We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: A following is just a number. A community is where people actively interact with your brand’s products and services. If you want to unlock the true potential of social media — to use it to cultivate the loyalty and intimacy of the best brands — then you need to turn your followers into a community.
A community is mutually beneficial for its members and a brand. For members, it provides a space for those who share common interests and a place to discuss topics related, either directly or indirectly, with products or a brand. For a brand, it provides access to ideas, content and real-world conversations by those who use its products or services.
In this installment of KM 101, where we provide easy-to-understand information and guidelines for businesses that want to pivot to a “digital-first” model or enhance their online marketing efforts, we show you how to turn your followers into a community, how to drive engagement within the community and how to nurture the community so that it thrives and supports your brand.
New to KM 101? Read our previous installments:
- KM 101: 5 Keys to Successful Video Marketing
- KM 101: Creating Compelling Social Media Content (and Avoiding Common Problems)
- KM 101: How to Build a Community on Facebook
- KM 101: How to Engage Your Audience Using Instagram’s Best Features
- KM 101: How to Use YouTube to Drive Sales
- KM 101: Using LinkedIn To Grow Your Business
- KM 101: 7 Golden Rules of Social Media Customer Service
Engagement is King
On every social media platform, the underlying algorithms that determine who sees what in their feeds place a higher priority on active engagement, such as comments and shares, than passive behavior, such as browsing or liking. If you want to grow your brand, then you need to drive active engagement, which is a form of word-of-mouth marketing. Engagement is a conversation, it’s interaction, it’s what we social humans crave. You want your brand to be part of that conversation, and you do that by creating and supporting online communities.
5 Tips to Create a Community on Social Media
1. Be Reachable and Always Interact
The most important rule in converting your followers into devoted fans is making sure that they’re not only heard but that they always have an open channel of communication with your brand. Interacting with your followers lets them know that a brand’s page or group is run by people who listen to what they have to say and understand their needs.
Comment threads often foster intense discussions between followers on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn. You can chime in to further engage the conversations, but it also makes your fans feel like they have direct access to your brand. Get involved, but beware of negative comments and trolls — follow our 7 Golden Rules of Social Media Customer Service to avoid common pitfalls.
You should always monitor and respond to comments, direct messages and mentions, but you can go beyond that and be more proactive. Instagram Stories are a powerful tool loaded with interactive features, such as asking followers questions and having them submit answers. Facebook Messenger now offers a feature that has a chat box appear on the user’s end when they click on a brand’s ad.
Staying involved also means paying attention to what your followers are talking about. Building a community is less about your product than it is about the people, so take the opportunity to get to know your followers. What are they interested in? What are they concerned about? What matters to them?
2. Use Facebook Groups to Create a Community
Even though you may engage with your followers on your main social channels, those channels are not necessarily forums that encourage fans to be themselves and really engage with you. A brand’s Facebook page is its front yard, but its Facebook Group is its backyard. Facebook Groups are an excellent environment to cultivate a community and interact with your audience on a more personal level.
Your brand’s Facebook Group is where you can engage with your community on a consistent basis using techniques such as hosting challenges, local meetups, Q&A sessions and more. And it’s where fans can interact with your brand as well as people with common interests. For more tips about how best to use Facebook Groups, read our article KM 101: How to Build a Community on Facebook.
Example: Official Peloton Member Page
Peloton, makers of the popular, high-end indoor bicycle with a WiFi-enabled touchscreen that shows live stream or on-demand classes, has created a thriving environment for its users to connect and network with one another. The group provides access to other members’ shared workout routines, techniques and tips. With more than 310,000 members, Peleton’s group is private, which is an excellent tactic to provide an exclusive experience for your members.
3. Leverage User-Generated Content
Highly polished studio photography is aesthetically appealing, but user-generated content (UGC) is the best way to showcase your products in real-world situations and to show your fans that you’re paying attention to them. Resharing their content keeps them and other fans motivated to post more about your product and tag your brand. It also shows potential customers your product in the context that they might use it — or aspire to use it — which provides credibility.
A great example of how to leverage UGC is travel luggage company Away. No one wants to follow an Instagram page to see boring studio photography of luggage pieces, and Away knows that. That’s why it decided to make its page less about the product and more about the lifestyle that comes with it. The feed is populated with user-generated content of Away luggage in popular travel destinations, making the page look more like a travel lifestyle page. Followers are motivated to post photos of their suitcase wherever they are in the world with the hopes of being shared on Away’s channel. Showing your followers that they matter and sharing the stage with them will pay dividends for your brand over time.
4. Give Back to Your Fans
Giveaways and sweepstakes have long been a go-to strategy for spurring engagement among existing fans and attracting new ones. Giveaways with exciting prizes provide an incentive for your community to actively participate, raise brand awareness and possibly buy your product after the giveaway. When done right, giveaways can create usable assets such as UGC. Rather than prioritizing immediate sales, growing your fan base to create relationships with users is the real goal because that’s how you build a community and earn fan/customer loyalty.
To get the most out of a giveaway campaign, it’s important to track your metrics. Metrics to help determine the effectiveness of your campaign include:
- Email addresses captured
- Tagged posts/Tagged stories
Example: Domino’s Pizza #PieceofthePieContest
Domino’s Pizza ran a contest on Instagram and Twitter for its Piece of the Pie Reward members, which helped boost brand loyalty and create UGC. The giveaway encouraged fans to post a picture of their pizza with a caption explaining their love for the brand. Participants were motivated to participate in the hopes of being one of 50 people to win $10,000, 10 of which also got a free trip to Domino’s Pizza headquarters in Detroit. Submissions were tracked using a hashtag unique to the promotion.
5. Encourage Fans to Join the Conversation
Sometimes your followers want to be a part of the conversation but might not know how to join in. Your brand’s own website can be the perfect platform to build and grow your community, and you can use social media to direct fans to the discussion.
Example: Bring a Trailer
The popular online auction site Bring a Trailer is known for selling some of the most unique automobiles, trucks and motorcycles around. Under each listing is a comment section where potential bidders and virtual tire kickers congregate to discuss the auction and the vehicle. Bring a Trailer shares several of listings on its social platforms, encouraging viewers to go check it out on their site, follow along and join the discussion. It creates a fun and informative section filled with thousands of passionate enthusiasts who actively engage with the site regularly.
In other instances, thriving conversations take place on forums rather than brand websites. Although forums have been around for ages, they still attract hardcore, outspoken fans (and critics). Because of the depth of their content, forums often have great SEO rankings and pop up frequently in searches that pose questions or problems. Similar to Facebook Groups, forums often revolve around highly specific products or interests. Brands that serve these segments can get involved by sponsoring a forum or providing other types of support.
Performance exhaust manufacturer MagnaFlow supports automotive forum communities through sponsorships. Automotive forums, such as Mustang6G, are filled with enthusiasts who turn to one another for advice and tips regarding their vehicle. Brands like MagnaFlow chime into conversations to offer tips and advice within areas of their expertise. Forums are also a great place for brands to gather feedback for product development. Just like social channels, forums require constant monitoring to make sure that you’re not leaving any comments unanswered (Tip #1: Be Reachable and Always Interact).
Creating a community of passionate brand advocates is essential for growing your digital footprint and driving sales, especially direct-to-consumer (D2C). Remember, a community isn’t what you build for your fans, it’s what you build with them. Adopt that mindset and you’ll be on your way to building a thriving online community — or better yet, communities.
Turning followers into a community and running a well-executed social media program isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t easy either. If you need help, Kahn Media’s team of social media experts runs the social media channels for dozens of clients, and we have an in-house social media network with more than one million followers. Send an email to Help@KahnMedia.com to schedule a free consultation.