How To Create A Thriving Branded Community For Your Organisation

community

For years now, I have believed that blogs must be the hub of your social media presence, if only to escape the vagaries of the social media world. But, when Forrester’s Nate Elliott predicted that as social media matures, branded communities will make a comeback in 2015, I knew that this was one area of social media that I had to focus on.

Branded communities have been around even before blogs, with forums being some of the first communities. Today, smart individuals and organizations are going a step further and creating entire communities or social networks of their own.

For an example of a thriving branded community, check out the one created by Oracle for its users. Another example of a branded community is the Future of Work Community, created by Jacob Morgan and based around the theme of workplace issues.

With your own branded community, you no longer have to depend on Facebook’s algorithm changes or pay for visibility on Twitter to get the results you want. You can build a community of people who are interested in the same ideas you are, and communicate with them as much as you want, through a branded newsletter.

According to the Wall Street Journal, at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing programs, a well-designed brand community can be used to conduct market research with very quick turn-around; generate and test ideas for product innovations; deliver prompt and high-quality service to customers with a problem; strengthen the attachments that existing customers feel toward the brand; and increase good publicity through word-of-mouth.

Creating a branded community does not come cheap, however. You will need to allocate resources, both in terms of finance and time spent, to help your community grow and thrive. Whether you choose to create a branded community on your own domain or on as a microsite of your company site, you need to ask yourself some questions before you go ahead with this initiative.

Questions To Ask Before Creating Your Branded Community:

1. What do I want to achieve with this community?

2. Whom do I want to reach out to with this community?

3. Why should anyone join my community? How does it benefit them to participate?

4. Do I have the resources I need to manage my community?

5. How will I measure the success of my community?

Once you have answered these questions honestly, you need to figure out how to build functionality into your branded community website that is relevant to your organisation’s focus, differentiates your community from others, and gives your members a good reason to keep coming back regularly.

Guidelines for Creating a Thriving Branded Community

1. Allow anyone to register, create a profile page and comment, but allow publishing articles and wikis by invitation only. Worthwhile commentators may be invited to become contributors. This will help to eliminate spam and spammy posts from clogging up your newsfeed.

2. Keep the signup form simple and the user interface intuitive. Social sharing options are a must. The website must be mobile and tablet friendly and accessible on all devices.

3. The website should also have a social networking function, allowing experts to connect with each other (and with other users) and collaborate. A number of collaborative wikis can make it easier to crowdsource ideas and information on issues of common interest.

4. Branding is best done discreetly and not in-your-face. You can display the company logo on all pages and have a dedicated section to showcase your latest company content, but keep the rest of the website free of talk about your organisation. All the rest of the content posted should be neutral, non-promotional and related to discussions on issues of common interest.

5. Put a spotlight on member participation. As on many online forums, you can create a reward system that awards those who read or comment on content, with a title or milestone. It provides an incentive for users to come back and read or comment more often. For example, check out the incentives offered by Doug.

6. Brands of authority offer expert affiliation and advice. The community site can feature content by a number of eminent experts in the domain of your choice. Content may be contributed in the form of articles, videos, infographics, PDF’s, PPTs etc. For featured experts, the community site provides a platform where they can share their expertise with a base of users interested in these issues.

7. To give experts an incentive to share their work and ideas on the site, provide a featured expert showcase on the home page, where their most recent content is displayed to all users. This showcase can be rotated to display different expert contributions every week/month.

8. You can also bestow trusted experts with administrative rights over site content and invite them to have a say in what content is displayed and how the site is run, to increase their sense of connection with the community. Making other experts feel like stakeholders in the site’s success will increase the likelihood of them contributing regularly.

9. Create a community badge that users can copy and display on their own sites or blogs. This will help them promote your community to their own audience.

10. Measure the right things. You need to build interaction and create a level of comfort among the most loyal users so they will evangelize your services. The best way to measure this might be by looking at engagement metrics like blog mentions and social shares, rather than unique visits to the site.

11. Do not try to control the conversation tightly. Don’t moderate every single piece of content before it gets posted, but check the content that is already posted and delete anything offensive or spammy. Also allow users to label content as offensive or spammy.

12. Be open to criticism about your brand or services. Part of the purpose of creating a community is to gain feedback on your brand and competitors. Allowing customers to post criticisms and complaints is a good way to spot small problems before they become big ones. Also, when complaints are handled well, customer satisfaction and loyalty skyrocket.

13. A Q&A section will allow users to submit questions and have them answered by experts, sort of like Quora.com. This can become quite a popular feature with users if executed well.

14. Send out a monthly or weekly newsletter with aggregated content from the site’s RSS feed. This will increase repeat visits and promote engagement with new content. Also promote content from the site on social media channels.

Brand communities are not corporate assets, so control is an illusion. But relinquishing control does not mean abdicating responsibility. As the Harvard Business Review notes, effective brand stewards participate as community co-creators – nurturing and facilitating communities by creating the conditions in which they can thrive.

© Priya Florence Shah

7 Of The Top Social Media Marketing Blogs

The world of social media is changing so quickly, it seems like if you blink, you’ll miss something. It’s very hard to keep up with the latest developments in the social media sphere.

One of the ways we stay up to date is by following a number of the best blogs on social media. Here’s a list of 7 of the best blogs that provide readers with excellent insights about social media and digital marketing online.

1. Social Media Examiner (www.socialmediaexaminer.com)

One of the most well-written and authoritative blogs on social media, Social Media Examiner “helps businesses master social media marketing to find leads, increase sales and improve branding using Facebook”. Founded by Michael Stelzner, they also have a regular podcast that provides more in-depth analysis and interviews with social media experts.

Social Media Examiner

 

2. Socialbrite (www.socialbrite.org)

This is one platform that new social media enthusiasts need to follow. Socialbrite hosts several articles and discussions about making the best use of social media in real world situations. They “help nonprofits and organizations with all facets of social media: strategy, website design, community building, multimedia storytelling & fundraising campaigns.”

Socialbrite

 

3. Social Media Explorer (www.socialmediaexplorer.com)

As a multi-author, agency blog, Social Media Explorer delivers strategic information on matters of digital marketing and social media. Started by Jason Falls and Nichole Kelly, the articles are timely and well-researched.

Social Media Explorer

 

4. Chris Brogan (www.chrisbrogan.com/blog)

Written from his own experience, Chris Brogan’s blog is always interesting and engaging, and he delivers exciting insights into churning out the best social media content. CEO of Human Business Works, a publishing and media company, Chris has authored books like The Impact Equation, Trust Agents, Social Media 101, and Google Plus for Business.

Chris Brogan

 

5. Social Media Today (socialmediatoday.com)

Social Media Today hosts an impressive lineup of social media experts – or what it calls, “the world’s best thinkers on social media” – from different fields who discuss their theories of social media success on the blog. The articles are practical, yet insightful, and their Social Media Today podcast caters to those who are serious about social media marketing.

Social Media Today

 

6. Social Mouths (socialmouths.com/blog/)

Founded by Francisco Rosales, Social Mouths has “some of the best social media content and advice you’ll find on the web”, according to one of their testimonials. They have a lot of list posts, which are a popular and useful blog format and feature articles about all kinds of social marketing strategies – blogging, content marketing, email marketing, web traffic, conversion and much more.

Social Mouths

 

7. Hubspot’s Inbound Hub (blog.hubspot.com)

There are many reasons why the Hubspot blog is one of our favourites, but awesome content should just about cover it. Also their free guides on various aspects of social media and inbound marketing are among the best we’ve ever read. Their content is always useful, practical and educational and is targeted at companies and social media agencies with the aim of getting them to try their HubSpot software.

Hubspot

 

 

 

5 Damaging Myths About Increasing Traffic To Your Blog Or Website

system crash

Most website owners or bloggers believe that traffic is the Holy Grail, and that they can’t possibly get enough of it.

It’s true that too little traffic will make your blog redundant and that a blog that doesn’t get any visitors doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things.

However, the opposite is also true. That too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Here are five myths about traffic that I have learned through years of generating millions of hits to my many blogs and websites.

Myth #1: More is better

Here is the main reason this is not true. Too much traffic can crash your website. And what would you have to show for it? Just an empty boast that your site got so much traffic that it crashed. So much for that myth.

Myth #2: It doesn’t cost me anything

Not true for one important reason. Bandwidth costs money. Although most web hosts claim to offer ‘unlimited bandwidth’, when push comes to shove, most of them will suspend your website or blog, leaving you with few options other than moving your site to a new host altogether.

Myth #3: Traffic equals results

Is your traffic working like it should? What do you want your visitors to do? Unless you’re getting paid for ad impressions on your website or blog, you’re not going to be making any money out of the glut of traffic on your site.

If, on the other hand your website has a purpose, in terms of conversions to leads or sales, you need to ask yourself – is your traffic converting? If not, why?

Your site might need a redesign, or targeted landing pages, or you might need to redo your copy or offers to make sure that your traffic is converting the way it should. Either way, more traffic is not the answer.

Myth #4: All traffic is the same

Again, this is not true because the source of your traffic affects your conversion rate. Traffic from some sources converts better than others. For instance, you might get a lot of visitors from StumbleUpon, but they might leave your site very quickly, giving you a high bounce rate (which can adversely affect your Google ranking).

On the other hand, traffic from LinkedIn might be more suitable for your website, if yours is a B2B company and you offer the kind of information and solutions your visitors are looking for.

Myth #5: Organic traffic is the best

There are many reasons why certain pages from your website might rank well in the search engine results pages. But if the pages that are showing up in the top ten are not your best converting pages, the traffic is wasted on them.

It takes a lot of time for an SEO campaign to create the kind of results you need. In the meantime, using pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to send targeted traffic to certain landing pages might be your best option to get the right kinds of conversions for your business.

The lessons one can take away from this is that website or blog traffic is not the Holy Grail to help your business meet its sales targets online.

What you need to focus on is sending the right message to the right buyer persona in the right context, and this can usually be accomplished by sending just the right amount of traffic to targeted landing pages that are designed to convert visitors.

Why You Can’t Expect Instant Results With Social Media Marketing

social media networking

Social media marketing has became essential for organisations who have been told, time and again, that they need to be on social networks, because that is where their customers are.

But what many marketers and company executives fail to understand is that, unless you start with paid advertising on social networks, social media marketing takes time to deliver results.

Sure, you can throw a whole lot of money at it and hope some of it will stick. But, like the old saying in marketing, chances are that you are wasting at least 50% of your budget in ads that may or may not be working.

That’s because social networks are not about marketing. They were not created for that purpose. The purpose of social networks is connection. They connect people to one another, helping messages spread faster through a community than ever before.

This is the aspect of social media that marketers want to capitalize on, but it is not going to translate into a significant return on investment (ROI) unless you have already built a community of people who like and trust your brand. And that takes time.

Even if you are willing to spend money on Facebook ads to get more likes or promote your products, it takes months to build a following of genuine fans who will respond to your posts and take the actions you want them to take.

In the early days, it was easier to build a large community of followers on Twitter, but of late they have begun to suspend accounts for following too many people in a single day and for other ‘suspicious practices’.

No one can blame Twitter for cutting down on this either, because when companies use it solely as a broadcasting medium for news and updates about their products, it detracts from the user experience on the network, and that is what Twitter, as a company, cares about most.

So if you start creating a presence on social media today, expecting that you will be able to get a massive response in a few weeks or even a month, you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Just like a garden that must be nurtured one plant at a time, you need to nurture your relationships with your community, one person at a time.

So start using social media for all the right reasons –

• For genuinely listening to your customers

• For conducting research on their needs

• For answering customer queries

• For providing great customer support

• For sharing remarkable content

• For offering exclusive deals and discounts

• For creating brand advocates

If you use it for the reasons above, you will end up creating a very valuable resource, in terms of a social media community that will return the love and respect you give them many times over. And that is something that money can never buy.

Image courtesy of phanlop88 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How To Create Content That Will Cut Through The Clutter

stand out from the clutter

According to AOL/Nielsen, 27 million pieces of content are shared each day. With such a glut of online content creation and sharing, how do you get your content to stand out from the clutter?

Here are some suggestions to help you do this.

1. Create remarkable content

What this essentially means is that you need to make every piece of content count. Quality over quantity is the key to this. Even if you publish only one blog post a week or post your own commentary about someone else’s post, make it a great one.

Make your content insightful, give it depth and make people question their own assumptions. You have more chance of creating viral content if you tell a story, trigger people’s emotions, make them laugh or appeal to the goodness in people.

Even if your content is not unique and is curated from someone else’s articles, it can still make a dent in the content universe. This is the model that websites like The Huffington Post and Business Insider follow and their content is definitely some of the most shared online.

2. Publish a blog and build a community around it

That your blog is the hub of your social media presence has almost become a cliché. But not everyone gets the fact that “social networks are not the holy grail of customer acquisition, retention and loyalty. Online communities are.”

And that “people prefer to build relationships with brands in customer communities that are tightly integrated with the company website or other online properties, close to the brand.” (Source)

A blog is one of the best ways to grow and nurture a loyal community of customers that love your information and your brand. Communities like Mashable are built around the engaging content that they publish, and their posts often go viral, even if they are not always original content.

3. Repurpose your blog into a video or Powerpoint

Visual content is becoming essential as social networks like Instagram, Pinterest and Vine become more popular with certain niches. Repurpose your blog post into a video and post it on YouTube, Instagram and other channels.

Also post your videos on your blog and share them with your social networks to give your content more traction and help it stand out from the clutter of text-based content.

Certain kinds of content can also be repurposed into PDFs or slideshows, allowing them to be shared on sites like Slideshare, Authorstream and other document sharing sites.

4. Create attractive visuals to go with your post

Visual content can help you cut through the clutter of content online. A 2012 study by ROI Research found that 44% of respondents are more likely to engage with brands if they post pictures than any other media.

It is so easy to create attractive quotes taken from excerpts of your blog posts using sites like Quozio, Quotescover and BeHappy.me. Or you can purchase attractive stock photos cheaply and create your own custom graphics.

You might even want to consider creating an infographic from your post, which gives it greater potential to go viral.

5. Syndicate your content on authoritative sites

If you’re a B2B company, your content will get noticed and shared more if you join a number of expert communities online and syndicate your content on them.

Quora, ExploreB2B, Business2Community and Efactor are just a few of the authoritative sites that invite you to share your expertise as a blog on their site. Considering that their updates go out to millions of readers, your content is bound to get noticed a lot more if you syndicate it on these sites.

With article directories taking a massive hit in the past few Google algorithm updates, we highly recommend making use of the massive reader base of these sites to get more traction for your content.

As the growth and sharing of content becomes even more prolific in the future, we hope that your business will benefit from these suggestions to help your content stand out from the clutter.

© Priya Florence Shah is a published author, online publisher, blogging and social media consultant and digital marketing trainer. Get access to her free ebook on using blogs to generate leads for your business.

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