Social Networking: Build Your Own Community
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on how to leverage social media, including social networks, for marketing purposes. I have tried a number of approaches, some of which have been successful and some of which have not. This month, I want to share an idea that I think has genuine potential. I call it “getting a table of your own.”
Participate in communities
A basic rule of thumb in social media marketing is that, in order to gain influence, you must actively participate in the communities of which you are a member. That means commenting on blogs, participating in forums and message boards, joining fan groups at major social networks like MySpace or Facebook, and dialoging via online chat on sites like Twitter.
Participation in social shopping sites such as Judy’s Book, Kaboodle or ThisNext is a good thing as well, and essential to any effective marketing strategy. However, I liken all of these activities to getting a seat at someone else’s table. How much better would it be to get your own table and extend an invitation for others to join you?
Start a social presence
What I mean by this is that you establish a social media presence with your company brand or product at the center. That is not to suggest the only reason people would visit the site is to talk about you. It is to suggest that you are providing them a meeting place where your brand is undeniably present. (Beds.com, an online community sponsored by Select Comfort, is a good example of this approach.)
Let me suggest four ways this could be done:
Start a blog. A blog can serve as a foundational component to any social media marketing strategy. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this, as it’s becoming more and more commonplace to see ecommerce sites containing blogs.
Create an online community. As social media matures, we’re going to see a proliferation of smaller, niche-targeted online communities and social networks much more suited to individual needs and interests than the massive ones we know today. Yours could be one of those.
If you have little or no budget for such, do not worry. Sites like Ning.com enable you to set up a branded social network at no cost and in only a few minutes. If you don’t want Google ads to appear on the site, you can upgrade for a nominal fee. (I would first suggest that you join a Ning community and learn the ropes before creating one.)
Set up a Facebook business page. I did this for my company recently and, though I can’t say it’s paid off for us in terms of new business as of yet, it has opened the door to conversations with prospects that we would not have had otherwise. If you target younger consumers, it’s certainly not a bad idea.
Create a Facebook application. In an article entitled “Ecommerce Facebook Applications,” Practical Ecommerce contributing author Jeff Muendel suggested that ecommerce sites “would be remiss” not to create at least one Facebook application. It need not be an expensive or difficult proposition either. Developers like Clearspring.com or Widgetbox.com make it relatively painless.
While reaching out to customers and prospects at “tables” where they sit is an essential part of any social media marketing strategy, it’s even better when you can invite them to join you at one of your own making. Whether you use one of my recommendations or something else altogether, I encourage you to create a table of your own.