December 12, 2013

Say hello to the power of online communities


A one-minute video explaining Google+ Communities.

5 ways to join or create thriving communities

Target audience: Business executives, entrepreneurs, digital marketers, SEO specialists, PR pros, brand managers, nonprofits, educators, Web publishers.

Guest post by Rohan Ayyar
E2M Solutions

rohanOnce upon a time, we’d listen to our friends and family as we go about making decisions for a new purchase. We would ask, they would tell us, and we’d then make a decision, having taking those inputs into consideration. While this might still be the norm, the Internet has ushered in a new trend: family and friends aside, we have communities and platforms teeming with people with varying levels of experience, knowledge, and insights on all things under the sun.

As the Internet evolved, small forums mushroomed, and eventually burgeoned into thousands of niche communities. Once concentrated around geeky “interest groups,” these communities have now matured to the point that they can make or break a business. That’s why community management is now a part of a smart content marketing strategy.

What happens when you decide to dive in, join or create a community — and meet customers on their own turf? Lots of interesting things happen. You get to lead your own bandwagon, as Seth Godin puts it in his book “Tribes.”

Here are five tools and platforms you can use to create communities and benefit from them:

Google+ Communities: Share what you love

1Google+ Communities (tagline: “Talk about the stuff you’re into with people who love it too”) are seeing massive growth. Google Plus has about 350 million visitors a month now, and every day new communities are formed and older communities only seem to grow both in numbers and conversation volumes.

All of these conversations also show up on general Google+ feeds, which in turn affect search results, thanks to Google’s Search Plus My World update last year. Your efforts on Google+ in general and Google+ communities specifically help enhance your brand’s presence in Google search results. The communities you establish, initiate, or participate in will create the “trust factor” that you’ll need. So think about tapping into an existing community — or creating a new one from scratch.

LinkedIn Groups: Where the business pros go

2If you are bootstrapping and if you’d like to first experiment with communities, you can’t go wrong with LinkedIn Groups. LinkedIn has groups simmering with discussions on virtually every topic. Depending on your business niche or the category of products you sell off your ecommerce store, you’ll want to engage in discussions and stay active within communities or groups that matter to you.

If you’re a business owner, start off by making your your company page is set up (it’s free) and you’ve kept your LinkedIn profile up to date. Join several groups, provide help, solve problems, and let the karma work its magic. Some groups are open for anyone to join; with others you’ll need an administrator to approve your membership. Here’s a directory of the tens of thousands of groups on LinkedIn.

Quora: Be a know-it-all

Quora

3For some strange reason, Quora doesn’t have too many trolls. It’s a huge resource built on a Q & A platform across thousands of topics. Featuring some well-known entrepreneurs and many experts, Quora brims with opinions — of various degrees of expertise.

Entrepreneurs virtually have a readymade community bursting at its seams. Pick your topics, follow questions and other Quora users (especially if they fit the description of your target customer), and spend an hour every day focusing on solving problems. If you are in business, you should seriously consider establishing yourself as an expert in the Quora topic your business relates to.

Your own little nook

4Participating in LinkedIn Groups, Google+ Communities, and Quora will help you establish yourself and get the eyeballs of many potential customers, but keep in mind that these are all third-party platforms. What if you’d like to build a community of your own, on your servers? How about creating communities you can start, manage, and maintain?

As your business grows in size, you’ll see the potential benefit of a multitude of customers from having a dedicated forum relevant to your own business. You can start with open source forum platforms. These don’t need to be unwieldy and unsightly. Check out platforms such as Moot and Discourse that are redefining real-time and free.

A paid option, Qhub, has been around for a while and it’s an easy way to set up your own Q&A site or knowledge base around your products and services. Qhub can map to your domain name, allows you to plug Google Analytics, and integrates with WordPress blogs and Facebook pages.

Get Satisfaction: A powerhouse for real business results

Get Satisfaction5If you need something more advanced and powerful than just a forum, you’d do well to consider a solution such as Get Satisfaction. It’s easy to deploy and works well on tablets, phones and mobile devices. This is an enterprise-level, cloud-based beast that is template-driven with full API support.

More importantly, Get Satisfaction practices what it preaches – their company community can give you an idea of how building a community around products or services actually helps business.

Make your customers feed you the best ideas for your business. Create a customer-centric business by building a community that works for your brand.

As to which kind of community you’d start is up to you. If you have an ecommerce store that sells clothes online, establish a community around fashion. If you are a travel agency, develop a community around travel, vagabonding, and round-the-world trips. When you do start and manage a community, however, things begin to change for your business. You’ll see more traffic, enjoy more value uplift, and a lot more social proof than you’d ever manage to hoard up for yourself.

It’s now time to bid goodbye to casual water cooler banter and say hello to the power of online communities.

What importance does creating or being a part of communities play in your digital marketing strategy?

Rohan Ayyar is a serial blogger and digital strategy consultant at E2M Solutions. He also helps startups develop remarkable user experiences at OnlyDesign. You should follow him at @searchrook on Twitter.
Related

Grow your online community by offering value (Socialmedia.biz)

Tools to build an engaged online community (Socialmedia.biz)

  • http://www.webresultsdirect.com/ Susie Culhane

    Excellent article with suggestions for how to build brand and personal leadership for your particular area of expertise. Does anyone have feedback on using Moot or Discourse to build a forum?