We’ve heard about the power of community. New book deals are contingent on number of Twitter followers, startups tap into existing communities to get those crucial first users, and marketers utilize communities to test new products and features. For example, the popular site, Pinterest, tapped into the Bay Area DIY crowd for their initial community and traction grew from there. Creating community, though, is easier said than done. From a marketing perspective, this is a Catch-22; to drive sales to the bottom line, brand communications need to drive transactions, on the other hand, when you are looking to build community, you need great storytelling and high quality content; how do you strike this happy medium?
Facebook has recently opted to raise the bar on quality, acting algorithmically like a curator, selecting quality stories and content over sales pitches; Facebook always shows people the messages they “really” want. And this seems to be high quality content and storytelling, not marketing messages. Digital marketer Harry Hawk recently said, “Marketing communications is like someone who repeats the same three stories every day all day for the last 20 years; marketing has utilized the power of reach, and frequency.
Community building is like someone who remembers meeting you before and adjusting the conversation with an ever changing set of intriguing stories to tell.” Brands that keep pushing out the same marketing messages and click baited headlines have diminished their reach and complain that Facebook wants to extract paid advertising fees. These marketers forget that Facebook is a community of people who are sharing moments, sometimes intimate, from their lives and constant pitches for products run against that grain. ”Facebook is used for intimate and interpersonal communications; marketers who engage in conversation worthy behavior are greatly favored by Facebook’s algorithm and their fans.” continues Hawk. Hawk shares with us five tricks for optimal community building:
Trick One: the one you have to do.
Authentic honest, transparent, and high quality content builds up your community and starts the conversation around your selected topics: topics relevant to your enterprise or conceptually adjacent to your product or service. Sometimes a professional communicator can create this content or selected members of your team (including yourself) can do so. You pay nothing to Facebook and gain wide access to their billion users.
Trick Two: Getting to know all about your fans.
Your fans on Facebook are actual humans, get to know them… talk with them, understand them, and walk a few miles in their shoes. Allow their voices to resonate within your community and you might just find their earned advocacy is stronger than any endorsement you could buy.
Trick Three: App-tastic Opportunities Abound.
Using 3rd party apps designed for Facebook or having one written to your specifications can gain you access to Facebook’s treasury of data. You can receive email addresses, demographic data and more only limited by Facebook’s’ terms of service. You can then start to plug in your Facebook fans into your CRM or marketing program.
Trick Four A: Be a marketer.
Sending out marketing messages on Facebook is still free and isn’t discouraged. The whole trick to marketing messages is sending the correct message to the correct audience. You want to send the right messages to your fans based on their level of engagement, where they are in the marketing funnel, or whether or not they are a repeat customer. Facebook’s algorithm helps you much with this, as it’s not curating as much as it’s segmenting; just don’t post a message that has zero appeal.
Trick Four B: Let Facebook Be Facebook
If you have followed tricks 1–3 you have an active, interested community who loves to talk about issues and products important to your company. Once you have your community’s attention and trust it’s time to layer in a few marketing messages. They are not going to have the same reach as your less sales oriented messages but you don’t have to worry; Facebook will only show these messages to people who want them and these direct response messages actually might resonate.
Trick Five: Open Your Wallet.
With your entire community engaged and active and your limited but well crafted marketing messages starting to gain traction, pick some of the best ones and pay to promote them. If there is a real economic justification there isn’t any reason not to make this type of buy. The justification for any ad spend has always been ROI based and indeed media buyers easily calculate the value of one versus the other.
In Summary: There are No Tricks!
There isn’t any reason not to build a quality community on Facebook unless you have a cheaper or better place to do it, like Pinterest is for DIYers. Once you have a quality community there isn’t any reason not to push out some marketing messages as long as you don’t harm your relationship with your stakeholders. Paid ads and promoted posts need to be evaluated based on KPIs and ROI; spend on Facebook when it makes sense. If you pride yourself on innovating, spend some mental elbow grease figuring out what paid messages work best on Facebook; which messages drive sales or support post purchase afterglow or help with customer retention? Try a targeted or custom audience or even try retargeting.
It’s not surprising that quality content and excellent storytelling is winning the day on Facebook. It is clear that consumers are looking for subtle and thoughtful messages, stories and proactive assistance in places where they are not normally accustomed to seeing ads. Right now the tide has turned to the professional communications team with their subtler, high quality, influencer strategies. And thus, the value of a well-run community is established. The question now becomes: “What are you doing to build yours?”
This story originally was published in Forbes.