Sometimes it’s hard to fit in; even online.
I still remember one of the first online communities I ever joined. I had just started a new blog and was anxious to build an audience and start driving traffic to it. I also wanted to connect with new people who would be interested in my content (and who knows, maybe they’d teach me a thing or two as well). So I joined a discussion board for fashion bloggers. I had to learn the language, temperament, and etiquette of the forum, and try not to sound like the newbie I was.
It was exciting to see people respond to my comments. It was even more exciting to see some of the traffic those comments generated to my blog. I was starting to slowly build a network and an audience.
Outside of commenting on other blogs, it was my very first experience making online friends, attracting advertisers, and even receiving invites to high-profile fashion events. All from my little fashion blog.
I’m sure you’re wondering, “What does this have to do with my brand? I just want to know how to gain more customers, conversions, and exposure!” Don’t worry, we’ll get to that.
The purpose of community engagement is to get (and keep) people talking about you, and what you have to say. Community engagement isn’t a new topic, nor is it going away anytime soon. In fact, it is more vital to your brand than ever. So, how do you enhance your online presence with engagement?
1. Audit Your Current Community Engagement Tactics
Before you can improve your brand’s interaction with your community, establish what you’re already doing that’s working — or not.
- Are you replying to commenters and encouraging further discussion?
- What type of platform are you providing your readers/audience with? (e.g., forums, discussion boards, special commenting, social commenting, etc.)
- How do you reward commenters? (eg. special badges, call-outs, comment likes)
- Do you solicit comments and shares in your posts? Do you use a call to action or thought-provoking questions?
- Do you survey readers and share results in an interesting visual way?
A good example of this is the Mashable and The Knot collaboration, The Social Wedding Survey. The Knot leveraged both Mashable and its massive audience to determine how many of them were actually using social media to plan their weddings. The survey was specifically targeted to those who were either engaged or within their first year of marriage (I discovered this when I wasn’t able to continue taking the survey with my whopping three years of marriage experience.)
The incentive to take the survey was a full report “on everything from the rules for digital etiquette and wedding hashtags to all the innovative ways you’ve used technology to plan your wedding.” In other words, wedding planning gold.
Once the results were in, they created an infographic, garnering hundreds of social shares and links from the likes of The Huffington Post, MediaBistro, and other well-known outlets. It’s important to remember, visual content tends to go viral quickly.
2. Run contests on your blog and social profiles
In partnership with HBO, Urban Outfitters ran a contest on its blog, and via Twitter and Instagram profiles, for a chance to win free rent for a year, and a $5,000 gift card for an apartment makeover. To enter, all participants had to do was take a photo of themselves in their apartment, and submit it via Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #UOxGIRLS (promoting one of HBO’s shows, Girls).
That’s a pretty BIG WIN for their target market — people between the ages of 18 and 30. The two brands not only made a very logical partnership, but they knew where their audience was and how to best engage with them. Plus, they offered an incentive the audience couldn’t resist in return for a whole lot of social promotion via community members.
3. Incorporate branded hashtags or social campaigns with your content
Warby Parker partnered up with American Express (AmEx) to run a Twitter promotion for $10 back on an eyeglasses purchase made with an AmEx card. To be eligible, participants simple tweeted the hashtag #AmexWarby.
4. Conduct polls, quizzes, and surveys
This not only gives you insight into your current target market, but also how you can potentially broaden your reach. Check out this fun quiz by Ironic Sans, which challenges the users to determine 20 original brand logos in Helvetica from copies made in Arial. The point isn’t to make the users feel dumb or silly, but to point out the similarity between the trendy, coveted Helvetica and the basic Arial font.
5. Give your visitors their 15 minutes of online fame
Offer your followers a personal connection by inviting them to send photos to be featured on your Instagram, Pinterest, or blog. For example, LilSugar runs an Instagram Challenge once a month for readers to submit their best photos of their children based on a theme with a hashtag.
LilSugar then chooses their favorite photos, and features them on the site. This potentially benefits both the participant and the LilSugar brand with a boost in social following and increased engagement. Users are sharing the branded hashtag with their friends, family, and networks — increasing brand awareness for LilSugar — while the brand is linking their favorite photos to the winner’s profiles on the site.
6. Pitch your brand to top tier publishers for guest posting opportunities
Gain more exposure and build an audience in relevant publications that already have massive readership by lending your voice as an expert. The Huffington Post offers the option to submit guest columns where you can establish your brand as an authority to its millions of readers. For another great example, check out how Buffer used guest blogging to gain exposure for their new company and product in Erika’s crash course in content marketing.
7. Interview and engage with top influencers
Featuring an expert from another company gives your audience a different perspective and helps you gain credibility as a resource. For example, Jackie’s interview with Tom Markham (one of the minds behind Grey Poupon’s Society of Good Taste campaign), offered insight on how big brands are gaining a social following with fun and interactive campaigns.
8. Offer the option to subscribe to comments
Subscribing to the post they commented on will keep the commenter returning to your site to continue the conversation. So when you leave your thoughtful comment at the end of this post, be sure to click on the check box next to ‘Notify me of followup comments via e-mail’ : )
9. Use photos with (or as) your content
This is the year of photo sharing — leverage it. People engage more with short, visual content. For example, In November 2012, the term “Tumblr” ranked higher than “blog” in Google search results.
10. Use negative feedback to your advantage
Use it to collect insight. For example, The Next Web announced it was no longer going to publish its magazine on the Android OS due to a lower number of downloads from Android users compared to iOS users. The post garnered more than 1,500 social shares, and nearly 400 comments. It turned out many Android users didn’t even know there was a magazine, and that they would have read it if they had known it was available on the Android platform.
This gave TNW a new perspective, and a very high level of engagement.
11. Host live events
Think Twitter chats, webinars, Google Hangouts, conferences, meetups, live blog major events in your niche. Here’s a high-profile example — in a lead-up to Super Bowl XLVII, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell did an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) on Reddit.
Check out how many comments were posted!
12. Hire a community manager
The larger the community you gain, the more you will need someone to manage it. They would typically be in charge of keeping order with your blog, social profiles, managing online customer relations, etc. (If you want to know what a passionate and dedicated Community Manager looks like, follow Jen over at SEOmoz.)
13. Encourage simple interactions
Encourage readers to comment on your blog posts. Blog comments offer several benefits including: more content for visitors to digest; additional relevant keywords; a boost in your article’s freshness score each time a new comment is left; proof that you’ve built an on-site community; a sign that you’re a credible and authoritative source; and more. in more ways than one.
14. Elect moderators from the community
Reach out to your biggest fans. Not only will they be ecstatic for the opportunity, they’ll probably work for free. ;) Choose avid followers of your brand and active participants with your online presence, as they have the keenest insight. Envato recently posted a call for community moderators. Take a look at some of their guidelines.
Monitor calls for blog posts and pitches from readers, or develop a contributor network. USA Today College’s monthly call for pitches, CNN’s iReport, and the Yahoo Shine contributor network are great examples of this.
16. Promote user-generated content
crowdSPRING’s Ross Kimbarovsky does a pretty extensive weekly roundup of links he shared on both his personal and the brand’s Twitter accounts.
17. Personalize your audience’s interactions
Give readers the opportunity to create profiles, promote their latest posts, leave comments, and follow the comments of other users. I remember receiving an email from Mashable when I earned a new badge for creating my 10th story. It made me feel special, and want to share more posts!
18. Make it easy to follow your blog
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to go on a scavenger hunt for a brand’s social profiles. They can be subtle or large icons–it’s entirely up to you. A lot of brands are starting Tumblrs to share bite-sized content, and give their communities a deeper look into their inner workings.
Kate Spade is a great example of a brand with a robust social presence.
Engagement can be measured primarily in the form of:
- Time on site
- New vs. Returning Visitors
Easy-to-use tools will help you quantify engagement with both social and onsite metrics:
- Google Analytics (onsite)
- Facebook Insights
- Reachli (Pinterest)
- Klout (Twitter and Facebook)
Master the Art of Engagement
Community engagement doesn’t come from a simple push of a button. It takes diligent effort and patience. Stay consistent, even when you don’t see the results you want.
As you ramp up your engagement efforts, you’re likely to see somewhat of a snowball effect. As more visitors interact with you, your site, and other visitors, your visibility will increase, and you’ll establish a reputation as an authoritative source. Remember — the harder you work to build a robust community, the stronger your brand will become.
How do you engage your community, and what direct results have you observed?