community building vs. social media management

If you want to succeed on social media, you must shift from simply investing in social media management and begin investing in community building. This fundamental change will create significant gains for your company by building a robust, engaged community who wants to be your customer.

I’ve always believed the entire point of social media for brands is to give them the opportunity to authentically engage with their users. But I’ve also always been a bit of an idealist. For the clear majority of the history of social media (which Wikipedia puts at 1997ish) it wasn’t even a marketing channel that crossed marketers’ minds because it didn’t accommodate a typical megaphone one-to-many style most marketers were accustomed to. With the creation of pages and corporate accounts now in existence it had become yet another place to batch-and-blast marketing messages. I say had because I see the tide change. 

Marketers are finally seeing social media for what it is, an incredible opportunity to engage with users, to build a real (yet, virtual?) community. Huge corporations to mom-and-pop shops are using social media as it was intended to be used, to have two-way, and sometimes multi-way, conversations. The platforms are even evolving to accommodate; more and more platforms are offering ‘messaging’ with corporate accounts, allowing companies to create closed groups and letting them upload channel specific content. This makes me extremely happy. 

At my marketing agency, kittenteeth, we specialize in community building so you can understand why this shift has me jumping for joy. I love being a part of and building communities. I love that the internet is a place where you can find your people. Do you have strong feelings about Pluto’s planet status? There’s a group for that. Interested in becoming a vegan? There is a group for that. Is your cat an asshole? There’s a groupfor that too. Communities are can be amazing.

Community Building marketing techniques are about taking the impact of in-person relationship building to the social media space. It’s about transforming brand messages from one-way communication to two-way communication. As digital marketers, we must place importance on the number of impressions our messages’ receive below their level of engagement. Why? Because an engaged audience is much more valuable.

There is a major business case for investing in community building over simply investing in social media management.

Community Building Techniques Have Better Organic Reach

If you’ve been managing business social media pages you’ve noticed you are getting zilch regarding organic reach. It’s all pay-to-play at this point, and even if you pay it is getting increasingly harder to get users to click through. The amount of social media content being pumped out (oh you know, just a measly 27 million pieces a day) is astronomical. It’s easy to assume we are past the point of being able to consume all the content we see each day. We must prioritize. The social media platforms must prioritize too. If they want to keep their users happy and not inundated with brands instead of friends and family (you know the entire reason we are on social media), they must evolve their algorithms to show us the 1% of the content we show up on the platform to consume.

All social channels now prioritize branded content based on engagement. If you want your posts to show up, they need to be engaging, or they are going to think your post is irrelevant. You need to fully understand what your users want on social media and deliver. Creating content without first asking your audience what they want means you are likely missing the mark and tanking your engagement rates which in turn kills your organic reach.

In one of the private Facebook communities we manage, we asked, “What is the biggest challenge you currently face as a photographer?” and received 533 responses. We created a spreadsheet and tallied up the responses by topic; Starting at the most popular we are creating content based on the answers we received. We even tapped members of our community to contribute to increasing our network effect. We’ve seen a consistent 50% increase month-over-month in traffic to our site from social media since we began sharing the user generated topic content on our public facing social channels. A study recently also found by examining 30,000 Facebook posts by over 2,700 businesses and found that the more interactions with a brand’s page, the higher the traffic was to its website. We’ve seen this to be true for every single one of our clients as well. 

Closed Facebook Groups aren’t right for every company, but they are one-way community building techniques can increase organic reach for the brands it is appropriate for. When we join and engage in a Facebook group, we are telling Facebook, “Hey, I like this. I went, and I join this group intentionally. This is important.” When a post gets published to a group, it’s going to assume you want that content. A page, not so much. Most pages get liked in passing. They get liked to get coupons and discounts. They get liked to leave upset reviews. They are also how Facebook makes money. This means it’s going to deprioritize the page (unless you are willing to pay) and prioritize the group. If you’ve ever joined a particularly active group, you’ve probably noticed right after you join your feed is flooded with posts. Facebook is doing its darndest to make you as a user happy by displaying that content. When you create and maintain a robust and earnest Facebook Group, you too can be seen as important to your users.

Community Building Super Charges Your Customer Support, Privately and Publicly

When people go on social media, they are not just absorbing content or engaging with posts in their newsfeeds. They are also using them for two-way conversations, privately and publicly. Social media messaging apps, think the standalone Facebook messaging app, are growing much faster than the platforms themselves. A report by Business Insider found more people are using the top messaging apps than social media platforms. This is translating into businesses seeing an increase in customers reaching out for support and information through these channels. Sprout Social foundthat it is the first place most people turn to for customer support. 

An excellent example of this is Levi’s, I shop there a lot so I was pretty excited about what they are up to. They use a bot service from Narvar, Inc. that allows customers to get tracking updates on their order through Facebook messenger. It is extremely convenient to get tracking notifications where customers already spend a significant amount of time each day. I would wager it also helped Levi’s cut back on customer service requests. On the Narvar, Inc. website, they have a case study on their client, Finish Line, who uses the same automated bot messaging service as Levi’s. Their SVP of Customer Service said this, “Once we looked under the hood, we saw that over 50% of customer care interactions were from buyers who didn’t know where their order was.” After implementing Narvar Track to help customers stay updated throughout the post-purchase journey, Finish Line quickly began to see tangible results. Within just the first six months after implementation, the Finish Line team saw:

  • 25% CTR (click-through rate) on tracking pages back to the Finish Line website.
  • Traffic from the tracking page is converting at 1%—on par with Finish Line’s mobile conversion rate across the board.
  • An average of 6.2 branded tracking page visits per online order. The buyer interacts with the brand 6.2 times more than they otherwise would.
  • 17.6% opt-in rate for SMS updates, giving Finish Line another opportunity to interact in the future. 

When you don’t invest in social media customer service, whether it’s a live agent or through a bot, you miss out on opportunities to engage with fans in a meaningful way which is a core tenant of community building. Offering customer support through social media is a major difference between community building and social media management.

An engaged online community is also a great way to help supplement your support teams, in particular on the weekends. You can’t expect your community to do all your social media customer service work for you, but if you set the expectation that members of the community are empowered and encouraged to answer other user’s questions you begin to build up super users who can and will help out. Having a dedicated social media customer service agent to cultivate your public knowledge base is important. This person will use techniques to connect folks to help each other with similar issues, monitor any controversial conversations, and publicly answer any unanswered questions (Sprout Social also found that being responsive on social media increases sales by increasing brand loyalty). They can also compile and maintain an easy-to-find online support center of resources for reference to anyone who wants to pitch in.

Customers now expect businesses to be on social media when they need you. Companies must move beyond just investing in creating and publishing content but invest in building and maintaining those communities as well. 

Communities Build Brand Loyalty

Very few customer journeys are linear so businesses must focus on creating brand loyalty through consistent, frequent interactions. A studyby U.S. Consumer Researchers found that users who engage with brands on social media have stronger brand loyalty than those who do not. Brand loyalty isn’t just important for gaining that particular user as a customer either it also helps them become repeat customers and brand advocates, creating a network effect for your business.

Sprout Social study also found that 85% of people must see something on social media more than once before they purchase. This doesn’t mean you should get out there and start blasting your community. That same Sprout Social study found if it’s too much it causes a significant number of users to unfollow and not trust your brand. So you want to make sure every interaction with your brand is well-thought out and intentional. By using a combination of various platform specific post types and customer service interactions your brand can build a valuable relationship with its users, shifting them from audience to a community. 

The social media landscape is always shifting and changing. We have to be open to what users want, always adapting to their needs and desires. If you want to succeed on social media, you must shift from simply investing in social media management and begin investing in community building. This fundamental change will create significant gains for your company by building a robust, engaged community who wants to be your customer.

Hey! I’m Nikki! I am a marketing expert with over a decade of experience. I hold a technical degree in graphic design from North Seattle College. I’ve been a photographer for over 15 years.  I offer short-term marketing and business coaching to creatives as a way to help as many creatives as I can, while still going after my own career goals as the Head of Marketing at Mastin Labs. 

Nikki Barron



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