Stop building communities and start joining in
The internet is changing the way smart companies sell to their customers.
Traditional corporate ad-speak sounds lofty and unapproachable online, especially when the rest of people are talking with human voices. There’s also been a huge shift in the balance of the power. Think how quick and easy it is to fire off an email to customer services when a product doesn’t deliver. Now think how many more people you could reach in the same amount of time by changing your Facebook status, posting in your blog or adding a review on Amazon. Your potential audience as a consumer is huge and you can strengthen or damage the reputation of the brand once considered untouchable.
Smart online marketers have realized it’s time to start talking with their potential customers. After all, the customers are communicating with each other – why not join the conversation? Community marketing isn’t new of course; it’s been a buzzword of the last few years – right up there with “user generated content”. It’s only recently been knocked off its perch by the term “Web 2.0”, but all of these ideas are backing up a fundamental shift in the distribution of power.
Owing an online community has become a holy grail for many companies. What could be better than having a community at your fingertips? A group of users, passionate about your product, talking to you and each other? Communities can connect customers old and new, provide support and advice and give essential feedback to the mothership. It’s thereto applauding you when things go right and, if managed well, support you when things go wrong. It opens up the conversation and says that you, as a company, are listening.
For a long time now, it’s been assumed that if we build it, they will come. The general feeling has been that customers aren’t doing much online when left to their own devices, so they’ll be thrilled to hang out in a new community all about a specific Ice Cream, phone or washing power.
Several years ago, perhaps this was safer to assume, but things have changed. Before you think about building a new branded community, just look around at the huge number of passion based group that exist already. There are groups for everything from professions to illness to hobbies. There is a cluster of people talking with knowledge and genuine passion about so many things, and this potentially includes your product.
Your branded community now has all this to compete with. Are you sure you can drag enough users away? Perhaps the challenge now is not how to coax people into your online world, but how you can fit into theirs. How you can join in their conversation and bring with you an interesting voice from the inside.
Before you crash into these brave new worlds, put in some legwork. It is not simple as turning up shouting “Hi! I’m from X company! Our Product are awesome!” You’ll be appreciated more for fitting in than standing out, so sit quietly for a while and observe. What value can you add to the conversation? Can you genuinely help? The power of large company listening to a single consumer is immense – never underestimate that.
Think too about the huge number of social platforms on offer. If Facebook is where your target audience hangs out, go hang out there too. Start a Twitter feed to put human voices to your team, or set up a group on Flickr and let people show the product they’ve bought. Show them what it’s like in your warehouse or share hints of the new things you’re working on.
If you must own a community, don’t be afraid to start small with a blog. They’re accessible, easy to join in with and simple to setup. When it looks like a little community is starting to develop, expand the offering, adapt and change.
Most of all, don’t forget to comment, encourage and give feedback. Genuine connections are what make communities tick, but you can’t connect until you and your company start acting like a real human being and joining in.