Big Picture Marketing: Building your Online Community

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By now, we are all well aware that having an online presence is no longer an option for companies that want to stay competitive in the increasingly fast-paced world of marketing. The people (aka. your customers) are online, which means that your company needs to be online too. That being said, simply existing online isn’t enough to generate positive results for your brand.

Online marketing is now about moving away from individual tactics and focusing on the overall strategy for your business. We aren’t recommending moving away from implementing tactics, but rather having a strategy that first defines things like your business goals, target audience, desired positioning, company messaging, etc. so that you are able to identify what tactics will be the most effective. Plain and simple, having a well-planned strategy allows you to focus. It lets you better decide what tactics to implement based off of which ones make the most sense for your overall strategy.

So often it is obvious that business marketers are implementing online marketing tactics with no consistent strategy linking them together, and without an understanding as to why they are even using a particular tactic. This shows an absence of vision and is marketing without an understanding of the customer experience. It’s important to think about what your brand stands for and how you want to be recognized amongst your target consumers.

An active and engaging community is mutually beneficial for everyone because it creates connections that are apart of the bigger brand experience. Whether your company is just starting out and looking to create a solid base of loyal customers, or one that is more experienced and looking to better serve its current customers—focusing on a community strategy will help to extend the scope of your company and build a better business overall.

Community building will help to accomplish goals for your whole business, not just your marketing strategy.

The Benefits:

• Bigger brand exposure & awareness
• More valuable, repeat customers, at lower acquisition costs
• Actual people to people relationships (!!)
• Sustainable SEO

What Tools Will I Need to Create an Online Community?

Community building isn’t about starting from scratch it’s about leveraging what already exists.

Valuable Content:

Valuable content (the material integrated on your web platforms) is the foundation for an online community. Because creating a web presence is now easier and cheaper than ever, the web has become overloaded with all types of content. This means that in order to stay relevant, your content has to be worth sharing and using as a resource in order to compete for the attention of your audience. Valuable content gives you a chance to show that you care about your customers and their needs, giving them a reason to engage and share. A perfect example of valuable content marketing is the McDonald’s Canada “Our Food, Your Questions” digital campaign. They’ve invited all Canadians to ask any question they desire about McDonald’s food, and they face the myths and conceptions about the brand head on. This encourages customers to become engaged with the brand, driving awareness of the website and its content through customer involvement. People read their content, share it with their friends, and grow to trust the brand. Content marketing at its finest!

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Social Media:

Since the launch of Facebook in 2004, the entire concept of social networking has changed, and as a result, the way we do business. Networking sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and Facebook have changed the marketing game and provide the perfect opportunity to better connect to your customers and further understand their needs and wants. These platforms give you a chance to form connections with customers beyond normal, everyday interactions and as a result will increase the chances of loyalty and retention. For the “Our Food, Your Questions” strategy, participants were required to connect with either Twitter or Facebook in order to ask a question. This provided social visibility and created a viral ripple effect which spread the campaign to hundreds of thousands of people online. McDonalds has created a focused online community that feels connected to the brand.

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Making Friends:

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Just like you were taught in Kindergarten, in order to make a friend, you have to be a friend. Community is all about relationships, and relationships that are of value are the result of listening, responding, caring, and understanding. They cannot be bought! (Well technically they can, but those aren’t the type of customers that you want). To build a solid community of users it’s important that you get to know exactly who your users are. Using social media is a good way to search and figure out who is already posting about your company, your competitors, or about relevant topics. You can use this tactic to follow people and to start or engage in conversations. It’s important to think of “followers”, “friends”, “likers”, etc. as advocates and not merely just numbers. 20,000 McDonald’s related questions were shared and answered, and there were over 4 million views—exposure that would not have been possible without this network of advocates sharing the campaign.

The “friends” that makeup your community should be:

• Customers (existing and prospective)
• Colleagues
• Leaders and trendsetters specific to your industry
• Influencers from other areas that relate to your business

90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know, and 70% trust opinions of unknown users (Econsultancy, 2009). Creating a solid customer backing not only increases the chances that your customers buy your product, but ultimately creates a force of users that will defend and advocate for your brand. These customers will engage frequently with others, provide recommendations, and ask and answer questions, resulting in a community that largely sustains itself. Advocates standing up for a brand is far more powerful than a brand standing up for itself, as there is a level of authenticity built into peer-to-peer interaction that can’t be found in brand-to-customer interactions.

Search Engine Optimization:

Ensuring that your websites meet all the technical, usability and content related qualifications for good visibility in the search engines is extremely important for building your community. Optimizing your company’s website for users will be rewarded, because Google wants their users (who also happen to be your users) to have the best experience possible. In addition, building a community the right way, with users naturally liking your valuable and interesting web content will help you to surpass Google updates and avoid adjusting your site every time Google changes its algorithm.

Human Communication:

The most important benefit from online communities that no other form of digital marketing or paid advertising will do is actually allow you to build real relationships with real people, and in turn give these people a chance to see your company as a real person as well. Relationships are the result of listening to and answering questions/concerns, caring and taking the time to understand, providing valuable assistance and insight, and providing a source of entertainment that is informational. After all, these customer relationships are the core of your brand and company!

The Takeaways:

• Online marketing is about focusing on the overall strategy for your business and moving away from jumping into individual, isolated tactics
• This can be done by building an online community (a network of supporters and friends), which is the most sustainable approach to an online marketing strategy
• Various tools (valuable content, social media, making friends, SEO and the human element) should be integrated for successful online community building





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