It's no surprise that social media sites continue to thrive. However, as Andrew Seel explained at Econsultancy's breakfast briefing this week, successfully building an online community entails more than just having a presence on such sites. Rather, it's about encouraging active engagement and collaboration with the brand to provide mutual value for the company and the customer alike.
Here, we explore some of the key points from Andrew's presentation ...
Set clear goals
As more companies look for the business raison d'etre behind such sites, it is crucial not to lose sight of objectives throughout the process of building an online community. In the initial stages, companies must set clear goals with the audience and understand the motivations for setting up their community.
Objectives vary greatly depending on industry sector and the nature of the brand or business. Photobox was cited as an example of a site that uses its online community to improve and "co-create" their service with their users. Nurturing the online community is very much a part of Photobox's long-term development roadmap.
Know your audience
Understanding your ideal community member and their motivations will encourage users to visit your site. It is especially important to consider how users will find you. Only using closed password entry, for example, prevents Google from spidering the site, so providing some unrestricted content makes finding your site that much easier for your users.
Once your users have found your site, the next step is to encourage activity. The value of social media lies in the ability to form individual, personal relationships with customers, so getting to know users personally will make them more likely to actively engage with you and contribute.
Don't forget the one percenters
The "one-percenters" are those die-hard fans of your brand who create content on your behalf. It is important to understand that the motivations of these brand ambassadors lie in enhanced status and recognition within the community.
On the other hand, don't ignore the contributors: those users who may not create the original content but add to content provided by the elusive one percent. At today's briefing, Wikipedia was mentioned as a successful example of this, as the 'stub' functionality encourages other editors to add or contribute to existing articles.
Mobilising opinion, creating debate and giving your users something to talk about will allow your site to scale in the long-term. As well as providing useful and entertaining content, adding ratings and reviews, for example, ensures that your users will continue to gain value from the community site.
Show me the money
There are a number of business models that can be used to monetise your community site, with advertising being the most obvious method. TripAdvisor, for example, uses a revenue-sharing model with various hotel and booking sites. Alternative methods of reaping return on investment are subscription or membership-based models, such as that employed by Econsultancy.
If you can't measure it, you can't manage it
Measurement of social media is an ongoing dilemma for the industry, as marketers struggle to implement recognised standards to structure these emerging channels.
However, although industry-wide best practices continue to evolve, metrics and measurement should be set initially at the individual campaign level, and as Econsultancy's very own Michelle Goodall argues, effective measurement entails understanding the role of social media as a component of the overall marketing mix.
It is important to remember that engagement metrics from other channels such as TV and radio have traditionally been difficult to measure, and so before creating a whole new set of "social media metrics," marketers must understand and appreciate what they can learn from other channels.
There are various free and paid-for tools for social media measurement, and Econsultancy's Online Reputation and Buzz Monitoring Buyer's Guide can help with choosing a suitable supplier.
Ultimately, creating a successful online community demands an understanding of the art of creating conversations. It's clear that there's no silver bullet, but it's important to remember that if brands are engaging with their customers anyway, then those crucial marketing opportunities will naturally present themselves as the community flourishes and grows.
Look out for Econsultancy's next briefing about Email Marketing on the 13th of May.