing) through at least a little training before you turn them loose on the community.

These are just a few of the examples from Jeremiah’s post, but I think that this post is long enough already. If I missed anything critical, please feel free to elaborate in the comments.

Related Fast Wonder blog posts:

Marketing and Online Communities Research

Bill Johnston puts together some of the most detailed community research that I’ve seen (if you’ve seen something better, I’d love to know about it!), and his latest is a report on Marketing and Online Communities.

The study explored the current state of marketing to online communities, from the perspective of both the online community host, as well as from the perspective of the marketer.

We discovered early on in the research process that while community hosts and practitioners were willing to share their experiences, most marketers were not. At the beginning of the research I conducted several in-person interviews, it became clear that most marketing and advertising agencies have not met with great success in their community marketing efforts, and are unwilling to talk about their experiences. What limited success marketers have had is generally viewed as proprietary knowledge within the agency, and is closely guarded.

Quoted from Bill Johnston on the Online Community Report Blog

As you can see from the above quote, marketing and communities don’t always mix. Participating genuinely and talking about ideas seems to be better than pushing hard-core marketing and advertising onto the community. I’ve talked about marketing and good ways to engage with the communities many times before, so I won’t elaborate here (you can read the related posts below if you haven’t already heard my rants) :-)

You can download and read the entire report (after a small, relatively painless registration), and decide for yourself.

Related Fast Wonder Blog posts: