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.

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