From tropical fish fanciers to open-source graphic artists, millions of people have congregated online to discuss shared interests. These communities provide ideal opportunities for targeted marketing – and their passionate interest offers a wealth of expert market research and testing information. How can you manage an online community effectively?

Online Community

Photo Credit: Social Business News (http://www.socialbusinessnews.com/warning-not-having-an-online-community-is-costing-you-money)

Click here to read proven strategies for growing and engaging social media networks.  

State Community Values Up Front

You can get out in front of a lot of flamewars by posting community guidelines for everyone to read. These can be specific, like instructions for setting up a new thread or limits on comment length.  They can also be general – “Please stay on topic.” Make sure this mission statement is posted prominently and linked on every page. You can also incorporate a subtle “Call to Action” to persuade visitors to comment and remind them that they are a valued part of your business – “Here at SuperSnack, we’re always glad to have your input on what makes our snacks super!”

Practice What You Preach

If community members can see you, your team, and your moderators taking an active role, they’ll feel supported and appreciated. If they can see everyone on your team interacting in a friendly, respectful way, they’ll be impressed with your professionalism. Check in daily, and make sure that community members know how to reach out to you with concerns or suggestions right away. You may want to outsource moderation duties, especially if you’re interested in tracking discussions for market research. That way, your sales team won’t be burdened with extra work, and you’ll have a team of professional communicators handling customer interactions online. Even if you have to invest in some help, a rapid response will buy you customers.

Inspire “Real Life” Interactions

People can get very invested in online communities, but nothing beats real-world engagement for brand loyalty and lasting connection. Invite online community members to an event or promotion. Throw a contest tied to your brick-and-mortar location, like “Best Instagram Café Photo” or “Sales Team Selfies.”  Give members a chance to set up meetups and groups of their own. You can also set up “Calls to Action” encouraging members to get personal – “What’s Your New Year’s Resolution?” for example.

Crowdsource User-Generated Content

It’s easy to set up a hashtag for customer photos, videos, and tweets. You can also invite users to post reviews and testimonials on an open thread, and then grab the best for a “Customer Testimonials” section on your website. If you’ve got community members who are especially vocal, ask them to guest post on your blog. Remember to integrate user-generated content across social media channels. If a community member tags a photo on Instagram, post it on Facebook. Users on both platforms will feel connected.

Click here to learn how to incorporate Instagram into your online marketing strategy.

Ask Customers What They Think

Most people love to share their opinion, especially when you show them you value what they have to say. You can generate comment with a simple, “Have you tried our new product?  What do you think?” If you get positive feedback, you’ve got a set of testimonials for your website. If you get critical feedback, you can troubleshoot before a small problem escalates. You can also ask customers to share their ideas – a new flavor or color, a service menu, a slogan – and incorporate them into limited editions, seasonal promotions, or a new product line. For extra traffic, make these feedback posts a weekly or monthly event.

Expand Your Interests

Your social media and online community presence will be much stronger if you and your team incorporate a broad range of interests into your community interactions. Link and share from communities with overlapping content – for example, if you sell specialty foods, link posts from companies that produce specialized cooking equipment, and follow trendy restaurants and famous cooks on social media. The more diverse your output, the more inspired your members will feel to pursue ideas of their own. Plus, you’ll be able to hijack multiple traffic streams and lead them to your site.

Click here to learn how to incorporate Snapchat into your digital marketing plan.  

Managing an online community requires consistent engagement and a proactive social media presence. But if you and your team can engage with customers at their level, responding to their questions and listening to their feedback, you’ll be on your way to establishing a vibrant online hub that you can use to promote your business!

Are you interested in learning more about online community engagement and other marketing strategies? We recommend working with a digital marketing company whose team will work closely with you to create a customized, technology-forward marketing plan to help you expand your business.  Contact Square 1 Group for a consultation today!