Branded social communities are to your social marketing strategy what your company website is to your internet marketing strategy. You’d never run online advertising campaigns, banners ads, or search marketing campaigns without having a place to send prospects, a place where you control the entire messaging, would you?
Yet most companies build their social strategies focused solely on the major open social networks. These communities provide a truly valuable and necessary presence, but one that delivers less-than-optimal value for brands. They don’t provide ways for prospects and followers to have private interactions with the brand, in a controlled environment, without other noise interrupting the conversation.
Prospects and customers appreciate the ability to communicate with your company in a more private environment. Whereas open communities such as Facebook and Twitter are about fun with friends and family, and where the seriousness with which product and company recommendations is overstated, branded business communities are about trust, content, and mutual appreciation. It’s the difference between spending time at Disneyland and hanging out at the neighborhood swim club. Both are great but offer very different experiences.
Open communities are designed to let you pitch your products and services at a high level, introduce your company’s experts, and build popularity with viral campaigns that leverage your ambassadors to help grow the company.
Your branded community, on the other hand, is a place where customers and prospects provide honest, thoughtful feedback on how your company is performing, a place where they really get to know your experts in forums and on message boards, and a place where they get to know each other.
What does a branded community look like? One example is My Starbucks Idea. Here suggestions are made and considered (“more sugar-free syrups would be lovely”), the brand’s community involvement is documented with—again—suggestions for new areas of involvement discussed, and products are compared, talked about, and requested. Dell runs a similar branded community at IdeaStorm.com: “Dream it, share it, make an impact.”
Your branded community is a place where you can reach out to your customers and prospects, proactively seeking feedback and advice. Because the branded community brings customers close to your company and each other, it builds trust like no other experience, trust that translates to high sentiment scores, popularity on your pages in open communities, and increased sales.
In addition, your branded community is the perfect place to showcase your total social presence, including the campaigns you are running in all the open communities where you have pages. Your branded community is never built in place of having a presence in open communities; it’s built in addition to your presence in open communities. It is the place that ties it all together in a way that makes complete sense to your customers and prospects.
Real-time APIs create live feeds into your branded community, streaming in your tweets, blogs, videos, and other social comments in real time, giving your customers a bird’s-eye view of your company’s overall social presence from a single location. This creates a simple way for people to participate in any conversation related to your company, in any open community, directly from your branded community—without moving to a different location.
Your customers and prospects can shop in your branded community without being constantly offered competitive products and services, and without being interrupted by unrelated noise.
Finally, the reporting available with a branded community allows you to track sales to customer presence in the open community, giving you key information on how your social campaigns perform. It also allows you to track viral acquisition, seeing how your army of enthusiasts and ambassadors is driving new customers to your products and services.
A cosmetics company with which we worked launched a branded community and saw some stellar results: in the first three months that it launched, we had 4500 members and 56k page views. 10% of members were brand new to the company’s database, and the average revenue per member was higher than non-members who had purchased.
For branded communities to work, the business has to have a product or service (or be a lifestyle brand) that people want to talk about, and it has to be a situation where value is created for the participants who are talking about the product or service. Also there has to be a solid commitment to this community and there must be additional resources put in place to make it work.
Combining a branded community with your open community presence at a high level is the optimal social win-win for brands.
Neil Rosen is the Founder/CEO of www.ewaydirect.com, provider of strategic emarketing solutions and services.