Every day, thousands of small businesses across the world dump millions of marketing dollars into social networks. With the rise of successful social media measurement tools, targeting your audience as a marketer has become a more refined science.
Then again, who’s really listening?
When I open my browser and wander mindlessly to Facebook, I’m not always sure what I’m looking for. Chances are a good number of people who liked your page act the same way. As connections between people and brands grow, newsfeeds are flooded with new, sometimes unrelated information threatening to steal your thunder.
How do you make your brand stand out in a stream of white noise? More importantly, how do you draw customers to your brand page to play on your turf? Engaging with a status update is one thing; having a meaningful conversation with few distractions is another.
For smaller consumer-oriented businesses with thin resources, you have a choice. You can spend all of your time and energy on creating a Facebook presence that focuses on high engagement. But just because a customer or potential customer comments on your status update doesn’t mean they’ll return to engage in meaningful conversation (or buy your product or services, for that matter).
Or, you can bypass the noise and engage your audience in a targeted venue, where conversations happen organically and audience members are receptive to your message. Niche online communities fit the bill here. If one doesn’t exist where you need it, you have the ability to create one of your own.
Social Networks Are Not the Same as Online Communities
Marketing professionals tend to lump social networks and online communities into a shapeless mass called social media. Those same marketers tend to focus more energy on Facebook and Twitter because they can be sure their audience lives on these networks.
Wouldn’t you rather be sure your audience is hearing what you’re saying and engaging in a productive dialogue? It’s clear that true brand impact is measured by how often your audience interacts with your content—not by how many people like your brand page on Facebook.
Online communities narrow the focus of the conversation. They keep members on topic. They encourage networking and interaction between people who may never have met but share passions about the same subjects. And an important reason why they’re more effective than social networks is that they are venues specifically branded for these purposes.
Think about it this way: Would you ever throw a party in a library? Cultural inclination and logic tell us that, no, we most certainly would NOT throw a party in a library, go see rock music at a funeral home, or build a chair in the middle of a congressional meeting.
Venues have a way of invoking strong emotions that help shape our perspective on acceptable and unacceptable interaction. These emotions are tied to visual, aural and cultural cues. For that reason and others, Facebook and LinkedIn satisfy different roles in the personal and professional lives of their users—mainly, networking based on real-world connections. Online communities, on the other hand, focus conversation down to the things that matter most to your audience, greatly increasing the frequency of new, valuable connections and conversations.
The B2B Conundrum and How One Online Community Solves It
For businesses in the B2B realm, Facebook presents an even greater challenge. Is the venue right for the conversation? Many marketers find it difficult to facilitate meaningful B2B conversations in a personal environment like Facebook.
They turn to LinkedIn or Twitter. Both venues provide B2B value—but we meet the same obstacles. How do you stand out against hundreds of related or unrelated brands and contacts competing for that same mindshare? How do you know your audience uses these universal networks to seek out the information you’re readily providing?
Let’s take a look at Built In Chicago, for example. Focused on connecting Chicagoland tech entrepreneurs and professionals, the niche community site recently made the transition to Drupal to handle its explosive growth. But how did it get so big in the first place?
The answer is simple: Built In Chicago is specific to geographic and topic-based limitations. By filtering out the white noise, the community is left with only the most valuable content and members. The site has found success connecting tech recruits with companies; taking the conversation offline to great networking events; and building a foundation of direct feedback to young entrepreneurs.
The most enriching interaction and networking happen within the walls of the community site. Developing a presence on sites like Built In Chicago is much more effective than appealing to your audience over Facebook. And if your niche doesn’t have a strong online community, you have the opportunity to create it. The same concepts apply for a B2C audience.
Any marketers out there finding more success in targeted communities than on Facebook?