So I’m putting on my marketing hat now because I feel the need to make a point. I keep reading about how marketers and brands need to get into online communities. How companies that aren’t participating or creating social networks are missing out. How this is the future! Of course, I couldn’t agree more. However, I don’t think it is as simple as that and I know that many brands and organizations are struggling to figure this one out.
When people talk about social media inevitably the first example they give is Facebook.
Want to talk about brands failing in online social media? Then talk about Facebook. I am on Facebook and I see very few opportunities for marketing in that environment. Why? Because it has nothing to do with what I am doing on Facebook, that’s why! I am on Facebook to connect with friends and very few brands can add to my experience. The only one that I think comes close is Amazon.com‘s book tool. Other than that, nope. Also, Facebook may be the social network de jour but it is by no means the only social network out there and really, it is pretty unique.
The other thing I hear all of the time from eager marketers trying to get in the game is that they are going to create "customized branded online communities". Duh! Don’t you get it? Just like you can’t contrive a friendship or any relationship for that matter you can not "create" a community whether online or off. VERY few brands can make this work and those that do are total lovemarks (Apple) and have a real reason for being (The Running Room). This is not a matter of "If you build it, they will come". Just because it is there doesn’t mean people are going to use it or connect to it or care. Most likely if they are a part of it at all, it will be because they think they are going to get free stuff. This is not a community.
So, what is the solution? How do brands take advantage of the opportunity to speak directly to their potential or existing consumer within their community? How can they build a relationship and give their target audience a chance to really get to know them? For most brands my advice would be to find an existing community and connect with your target market where they are already hanging out. There are plenty of them out there from the global to the national to the local.
The key is finding one that is open to brand participation and working with the community members to learn how your brand can best fit in. Yes, that’s right, the community members. If you really want to make this work then create a strategy based on what the community wants. Do they want to learn more about physical health? Then have your brand make it happen. Do they want a chance to get out and have some fun? Make your brand the hero! This may take a bit more planning and digging but it is the only way to truly make this work because the whole point of an online community is that it IS a community where community members have a voice, play a role, and decide who is in and who is not pulling their weight.
So, do your research, work with a relevant partner, and do NOT attempt to recreate the wheel. If you really want to find a place for your brand within a community give the power to the people and let them invite you in.