How to Harness the Power of a Community

Community building is one way that businesses can build their business online. Harnessing the power of online communities is really an old sales strategy - referral marketing. You’re basically injecting your company into a community and then trying to spread the value of your business via word of mouth. While referral marketing sometimes happens spontaneously, it’s a mistake to think that it will always happen or that it will happen predictably without your help. Here’s what you need to to:

Harness online communities through…

  •  Direct Communities

    Direct communities are forums or comment sections on blogs your company owns and controls. An example would be the forum on The site owners and moderators can interact with community members. The main site itself hosts a variety of products that are basically affiliate links. This is an excellent example of a site taking a simple idea (affiliate marketing) and building a community around it. Most eCommerce sites don’t do this and, instead, struggle to connect with visitors and (sometimes) miss out on sales they would otherwise get.

  •  Managed Communities

A managed community is one that’s run on a 3rd party site like Twitter or Facebook. These 3rd party sites are “social networking” sites made specifically for the purpose of networking. Because the interface is ideal for community building, many companies have tried to establish themselves this way - after all, it’s simple. There’s no software to install, no databases to manage, and no additional overhead in regards to bandwidth.

  •  Participating Communities

    Participating communities are 3rd party sites run and managed by someone other than you. Usually these are fan-based sites. You can participate, but you often don’t have control over the content. would be an example of this type of community. It’s a forum full of Honda enthusiasts, though the Honda corporation has no influence over anything posted on the site.

Once you’ve found a community (or built one yourself), it’s time to engage with it.

  •  Be More Personal

Social networking is about being social. Even when you control the forum or blog comment section, you have to have a personality. People don’t want to interact with a faceless corporation. Think of social networking as a place to be “business casual.” You don’t want or, nor do you need to, delve into the intimate details of your personal life. However, posting personal photos of you on vacation, or in “the shop” or with other customers will go a long way to establishing your company as being friendly and approachable on the ‘net.

  •  Share Users’ Photos and Videos

Users love it when you treat them like human beings - because that’s what they are. In a social setting, share publicly-available photos, videos, and other posts with the rest of the community. For example, on Facebook, don’t be afraid to share photos that are made publicly available on your company’s own page. They’re public and your fans will probably appreciate it.

  •  The Call To Action

    The call to action is probably one of the most overlooked things in social networking. In forums, this means you should have a forum signature leading back to the sales page of your company’s site. On social networking sites, it means overtly promoting your company once in a while. It also means constantly asking your users meaningful questions or asking them to take some action. After all, you are in business right?

Matthew Rayfield is a business marketing consultant. He enjoys sharing his research and insight on various website marketing blogs. Visit Invenio Marketing for more ideas and information.

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