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Get your social community up and running

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There has been a dramatic increase in the number of online communities, an effective channel for direct marketing activities and customer engagement. But many companies miss the mark on some of the critical components required to build and maintain a successful community effort. Here are six steps to do it right: 1) Know your audience. Social media marketing is, at the end of the day, about fitting your content to your audience—knowing how to write it and to whom. You must have a sound understanding of who you want to attract. As you define your audience, your marketing database can unlock valuable insights to help identify who might be most likely to engage with you and who might not respond to a direct piece such as mail or email. Create personas to identify different types of social community members who will engage with your brand. 2) Define your goals. Determine what you want your optimum online audience to do. Being social in nature, this community will lend itself to user interaction and influence, the beauty and viral nature of social media. But as you are serving up content, there should be a conversion objective to measure against. Building relationships and identifying new sales leads can lead to a larger sales funnel, so the people managing the funnel need to understand the function and dynamics of the community to interact with members productively. 3) Develop a content strategy. Community content can take many shapes, from videos to articles and white papers, as well as links to external content that sparks discussion. If you know your target audience and the necessary actions to produce a conversion, defining the right content in the right format will be crucial. While keeping your content strategy tightly aligned with your overall outbound messaging, remember where social media can shine: It provides unique, helpful resources your community members might not find elsewhere. 4) Pick the right tools. The b-to-b social community tool set is typically a custom-fit based on verticals, audience profiling and content types. One community may consist of a forum-based discussion platform, LinkedIn Groups and a network on SlideShare while another might include Facebook and Twitter. The tools you use should be selected based on your goals and where your audience congregates. Pick the correct channels and keep pumping and priming them. 5) Encourage the human factor. Communities are groups of people, so if you truly want to build a meaningful community you need the human element. Use a manager at inception to help seed the community, feed relevant content to members, interact, moderate and monitor conversations. The manager should be visible enough so that people can reach out directly. 6) Analyze and adjust. Analytics should not be an afterthought. Your measurement should be pretty tangible. Community analytics can include a combination of Web analytics and social media analytics and, if you are fully integrating your marketing, you can take this to another level by integrating these online data sources with your offline consumer data as well. Social media experimenting by b-to-b marketers will continue to expand. Your prospects are online, and the key to a successful social media strategy is knowing which social channels to focus on and leveraging those channels well. Wendy K. Emerson is the social media and marketing manager at marketing analytics company Sigma Marketing Group. She can be reached at wemers@sigmamarketing.com.
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