Why should I use social media to build a community?


Connecting your business or school to a community – a group of people with common interests and values – can give you a tremendous boost.  If you have a community, you don’t need to depend on anyone else to do your marketing for you, and other people will approach you with business proposals to get access to your community. If you don’t think so, talk to the people at Facebook or Google.

In a few cases, a community rallies around your product or service, like people who:

  • buy Apple products or Harley Davidson motorcycles
  • go to Jimmy Buffet concerts
  • graduated from the University of Florida or Florida State
  • are fans of the Green Bay Packers or the New York Yankees (I would have added the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but …)
  • build ‘brick masterpieces’ with LEGO® bricks, belong to ‘Adult Fans of LEGO’ and subscribe to BrickJournal, a fan-produced magazine for LEGO enthusiasts

But that’s unusual. Most communities are built around a profession, or activity, or cause. We just naturally look for a community to get benefits like:

  • find a place to belong
  • get emotional support and encouragement
  • increase our status
  • learn new skills

Some people may like Nike products, but their community is built around running. Others might be fans of Trek bicycles, but they are united by an interest in bicycle touring or racing. Some gardeners could prefer Burpee seeds, but at heart they love gardening, and the flowers or vegetables that they grow.

Companies that have used social media only to promote their products or services have found that the online communities quickly ignored them. A brand builds group loyalty by serving the needs of the people in the group, not by trying to build sales volume. Helping people now and building their trust should lead to sales success.

Here’s an example. In his book Youtility, Jay Baer tells us about Columbia Sportswear, a company that sells outdoor equipment like coats, boots, gloves, tents and sleeping bags. They don’t sell rope, but they have built a free iPhone application called What Knot to Do that shows users how to tie “70 must-know knots in six categories”. Anybody who learned “the rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree and back in the hole” will download this app in a heartbeat. And whenever they tie a knot using this free app, who will they think of? Will they tell their hiking and camping friends about it? You decide.

Social Media Examiner reports on another example: The Laughing Cow brand and their individually-wrapped, portion controlled Mini Baybel® cheese snacks. Besides offering healthy recipes featuring their product, “the Laughing Cow and Baybel cheese community team knows the importance of adjacency in content: it’s not directly about your product or service, it’s about delivering related information your community cares about. Their content plan means leveraging the knowledge and influence of Internet personality Sarah Dussault, a fitness expert with her own YouTube channel. Sarah and the blogging team deliver fitness and nutrition tips for their health-conscious community, the target buyer for the 35-calorie snacks.”

Groups that share a common cause or have shared a particular experience are a special form of interest-based group. Susan G. Komen for the Cure® was created by Ms. Komen’s sister after Susan’s death. It has grown into a worldwide organization to fund breast cancer research, increase breast cancer survival rates, and support women fighting the disease. Community members communicate with the organization and with each other through local affiliates, local Race for the Cure® events, and online through Susan G. Komen social media sites. The Komen site has sponsors, but people don’t visit the site to see them.

Companies that are just starting to build a community should start by finding out where their target market community gets together now. Do they meet physically at Starbucks or Meetup groups? Do they have Facebook pages or Twitter lists? Go to where they are now. Reach out. Listen to them. Answer their questions. Make their lives better. Then they will be attracted to you and your messages.

Keeping track of the comments made about your business or your brand also gives you a chance to respond quickly to any negative comments you see.

When you find a community and begin to build a relationship with them, you should have a web site and an email newsletter, plus depending on where your community hangs out now, a blog and a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Then look for ways to, as Jay Baer says, offer “marketing so useful that people would pay for it”.

Photo courtesy of Will Lion under Creative Commons license