Three Steps to Building Community
The Internet makes it easy for consumers to search for the products they want and compare on features and price. As a result, companies are often on a hamster wheel: acquiring customers as quickly as possible to replace ones that are constantly leaving.
To succeed in this environment, organizations need to focus on and invest in connecting with their customers and creating a community.
Active community members have the highest lifetime customer value both in terms of share of wallet and as advocates who evangelize the organization and its products, helping it build brand, drive demand and increase reach.
Best practices to build a community of users is to focus on customer needs, include user generated content (UGC) in the content mix and leverage social media to drive engagement back on your site.
Focus on customer needs
In order to engage users, you must give them something useful, not just marketing messages – an investment in content marketing. This requires a singular focus on the customer needs. Thinking about what customers are trying to accomplish with the products and services the organization offers is the first step to elevating the conversation.
Two recent examples of companies who are doing this – elevating the conversation with their customers and building community as a result include Philips and Sears.
Philips elevated the conversation and interaction with their customers from male grooming tools to self-expression. Philips’ Male Grooming platform provides a social experience that supports customers in staying informed on the latest trends and connecting with each other, trying on new looks, choosing and learning how to create one and selecting the appropriate tools (shavers and body groomers) to do so.
Sears also changed the basis of their relationship with customers from fitness equipment to a healthier lifestyle. Julia Fitzgerald, Chief Digital Officer, Fitness, Sporting Goods & Toys at Sears Holding says it well in a recent article on Forbes.com: “We realized that when shoppers come to Sears looking for a piece of fitness equipment, what they really are looking for is a 15 pounds lighter, fitter, or healthier version of themselves. And while the equipment is often a key component to their goal, they also need information and motivation to keep on track with a healthier lifestyle.” Sears’ FitStudio provides a social experience where customers can get relevant information including expert advice from fitness professionals and nutritionists and connect with others for advice and motivation. Voila! – community.
Integrate UGC into your content mix
Mixing premium content with user generated content and social experiences on owned sites is crucial to provide the social proof and community customers have come to expect. Best practices include incorporating UGC and social community into the company website and also linking social media to the site.
UGC can be seamlessly incorporated into the company’s website content: a product page may include a feed from an active user forum, select customer ratings and reviews can be used in multiple pages, or a blog could be directly incorporated into a campaign microsite. Easily adding UGC to product pages allows brands to incorporate consumer preferences for information. Social communities can be deeply integrated into the main site allowing a consumer to easily go back and forth between sections on the same site while remaining in context.
Linking social media to the company website allows for a better user experience, which can be personalized through targeted content based on a social profile after a user chooses a social login option. It can also include socially relevant information that drives conversion events based of the user’s social connections, e.g. how many of their friends liked a product or are planning to go to an event. This provides a service to users through facilitated content sharing with social plugins while amplifying the brands’ presence in third-party social networks. This tight integration between social media and owned properties provides continuity that builds the relationship companies have with their users in the social space.
Drive users to engage on your owned site
Company websites and communities are the center for social marketing efforts because they are where a brand can make its biggest impact, where customer trust is highest according to a recent Nielsen study and where conversion ultimately takes place. In fact, Incyte found consumers who wanted to learn more about a product were 4x more likely to visit the company’s website than the Facebook brand page even after learning about it through a social network.
Social media and traditional media efforts are layered on to drive traffic and engagement back to the website. The Forrester Interactive Brand Engagement Ecosytem illustrates this well.
The recommended three-step process is to:
1. Engage users on your own web site
2. Distribute content and engagement into social and mobile media
3. Reach a broad audience with paid media and drives users back to Site
We’re seeing our customers latch on to, and act on, these new realities more and more every day. What about you? What is on your mind as you think about building a community of passionate users?