Four community-building tips for social media

The world of social media has presented some unique opportunities not just to marketers, but to community organizers and communicators. While ‘community’ is becoming the online business world’s hottest buzzword — and most misused, if predictions are any guide — the predictions and proposed changes are at this point limited to the business world.

Building a community is not limited to people with a product to market — it can be a remarkable opportunity for entrepreneurs who are still deciding on a product, non-profit groups looking to unite passionate people, and of course, marketers looking to connect with a wide audience.

These four methods will help you build a community, connect with your users, and create social media ‘permission marketing’ assets:

1: Bundle your best content with your community.
It is hard to predict what will ‘tip’ and what won’t in the online world. The best strategy for ensuring that community can gather around your best content is to always provide a platform for it to grow. That could mean a Ning forum for your most popular blog posts, a Twitter account feeding out your recent articles and presentations, or a community forum with a thread for every blog post.

2: Comments are a thin attachment, so find something thicker.
Blog comments have often been considered a good indicator of connection and value. If you racked up a lot of comments, you were connecting with people and your blog was valuable. The problem is that blog comments are not a particularly deep connection. Instead of merely taking comments, link to your forum or Ning community at the bottom of every post, and encourage readers to join the community.

3: Offer unique content to your community.
Got a podcast? Take suggestions from your community members for episodes, and offer unique content and special features to them. A little goes a long way when it is exclusive, and you will find that your community really values being offered something that nobody else gets to see. Offering content like this is great for two reasons; you get ideas and inspiration from your community, and you tighten your bond with them by offering something unique. Besides, you do not have to be a creative person to offer unique content — if you are a merchant, offer unique offers and promotions.

4: Actively participate and keep in touch with your members.
Some of the most impressive and important online communities were built by people or companies that truly interacted with their customers and fans. Even if they are not huge names in business or entertainment, they kept in touch with people, built their recognition and created a friendly relationship with their fan base. Imagine if Steve Jobs participated in Apple forums — the draw of a big name would power a community and cause some massive publicity. If you can actively communicate with your community, do it. Nobody is too big to keep in touch with customers and fans, and when you embrace your community you will see their word-of-mouth marketing efforts increase.

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