Almost as soon as it was established, the internet has been used as a place for companies to market their business. From advertisements to featured articles, businesses worldwide have used many strategies in order to get ahead of their competitors in online marketing. This is the birth of digital marketing, and since then many strategies and plans have been innovated. Online marketing, which is a branch of marketing communications, focusses on garnering more interest for a company. But did you know there is a marketing strategy that addresses the needs of existing customers?
This is community marketing. It is a strategy many companies employ in order to gather their customer base and have them voice out concerns, answer questions, as well as bounce off ideas in an active and dynamic platform. Online forums are great examples of where this happens. It doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around a company though, as it can also be a general forum of a particular field of interest the company happens to be part of. Prospective customers are also free to engage in places like these, as they would want to know if the company is trustworthy from those who are already customers.
Word-of-mouth is one of the most organic yet effective marketing methods.
There are two types of community marketing, namely organic and sponsored. Organic—also known as natural—community marketing happens without the intervention of the company, where customers find a way to talk about the products or services of a company by using a third-party platform, like an online forum or a social media site. Sponsored community marketing is initiated by the company, sometimes through company activities and CSRs. These communities are more often than not hosted by different websites. Many companies make it a point to have one of their experts be a member of that forum so they can at least have a representative in that particular community.
There are four things businesses aim to accomplish by using community marketing. The first is to connect customers with other customers to increase product satisfaction and adaption. The second is to connect customers with prospective customers, so the prospects will know the benefits of trusting the company straight out of the horse’s mouth. The last, and most important one, is so the bid to be able to connect to both customers and prospects. This will then create brand loyalty by making them feel like they are part of an exclusive community. In addition, the communication between all parties is more personal, and therefore, problems or concerns can be dealt with easier. But how exactly do you make sure that you are making the most of community marketing?
- Make sure you are consistent
One of the biggest mistakes a company can make when making use of marketing strategies like this is to expect immediate results. Marketing strategies, in general, usually take quite some time before you are able to see their effects. Community marketing is no different, as no matter how much the customer is able to relate to you in a forum, you still need to establish yourself as a trustworthy resource. Because of this, you should focus on the long-term benefits of employing this strategy compared to waiting for instant results.
A good way to establish yourself is to make sure you participate and publish on a consistent basis. You don’t need to do it every day, or even every week for that matter, but you do need to make sure the pace is consistent. Also make sure what you say is consistent as well. It would not be good if people in the community would notice that you said something in a post and then contradicted yourself later on. This will results in the community members losing faith in you, and one of the aims of your community marketing campaign won’t be reached.
- Make it a point to actively participate in discussions
Another common mistake that representatives of companies make when they join a community forum is that they still act like they are representing the company. This would defeat one of the purposes of the community, as the other members of the forum would still see you as the company, not a person. That is why the best thing to do after creating a profile is to present the human side of you. Don’t comment on posts like you are a representative of the company. Talk to others like you’re one of them, simply with more knowledge about the products and services your brand provides.
You need to make sure you participate in discussions, and not simply pitch something and act as if you are always going to be correct. In all likelihood, you will be, but the other members of the community will not appreciate that. If there is something that you disagree on with them, you need to make sure that you present your argument or stance in a way they would understand where you’re coming from. Don’t make people think you are only saying what you’re saying because of where you work. The members of that community will be more accepting and open to your ideas if you simply offer up information, and not just hit them in the head with the answer.
- Make use of members who are already trusted by the community
When you are able to get into a forum that you think is good, you need to find out how it works. Most communities like this have a point system, wherein members can reward good answers or comments so others will know if a certain member is trustworthy or not. This can also show itself in the form of likes or the number of threads a person has commented or answered on, and this will most likely appear beside his profile picture on whichever thread he has posted on.
You need to observe the people who have already garnered a reputation of being trustworthy in the forums. They are the kind of people you might want to tap later on to become an additional ambassador for your company. Members of the community already feel like he is trustworthy, and will therefore listen to his comments more than others’. As mentioned before, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools out there, and these ambassadors are certainly capable of making use of it.
- Make yourself visible to all members of the forum
Once you are able to create your account, finish your profile, and you should be able to participate in any thread you wish. Do so immediately so you are able to increase your ranking within the forum. With most websites like this, they show if a member is trustworthy or not by having a point system, or something along those lines. Another thing to note is in order to increase your points or rank, you should also get involved in threads that aren’t necessarily about your brand.
You can create posts that aren’t about your company per se, but can be related. Like if you were Starbucks you can comment on or create threads about coffee beans, for example. Make sure your posts are informative and interesting, and take note not to create threads that have marketing jargon all over, as this is not the platform for those kinds of things. Make it so that most, if not all, members of the community will recognize your name. Take note though that your actions will dictate if they are going to trust you or not.
- Make it a regular habit to post related content on the forum
You can include this community as somewhere you can post some of your articles that are part of your content marketing strategy, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Though sometimes it might not seem like it, the members of that website are almost 100% made up of your target audience, and this way you can reach them when in a place where they are comfortable, and will be most receptive to anything helpful that you have to say.
How-to articles, products reviews, and tips and tricks are just some examples of the kind of content that would be almost guaranteed hits in a community. Remember that you still need to be participative and helpful in other threads, even if the members are talking about your competitors. Do not be overtly biased as the community members might notice, and that will affect the way they will see you.