Social engagement is one of the essential components of an effective online marketing plan. By fostering a sense of community with your target audience, you gain valuable customer insights along with improved brand awareness and expert status.
While most small business owners are warming up to the idea of social media marketing on outside platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. – these are not the only options for social engagement. Community building on your website provides several distinct advantages, including:
- Positive brand association – potential customers will view your interactions on your website as social proof of your expertise in the field
- Online visibility – blog posts and other social content on your website provide opportunities for backlinks and enhanced search engine visibility
- Brand advocacy – an active forum on your website provides the platform to grow brand advocates who will share your message in their own social media circles
Despite these advantages, many small business owners find it difficult to take the first steps into community building. The largest challenge – how to get users involved – can be resolved by thinking of your website as a social “event” where you are the host.
Plenty of websites out there have great content but their online community is lacking. Why? Unless the website is relatively new, the most likely reason for a lack of community is “social silence”. While the website may post great content and even link to it via social media, the content doesn’t invite a social dialogue. Ask yourself:
- Do I actively solicit feedback/comments from my website visitors?
- Do I seek out guest blogging opportunities or invite other thought leaders to post on my site?
- Am I asking thought-provoking or “controversial” questions designed to get a reaction from my audience?
Asking for feedback can be very effective when done the right way. For example, instead of asking your readers to comment on a story, ask them for their feedback on how they solve a specific problem or challenge. Gather these users’ stories and craft them into a Q&A piece – with attribution of course.
People love to see themselves quoted online, and others are more likely to interact with your site when multiple viewpoints on a shared problem are presented.
Are there topics within your niche that people feel strongly about? Take advantage of the debate by providing your own expert opinion – and be prepared to back it up. The trick to making this work is to avoid being polarizing through negativity. You don’t want to bash the other side. Instead, you want to create a compelling case for why your option is the better for the two.
Guest blogging opportunities provide you with a means to reach a wider audience. At the same time, giving great content to a professional associate will encourage additional networking opportunities in the future.
To make this work, you need to look for professionals and companies who serve the same audiences as you do, but in a different capacity. For example, if you run a pet clinic, you might offer to write a blog post for a company that provides boarding services, or vice versa.
Break the Ice
The first comment is always the hardest one to get. Once a few people have made their thoughts known, it breaks down the barriers to engagement and gets the conversation flowing. But how do you get those first comments?
This can be tricky. Some companies hire people to make comments and keep the conversation going. These community moderators can help break the ice by providing thoughtful comments and questions that encourage dialogue and engagement.
Aside from moderators, professional colleagues may be willing to leave a comment or question as well. The end goal is not to fool people into thinking your site is more active than it is – instead it’s to provide a solid foundation for the community to grow organically.
People aren’t going to stick around for long if they aren’t enjoying themselves. That goes for website communities just as much as in-person gatherings. If you want people to remain engaged on your website, it needs to be interesting enough to hold their attention over time. There are many ways to do this:
- Multimedia content – videos, podcasts, etc.
- Social awareness – likes, up-votes/down-votes, links to most popular content, etc.
- Gamification – user badges, point-systems, incentivized actions
How you structure your site will affect how users view and consume the content you produce. If you want to build a community on your website, make sure your content is in the format your audience most enjoys and is most likely to interact with.
Encourage Repeat Visits
The last (and most critical) part of having a website community is sustained engagement. People who return again and again to ask questions, make comments, link new content, and interact with new users are the backbone to a thriving community.
Your community-building efforts should include recognizing and rewarding your most active users. This can be as simple as a special color or font for the usernames, or limited moderation privileges – whatever makes the most sense for your business.
The important thing is to make these users feel special, and to give newer users a goal to strive towards as they continue to engage.
Growing a community on your website or blog can be challenging, but the rewards far outweigh the required effort. What are some of the best insights you’ve gotten from your audience?