The Essence of Any Successful Social Community
Like Rome, social media communities are not built in a day. Creating a dynamic following with authentic fans takes significant amounts of time and strategic precision. There’s no end point as to when brands are ever “finished” engaging with former, current and potential consumers. Community building is one of the reasons why social media management is so vital for brands of all sizes, encompassing day-to-day monitoring, audience segmentation, and the creation of content for drawing-in consumers from around the socialsphere.
Through a combination of discovery, research, strategic planning and the development of key metrics, it’s possible to effectively manage a community across all major social channels regardless of the industry a brand operates within.
What is a Social Community?
When it comes to defining the business function of a social community and why it’s essential for today’s brands, the essence exists in customer relations management. Building a social community requires engaging with fans throughout the consumer lifecycle, from the initial brand awareness phase through the final purchase and beyond. Think of social communities as support mechanisms for improving a brand’s communications efforts.
The idea behind building a social community is to create value for anyone who interacts with a brand’s social media channels, driving purchase behavior, consumer loyalty and retention. This can be achieved by focusing on six core areas:
1. Relationships — At the heart of any thriving social community is a robust and varied assortment of different types of relationships. Whether between brand to consumer, consumer to consumer or even business to business, relationships are the fuel that keeps social communities active and growing. Relationship-building is a long-term investment and is never truly complete no matter how much effort and strategy goes into it.
2. Conversation — For many consumers, engaging in meaningful conversation is central to visiting a brand’s social page in the first place. Conversation can arise organically as a result of consumer participation, but social media management can go a long way in terms of producing a conversation that is engaging, memorable and worth seeking out.
3. Discussion — Though broadly similar to conversation, discussion serves a unique role in the socialsphere. It can be used to glean insights on how consumers feel about a brand’s image/values, as well as its product offerings. Developing targeted discussion topics and implementing these strategies into a social media management process can significantly help boost brand perception and sentiment.
4. Information — While many people are active on social media because they enjoy interacting with their friends and family, others visit for information about products or services they’re interested in purchasing. Supporting these audiences is essential, which is why social media management services should encompass a strategy for providing valuable information to consumers about new product offerings, feature-set differentiators, and corporate communications. For many brands, their social media program can be a useful customer support channel that provides organizational efficiencies in regards to how information is shared and received by consumers.
5. Reputation — Every brand owes it to stakeholders to focus on maintaining an impeccable reputation, and social media is one of the best platforms for assisting in shifting consumer opinions. Whether it be a need for crisis management, or daily efforts towards building positive brand connotations across a variety of channels, social can be an excellent tool for enhancing a brand’s online reputation.
6. Connections — Connections are the lifeblood of any community and must be focused on in order to build authentic relationships with a brand’s target audience. A combination of organic and paid connection-building tactics should be leveraged to maximize fan growth and reach.
Combined, these and other focus areas can be used to build strong communities that will continue to grow over time—that is, if successfully managed.
Types of Social Media Management Services
The term “social media management services” is an umbrella phrase for four distinct processes, all of which work in tandem with one another and are crucial to building a robust social presence. Areas of focus include:
Community management is one of the most important aspects of maintaining a successful social media program. At its core, community management is the process of engaging in a dialog with a brand’s social media fans in real-time to build long-lasting relationships with a target audience. Whenever a user comments or a direct message is received, it’s essential to engage in a conversation with those fans to build comradery and drive advocacy. This process ensures the brand is an active participant in its social media efforts, which can go a long way regarding boosting brand perception—it “humanizes,” a challenging task to replicate on traditional media.
As every social media application is unique in how brands can communicate with their audiences, community management strategies must be created for all channels. This requires an intricate understanding of the built-in audiences each channel has to offer and how to create consumer value from every fan interaction.
If community management is about keeping the conversation going, content management is about starting it. This aspect of social media management services involves planning, scheduling and publishing all pieces of content that will make it onto a brand’s social pages. As particular times and days of the week are more effective than others for publishing social posts, content management also entails ensuring content is released at optimal times for peak performance.
Types of content can range anywhere from static imagery, and animated GIFs to short-form videos, blogs, infographics or even live social streams.
One aspect of social media that not enough brands take advantage of is the fact that many channels can serve as real-time digital customer support centers—especially for brands who have a substantial e-commerce component to their marketing. In this way, social media can function as an extension of a customer service department, assisting in funneling communication with customers regarding products, services, shipping, returns, exchanges and more.
In the end, this aspect of social media management services is changing the way consumers reach out to brands to learn more or troubleshoot issues they’re experiencing. It’s “social customer service,” and it’s the future of how brands across all industries will offer support.
A big misconception about the role of audience development in social media management is that it relates only to the current social audience. Although this is an essential factor in maintaining momentum across social channels, it just scratches the surface of what the process of audience development is capable of obtaining.
True audience development requires going outside a brand’s current audience and inserting its narrative into user-generated content to bring new audiences in via relevant hashtags, user groups, and any other means of organically acquiring new fans.
Audience development is at the very core of social listening, and the more a brand can explore different avenues, the more extensive a range of consumers it can expect to interact with on social media.
How to Increase Engagement with Personalized Communication
Increasing engagement across a brands social media channels is one of the fundamental elements of implementing successful social media management services. Focusing on positive and personalized communication will develop a community of active participants vs. passive viewers. Brands who provide a real-time response to their social media fans are more likely to breed advocacy, and community managers are the ones responsible for steering conversations in the right direction. As one might expect, there are best practices that can be followed to ensure that discussions occurring on social are to the maximum benefit of the brand.
Here are just a handful of important elements for personalized social communication, all of which can work together to increase engagement and brand loyalty:
Thoughtful Questions — The most effective way to get the conversation moving on any social platform is to ask thoughtful questions of your audience. Questions should be relevant to the brand but don’t necessarily need to focus on products or services, and they should always be written in a way that welcomes opinions from two contrasting viewpoints. This way, you can prompt a debate without influencing the conversation yourself— an instrumental technique that can repeatedly be used to engage social fans in different capacities.
Appreciation Statements — Making a point to show appreciation to social media fans for their valuable time and feedback should not be overlooked. Whether it be product giveaways, direct correspondence with advocates, or unique content that showcases a brand’s appreciation for its fans, these types of activities serve to develop strong relationships with consumers.
Conversation Starters — While asking blanket questions can be a great way to get the conversation going, there are other “starters” to consider, too. Take the “fill in the blank” approach, for example, where gaps in posts such as “Today is a great day to ______” allow fans to inject their own personality into the brand and have a little bit of fun with it.
Connection to Helpful Resources — For audience members who are directly looking for specific tidbits of information from a social channel, there’s no better way to assert your brand’s customer support abilities than to connect them to helpful resources that can assist in answering their queries.
When developing a communications tone for social, there are a few elements that need to be kept in mind to avoid making costly mistakes. One is to never criticize or argue with fans, no matter how much they may attempt to provoke a response from the brand. Instead, it may be helpful to reach out to the fan via direct message to take the conversation out of the public realm. Don’t make negative comments or use the word “no” in discussions, both of which can be jarring to audience members.
Finally, don’t ever tell fans what they should or need to do unless explicitly asked—no one likes to feel as if they’re being managed or controlled in such a way, especially on social media.
Creating a Vibrant Consumer Experience
There are many reasons why brands looking to achieve success with their digital marketing program can benefit from social media management services, foremost the ability to create a vibrant consumer experience and broad digital footprint. At Social Control, our process includes the development of several strategic frameworks that aid in understanding the impact of social behavior on real business outcomes. These frameworks allow us to create a dynamic program that provokes psychological triggers, enhances brand affinity, and adds value to the daily lives of the audiences we engage. While there are plenty of ways to convey a brands narrative via social media, nothing is quite as useful as compelling visual content with a strategic backbone.
Whether it is adaptive content developed for specific social channels and the audiences they serve, post copy leveraging brand storylines or calls-to-action taking the user to the next stage in the consumer lifestyle, content is still king in today’s digital world. It’s one of the main reasons why we only create original content that is custom tailored to the brand’s unique attributes.
Connecting the Dots
Mentions, keyword searches, hashtags, retweets, likes and comments on social media are all excellent for helping to grow a brand’s social footprint and must be paid close attention to at all times. These types of interactions require a team of experienced community managers who work alongside a brand’s customer service team to respond in real-time on social media, listening carefully to what consumers are saying to manage risk and nurture relationships.
A variety of different measurement tools can be used to “connect the dots” and ensure all data captured is valuable to the brand, tying back to the goals/objectives that developed in the social media strategy phase of the program. Social media measurement tools can be used to monitor conversations, develop metrics for reporting and ensure all brand social media activities are on track. Perhaps most important, however, is the need to continually keep up with what people are saying about a brand across all channels and build a comprehensive reporting methodology based on this information. Accurate reporting methods can be conducted by cross-checking data with different tools, although the constant evolution of social media measurement tools dictates the extent of how thoroughly they can integrate with one another.
Social Media Management Services for Sustainable Growth
It’s no secret that building real, lasting relationships with consumers via social media can be a complicated, often challenging process. That said, making strategic decisions centered on bringing meaning to the community and appreciating each member for their participation can quickly lead to consumers recognizing the inherent value of your brand. The goal is for fans to become advocates that assist in building communities, sharing emotional connections and referring others to your social channels.
Long-term, social media management is one of the most effective ways for today’s brands to increase sales and keep consumers engaged. As social media continues to evolve exponentially, the importance of social media management services will only continue to develop over time.
Seth Silver is the Founder of Social Control, a leading social media agency based in Los Angeles. An evangelist of technology, and educator to the business community, Seth writes about social behavior and the integration of brands within the lifestyles that drive consumer passions.