As I've pointed out before, with so many people urging every business and every brand to use social media channels to create their own online community, it's important to first stop and ask yourself why you should create an online community. Just because it worked for others doesn't mean it will work for you. They may have had special knowledge and insight, a bigger budget, more manpower. Even if your business can benefit, do you have the manpower and resources to support a proper social media presence? Once you have it, what will you do with it?
These are all very important questions that don't come with easy answers. However, you can use the guide below to determine if your business is ready to move into social media, if you have the necessary tools to be successful, and if you would benefit from creating an online community.
Should You Be Using Social Media?
If you’re starting an online community, you should first ask yourself why. Social media obviously works better for some companies, but why is that? What do you need to have at your disposal before you can build a successful online community?
1. A Plan. If you’re going to be successful on social media, you need to go in with a plan and a purpose. You’re not here because your competitors are here. If you’re going to use social media to promote your business, you need to have measurable goals and some idea of how you will achieve them. Obviously your plan will evolve over time as you try new things and come to better understand the community you’re building, but it all starts with having goals and some theories on how you will reach them. If you need help with getting started, check out my 5 step guide to creating a plan for your online community!
2. Resources. Social media isn’t something you do 5 minutes a day, or 3 days a week. If you’re serious about building an online community, you’re going to need to put time and effort into it. This means someone in your existing staff spending the time to find or develop content and interacting with your community on a daily basis, hiring a new employee to manage your social media, partnering with an agency that can advise you and share some of the workload, or some hybrid of these. Social media isn’t free. It costs time, and unless you have that time, and the knowledge and skills to develop and manage your community, it will probably cost you some money as well.
3. Metrics. You’re going to be active in social media with a specific purpose in mind. This is why it’s important that your goals are measurable, because you’re going to measure your progress towards achieving them. For this, you’ll need to identify which metrics help you keep track of your goals, and some method or tool that will help you keep up with them, so you understand how well your plan is working out, and where there are problems that need more attention. You can’t be fulfilling a business need if you’re not tracking the metrics that are important to you, nor are you likely to reach your goals if you’re flying blind.
Where Is Your Audience?
If you’ve determined that you have the basic building blocks you need to seriously consider starting an online community, it’s time for step 2, figuring out where that community should be established.
1. Be focused. The last thing you want to do is sign up for every social media platform you can find. Look at each platform you’re interested in using to decide if it would suit your needs. Managing one community properly takes a lot of time and resources, and the more it grows the more time and attention it will demand. Don’t spread yourself thin, focus your efforts.
2. Have purpose. Just as you don’t want to get started on social media just because your competitors are there, you shouldn’t narrow down your choice of potential platforms for your online community based on what’s most popular or gets talked about the most. Instead, you should do your research to figure out where the demographics you want to reach are. Ask yourself why you want to be on any particular social media platform. If your audiences is on a popular service, then that’s great, but in social media, built it and they will come doesn’t always work, so go to where your audience is, or be prepared to fight an uphill battle.
Why Will People Care?
Finally, you need to understand what your community is going to be about, what is its purpose? You can’t just throw up a Facebook page and start posting pictures of your products and discount pricing. Your community needs to serve some purpose that fulfills a need for its members. This is what will keep them coming back day after day, year after year to be a part of what you’ve built. Your business goals are important, but they come secondary to the health of your community. If your community isn’t a place that people want to be, you won’t be able to achieve any of your goals because your community will be a ghost town.