Think Community to Drive Engagement

Content is a conversation. Social media gives us the opportunity to share in that conversation. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other similar channels are so popular because they give us a chance to talk. Did you ever think you'd spend hours reading and commenting about your friend's cousin's trip to Mexico? When you do, doesn't it make you feel connected? Being part of a community is fun, energizing, and comforting. It also creates what we need most in marketing-trust.

Many marketers get stuck thinking about content as the form of delivery. But that's a bad approach. There's a difference between what you're trying to say and how you're saying it. "What" is the message; "how" is the channel that you use to say it.

Instead of thinking solely about content distribution and reaching a certain individual through those channels, we need to shift our focus to increasing and encouraging engagement and trust by building a brand community.

We build trust with time, during a number of conversations between consumer and consumer and between consumer and company. As the authors of the The Cluetrain Manifesto describe, "The Net invites your customers in to talk, to laugh with each other, and to learn from each other. Connected, they reclaim their voice in the market, but this time with more reach and wider influence than ever." This means we need to respect those conversations more than ever, as they have such a wide reach.

In order to build a brand community, we need to understand the community. Different types of people hang out in different types of places. When I was a teenager, the mall was fun. Now, as a mom with three young children, it's a place that has stuff I need, and all I want to do is get in and get out. When I was in college, I wanted to hang out with my friends at bars and coffee houses and talk about existential issues. Now, I want to hang out at home on the couch with my husband and watch our favorite programs-on demand.

My life has changed, as have my interests and focus. Having an effective and memorable conversation with me now is different from other stages in my life. Our audience is the same. If you want to engage with your target audiences, you need to do the following:

  1. Find them on the right channels.
  2. Engage them with content that is entertaining
    and/or relevant to their lives.
  3. Build a relationship with them through consistent conversations.
  4. Invite them to engage further.

Engaging a brand community takes three steps:

Listen: Go out there and spend time listening to your customers. What are they talking about on different social media channels? What are their comments on YouTube videos? What type of emails do you get from other entrenched members of that community? Which of your email lists do they show interest in and subscribe (or unsubscribe) to? If there are books in your space, look at the comments on Amazon. Get a feeling for audience interaction in different spaces.

Test: Try different types of content to see what response you get. I'm not advocating for a spaghetti content strategy (putting up content to see what sticks). I'm simply saying to try different content formats-videos, pictures, articles, and polls-and see how your audience reacts.

Measure engagement: You can draw certain conclusions if you carefully follow your measurement analytics for engagement. Deciding on what those analytics are is a very important part of the process. Don't look at how many followers you have; look at your engagement with those followers. If you are looking at the wrong metrics, you're making bad decisions.

We know we need to build a community and engage it carefully, and we do that through social media. Social media is our daily reality-not a fad. It is how people engage with each other and with the world at large (for now at least, until something else comes along). If you're a content professional, salesperson, or marketer, you should be using this engagement strategy daily. Yes, the channels are endless, the monitoring tools are confusing, and the resources you have are tight. But, as Wayne Gretzky once said, "100% of the shots I never took, never got it." You can't know until you try.