Building a healthy community of consumers who are enthusiastic about your brand doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a strategic approach that involves listening before engaging. In this column, I will provide helpful strategies and advice for helping you foster the kind of community that draws in fans and motivates them to share positive experiences with their extended networks.
One of the first places to start building community is on Facebook, and the tips below will help you get started. In future columns, I will also provide similar advice for Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and other networks, including hosting your own social hubs on your website and branded message boards. But, for now, let’s dive into the world’s most popular social network – Facebook.
With more than 500 million people worldwide actively using Facebook to connect with not only family and friends but also brands, Facebook represents an incredibly powerful platform for building community. However, in order to be successful and not alienate consumers, marketers need to take a smart and measured approach. The following tips and best practices will help you build out a healthy community of brand advocates.
1. Conduct a brand audit. Facebook’s search bar is an excellent way to get insight into how consumers think about your brand. Just type in your brand name and assess the nature of the conversations already taking place about your brand. Supplement that effort by leveraging listening/monitoring tools to better understand what is being said, where, and by whom. Finally, traditional market research also has a role. Survey customers to better understand how they currently use social media and what they’d like to see/receive from your brand.
2. Find a shared passion. Take cues from your customers and find common ground. The most successful communities are less about selling and more about connecting around a shared passion – be it music, entertainment, travel, or sports. Center the conversation around this shared passion and build a dialog around key events and interests.
3. Build your fan base. Now that you’ve identified a shared passion that will underpin your general community framework, the next step is to build your base. The best acquisition strategies leverage existing customer touchpoints as well as opportunities within Facebook’s ecosystem. Take the following steps:
- Secure a vanity URL and make it easy to be found
- Clearly define the benefits of joining your page
- Invite existing customers via e-mail
- Offer something unique or exclusive, giving those who like your brand a reason to visit, engage with, and recommend your page
- Integrate and promote your community at all touchpoints – and test different placements of the “Like” button across each of them
- Include your Facebook page’s link on relevant paid search terms
- Include Facebook URLs/tags on traditional advertising efforts (e.g., print, TV, radio)
- “Favorite” related brands
- Test Facebook advertising
4. Keep your fans engaged. Once you’ve acquired fans, you need to create a compelling experience that keeps them engaged and actively participating. Keep in mind that engaging your fans is a journey, not a destination. The following tips should help you keep your fans engaged:
- Provide advance notice or give unique access to special content and/or offers
- Create and test applications like polls, trivia, simple games, and widgets (make sure they sync with the shared passion of your community)
- Shower your fans with public recognition
- Encourage user-generated content
- Rotate and target content (e.g., geo-posts) to keep it relevant
- Think internationally
- Adjust your content strategy with new insight
5. Foster trust. Being open isn’t always easy. Many brands shy away from social media out of fear that their fans and followers may say something negative or turn on them. Deal with issues and problems in an open, transparent way. In fact, if you’ve done a good job offering value and engaging those who like your page, you may find these same people to be your biggest defenders. To build trust with your fans, do the following:
- Post a comment policy
- Remove spam
- Be transparent and authentic
- Remain calm and think before you act (i.e., respond/post)
- Train and communicate your goals with those responsible for managing/engaging fans
- Build a corporate policy and communicate that policy internally so employees understand how to engage consumers in a transparent manner
6. Analyze and optimize. So, how do you know if you’re doing a good job? Tracking and analytics will help you get a handle on your page’s performance. Try the following tracking tactics:
- Use unique tracking codes for Facebook posts
- Leverage Facebook Insights to understand activity and usage
- Identify brand advocates and tag them in your database – you may even want to consider rewarding them for their support with bonus points
- Leverage apps and Facebook’s APIs to track engagement (comments/Likes)
- Communicate your learnings and institutionalize them
By following the best practices outlined above, you will be well on your way to creating a vibrant and mutually rewarding community on Facebook. However, it’s important to never lose sight of the fact that Facebook is an evolving platform. No one person can keep up with all the developments, so make sure you partner right. Find an agency and/or support system that’s well-versed on Facebook best practices and your brand, and has shown a proven ability to engage consumers.