I have read white paper upon white paper on B2B social media, particularly focusing on the importance of online communities. I tend to find that these articles often come up lacking; where they miss the mark is on some of the critical components and steps required to build AND maintain a successful online community. (These same rules apply for a consumer-oriented communities as well.)
If you read my article that outlines 9 Building Blocks of a Social Media Strategy, you will note that these components are rather similar, but I would also add that this community becomes only one piece of your overall social media strategy as defined by the tools you leverage to repurpose your social content.
Know Your Audience
Social media marketing is, at the end of the day, about your content – and knowing how to write your content and for whom you are writing it is essential. The same rule applies to your communities. You have to have a sound understanding of whom you are building this community for. If you cannot define whom you are building an online community for… you shouldn’t be building it. You may have different user segments and more than one user profile, and that’s okay. Just know who those different user groups might be.
Define Your Goals
You’ve defined your audience, now determine what you want them to do. Being social in nature, this community will lend itself to user interaction and influence – the beauty and viral nature of social media. But, as you are serving up content through your online communities, at the end of the day there should be a “conversion” to measure against. The definition of a conversion could mean many things. Take some time to explore that – what do you hope to accomplish through the development and management of this online community?
Develop a Content Strategy
Community content can take on many shapes and forms, from videos, to articles and white papers, and relevant links to external content that sparks discussion and interaction from your community members. If you know whom you are speaking to and what action you’d like them to take for that “conversion,” defining the right content in the right format will be crucial. Online communities should be connected to multiple social channels from which you can draw upon relevant and interesting content that supports your overall goals. If you intend to create marketing campaigns to promote your community, your content strategy will be a key element to ensure you are providing a consistent message across all channels and touchpoints.
The Human Factor
Communities by definition are groups of people. Pretty basic concept, right? If you truly want to build a meaningful community, you need the human element. You’ll need a “Community Manager” of sorts who will help seed the community at inception, moderate and monitor conversations, feed relevant content to community members, and above all, interact. The person who is managing this community should be transparent – allow people to reach out and contact you. Make it human. Keep it real. Even Facebook has acknowledged this with the recent changes to fan page administration. They now allow page administrators to comment and post as humans, and not just “the page.”
Analyze and Adjust
As with any marketing efforts, analytics should not be an afterthought. With your goals, audience and content strategy defined, your measurement outputs should be pretty tangible. That is, what are you measuring and how do you define success in marketing data? What would you want to see on a reporting dashboard? Community analytics can include a combination of web analytics and social media analytics, and if you are fully integrating your marketing, you can take this to a whole other level by integrating these online data sources with your offline consumer data as well.
- Who are your influencers? (Are they in your defined target audience?)
- What social channels create the most interactions (touchpoint attribution)?
- Are you “converting” as outlined in your goals (leads, sales, etc.)?
- Are people finding the community organically through SEO?
- What is your viral lift?
The above is just a sprinkling of what you’d want to measure, but ongoing marketing analytics will equip you with the actionable insights you need to develop additional content, leverage untapped social channels, launch multichannel campaigns, engage with influencers, adjust your message, and so on.
From what I have seen so far, B2B marketers are not quite getting it right yet. The perception that social media is not for B2B needs to change. Your prospects are online, whether you realize it or not. The key to a successful B2B social media strategy is knowing which social channels to focus on and leveraging those channels well. You cannot be all things to all people, and with new social sites popping up every day, it’s impossible anyway.
If you plan to build an online community, whether B2B focused or for consumers, do yourself a favor and do your homework before you leap in with both feet. Join a few communities to see what works and what doesn’t. Rack up some time engaging in other communities to better understand what will be required – take note of the human factor and how that influences your interaction in a given community. Most importantly, create a roadmap before you start – from audience to analytics.