Social media is an ever-growing, increasingly diverse space that offers seemingly endless opportunities for businesses to engage with existing and potential customers.
Definitions of success on social will vary between companies, but there is one vital, universal goal that every brand should be aiming for: to build a community.
Without a community of followers who engage with your business and what you’re doing on social, you run the risk of being lost amid all the noise and activity of the digital environment. Conversely, a strong community will unlock valuable opportunities to secure lifetime customers and brand advocates.
So, the key question is: how do you build a social community? While there is no simple answer to this, there are several positive steps you can take to drive engagement and cultivate relationships.
Get to know your audience
To start building a strong and engaged community following on social, you first need to have a clear picture of your audience and what is important to them.
Basic demographic factors - such as age, income and education level, occupation, ethnic background and marital status - can be a good place to start. However, there is often more to be gained from delving into psychographics, which provide a clearer idea of your typical audience member’s personal characteristics. Common psychographic aspects include:
- Personal values
Once you begin to build up a community on social media, you will have more opportunities to improve your audience understanding by analyzing comments, questions and feedback.
Speaking to CIO, Umang Shah, director of social strategy at Walmart, said one of the retail chain’s key strategies on Twitter has been to monitor what its followers are talking about and what topics they care about.
“You might have had a hard time convincing me that people wanted to talk about sustainability and corporate responsibility, but they did. We tried to understand and profile them: What do they talk about? How active are they?" - Umang Shah, Director of Social Strategy at Walmart
The strength of your brand’s social community following will increase greatly if you’re able to encourage conversations and get people talking about content you’ve shared or posted.
One of the ways to go about engaging people and encouraging interaction is simply asking questions you feel will capture the attention of your audience. Be sure to recognize responses, give some input of your own and ask more questions if you land on a topic that attracts a lot of interest.
This approach encourages social media users to become active, contributing members of your community and also raises the possibility of your content reaching people who might not have seen it otherwise.
The importance of getting people talking on social media was underlined in January 2018, when Facebook announced an algorithm update designed to “prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people”.
Social media provides an opportunity for businesses to move away from old-fashioned PR speak and brand communications, and really show some personality. This can have a big impact on community interaction.
Users are much more likely to engage with brands that make an effort to communicate with them on a human level. Of course, the exact tone you use will depend on the nature of your business and your target audience, but most brands will have something to gain from infusing their social content with a dash of character and humanity.
There are many examples of businesses that have achieved success through quirky social posts. Denny’s got involved in a Twitter meme inviting viewers to zoom in on images to read secret messages, while Merriam-Webster often highlights word definitions and trends as a way to comment on current events.
Appreciate your followers
Building a community on social media depends on members of your audience getting involved and engaging with what you’re doing, so it’s vital to recognize people’s contributions and show your appreciation.
Someone who receives a reply, a thank you or just a ‘like’ for something they have posted on one of your social media feeds is much more likely to engage with you again in future, simply because they know they are being heard.
As Brian Moran, small business expert and founder of SmallBusinessEdge.com, told Forbes, one of the critical things about social media for businesses is that “it’s not just about you”.
“Social media is not a monologue where you tell the world about the awards you’ve won, or the special deals on your products and services. It’s an opportunity for you to connect, in a meaningful way, with the people who have helped you and supported you in business.”
Embrace structure and strategy
Like many aspects of business, social media community building is much more effective when it follows a structure and is based on a clear strategy.
When it comes to planning and scheduling your social media posts, it’s definitely a good idea to create a publishing calendar so you can keep your profiles regularly updated. This is particularly important if you are running a focused campaign or trying to draw attention to a certain product or service.
Taking a structured approach can also make it easier to plan your workload and measure your results.
By trying out these methods and finding the most effective overall approach for your business, you can start to build a strong online community and see the benefits of an engaged social media following.