“Does your company have a Facebook page?”
It’s a question that most firms, large and small, encounter today. While the question highlights how powerful Facebook has become as an online marketing strategy, it also signals a herd mentality: you must have it if your competitors do.
In order to be truly successful in building a live and engaging community on the web, you need to have both a positioning strategy and an execution plan in place. To formulate a strategy for your online community, you need to answer a few critical questions before you begin.
Why should I create a community?
A community can serve multiple purposes and can be very powerful provided you have a clear objective. Some of the objectives for you to consider include:
- Brand building and promotion. Coke’s community on Facebook has more than 5.7 million members
- Customer feedback. Starbucks’ community has more than 7.5 million members and the community decides the flavor of the brand’s next coffee.
- Lead generation and online sales. Gunpowder restaurant in New Delhi does much of its table booking through its Facebook fan page
- Online reputation management. Dell’s Facebook page for small and medium-sized businesses is a great tool for the company to continuously strengthen its reputation as a brand that is committed to customer service.
A packaged food brand, Ching’s Secret, is one of the few Indian consumer brands to cross 100,000 fans on Facebook. It considers the community to be the most effective customer relationship management tool. Its seriousness about leveraging value from its online community is obvious from the fact that its upcoming product packaging will have links to its Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Having clarity around the business objective for launching a community doesn’t mean that you become rigid about it. You should be open to changing your objectives as you witness what works and what doesn’t in the community-building process. Also, your business objectives will define the metrics by which you measure and optimize the success of your community.
Who’s the target audience for my community?
Another important element behind successful community-building is to know your audience. Segmenting the target audience includes weighing their location, age, gender, income, education, attitudes, values and lifestyles.
Another approach to segmenting your audience is to consider their role as influencers, decision makers or users of your product, brand or service. For example, if you sell corporate workshops to sales professionals, a sales manager is likely to be an influencer, the head of sales the decision maker, and the complete sales team will be the user.
Depending on your business objectives and the customer segment you plan to serve, you will decide on the channel or channels to pursue – whether Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or another — to engage with them. For example, Ching’s Secret participated in a bootcamp that we had organized in the past, and wanted to build a direct relationship with youth and technology savvy folks. Its key target segment was digitally inclined. Accordingly, building a community on Facebook turned out to be their natural choice.
On the other hand, large communities such as Commonwealth Games 2010, which we launched while I was running my previous business, have every Indian as their target audience.
What’s in it for my target audience?
This is the most important question you need to answer if you want to capitalize on the true potential of the online community for your brand. However, in my experience, this is also the least understood and appreciated question about building a successful community. Obviously, the people in your organization who are talking to your customers can best answer this “need fulfillment” question.
There are two basic questions: Why will a person join our community? And why will that person participate in the community on an ongoing basis?
If your audience consists of a variety of members, you will have to answer these separately for each of those segments. While you may not have the perfect answer to begin with, the extent to which you are able to define these objectives will determine the effectiveness of the community.
For example, at our Digital Marketing learning community on Facebook, we engage with sales and marketing and digital marketing professionals. Sales and marketing professionals are interested in case studies about how other, similar, businesses have leveraged digital marketing. But digital marketing professionals are more interested in getting insights and do’s and don’ts about successfully executing a digital marketing campaign.
Well thought out answers to the questions above will help you lay the strategy for launching your brand. However, it is the execution of the strategy, which will ultimately give you the business results you want out of building an online community.
In the next part of this article, I will examine the key elements of execution – channels, content, promotion and measurement — and also look at one of the most interesting and critical elements: What causes engagement in an online community?
This article was originally published at WSJ’s India Chief Mentor.