3 Social Community Strategies to Drive Innovation, Engagement, and Sales

  |  April 19, 2012   |  Comments

Have you nurtured an active community of brand advocates? Here's what's next.

Over the last year we've explored the best ways to build social communities and leverage data and key events to grow engagement and marketing return on investment. With many of these communities now in place and your key event promotions planned, I'd like to turn the attention to the many other benefits related to building and nurturing an active community of brand advocates.

It goes without saying that marketing has become a collaborative effort between brands and their customers/communities. The emergence of social media has transformed the way we market to consumers. Marketers and companies no longer own the brand or even the message despite their budgets and best efforts to maintain control - consumers do. So it is with that in mind that marketers need to make a more conscious effort to embrace consumers and begin the process of marketing with them rather than at them. Leverage the communities you spent so much time and effort building. So where to begin to get to the next level?


Crowdsourcing new products and ideas: Going to your community to crowdsource new product ideas, content, and event brand propositions and positioning is essential. A classic success story is what Starbucks has done with My Starbucks Idea. With more than 125,000 ideas submitted across multiple categories including new products, experiences, and involvement, Starbucks is making good on its commitment to listen to and ultimately respond to its customers' needs through the launch of new products and offerings. Examples include its expansion into Norway, Continuing the key chain card, Free Drink with Purchase of Reusable Cup, Corporate logo'd cards, Starbucks Card Mobile CANADA, Tall Reusable Cold Cup Tumblers, Petite Cake Pops – new flavors, 25oz Bag of Christmas/Holiday Blend, Sugar free syrups, Skinny mocha, K-Cups, and more.

While My Starbucks Idea is a dedicated site and community of its own, leverage your existing communities including fans and followers to solicit new ideas. Make it a collaborative process by communicating and updating the community on new initiatives and recognizing their contributions and participation in those efforts. Finally, no need to stop with just product ideas - expand your horizons and consider involving your community in helping shape your value proposition, brand positioning, and even look and feel - particularly when it may involve a change to an established brand or beloved logo as The Gap experienced in late 2010.

User-generated content and curation: Building a large, engaged following of consumers/businesses is a huge asset to any brand. Analyze responses to your existing content to determine the key topics/issues that resonate most with your communities. Consider formulizing a user-generated content (UGC) program around those topics. Look to solicit and integrate interviews, questions and answers, and blog submissions from community members. Create new and unique experiences by curating comments around key events tied to that topic, shared passion, or sponsorship. Put your community members in charge - run a contest to select a correspondent or community manager for the day and encourage members to vote for a winner based on submissions. The benefits of UGC are numerous and for more check out my colleague Lee Odden's column.

Referral marketing: Tap into your community's social graph. Encourage engaged community members to share key content and promotions. Arm your army of advocates with tools that enable them to do this quickly and easily. Integrate sharing widgets and apps into your communities and communications to members. Create fun experiences that offer value to the audience and consider a bonus incentive to existing members to reward them for participating. Finally, be conscious of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines governing social media endorsements.

The evolution of the community continues. For marketers looking to further leverage the power of their social communities, crowdsourcing, UGC, and referral marketing, there are three enormous opportunities to drive additional differentiation, engagement, and marketing/sales success.

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Michael Della Penna

Michael Della Penna is a seasoned marketing professional with a long, proven track record of launching successful marketing, branding, and sales strategies for leading public and private companies. Most recently, Michael was the senior vice president of Emerging Channels at Responsys. His responsibilities included spearheading the overall strategic direction, partnerships, and solution offering across key emerging channels including social, mobile, and display for the company. Prior to Responsys, Michael founded SuiteDialog and Conversa Marketing, a full-service email and social CRM agency that helped brands ignite conversations and cultivate relationships with customers across the social web. Conversa Marketing, was acquired by StrongMail Systems in 2010. Before branching out on his own, Michael served as chief marketing officer for Epsilon, a leading provider of multichannel, data-driven marketing services. Michael's other key marketing leadership roles include CMO at Bigfoot Interactive, vice president of strategic development at CNET Networks, Inc., and vice president of marketing at ZDNet. Michael received a B.B.A. and an M.B.A. from Hofstra University.

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