In the battle for people’s attention, brands don’t face an either/or decision when sharing news and content through social media and brand communities. Both channels can work effectively together, drawing on the strengths of the different platforms, to build greater engagement and loyalty among audiences. How to integrate social media and brand community marketing – and why you would want to – are the two questions we’ll be answering in this piece.
Now is the perfect time to integrate your social media with a brand community. People are crying out for a sense of connection. They want to get knowledge from trusted sources. And brands are looking for new ways to connect with audiences and drive greater ROI from their social media and community-building efforts.
First things first, we need to understand the strengths and differences between a brand community and social media.
What is a brand community?
Thomas C. O’Guinn and Albert Muniz define a “brand community” as a like-minded group of people who identify with a particular brand and share significant traits. They also describe these people as having “shared consciousness, rituals, traditions, and a sense of moral responsibility.”
Some of the strongest brands today rely on their owned brand communities to foster brand loyalty, engagement, and innovation. Salesforce, for example, has its Trailblazer community where members swap tips and tricks, learn from each other (or from Salesforce’s resources), and attend events. Springer Nature uses communities to connect readers with authors and researchers who’ve published in each of their academic journals. On the consumer side, Harley Davidson is getting in on the act with HOG, a space for Harley Davidson owners to meet others, share experiences, and attend events. The community is credited with helping the brand revive itself, shifting from simply a motorcycle brand to an overall lifestyle.
What is social media marketing?
Social media marketing involves sharing messages, engaging with customers, and expanding awareness among a target audience, with the end-goal of promoting a brand’s products and services. These platforms will differ depending on where an audience spends more of their time, a B2B brand may use LinkedIn more than Facebook.
There is a clear distinction between a brand community versus social media. With a brand community, the emphasis is on the people who gather together around shared interests, experiences, and goals. With social media platforms, the focus is on the medium of communication — pushing messages and content out to people instead of uniting them under a common purpose.
How brand communities and social media work together
In a well-considered marketing strategy, both social media and a brand-owned community play vital roles in engaging a group of people.
Social media’s strengths lie in drawing people in. It works as a growth engine for a strong brand community. Your brand needs to have a social media presence so it can be a part of the conversations happening on each platform and so you can find new members for your community.
Once you’ve made people aware of your brand and community, you need to direct them to your online community to foster a deeper, emotional connection. Your community is where you convert prospects and retain customers.
Social media isn’t enough
Relying solely on social media to build a loyal following is not going to be enough in the long term. If you want to delve into user data for any reason (product development, or to inform marketing and sales) your brand community will offer you a wealth of this, whereas social media platforms limit the amount of data you can access and analyze. On social media, you’re also vulnerable to any policy or feature changes that the platform implements, such as when Facebook dropped third-party data from its ad-targeting features in 2018.
The social media landscape has become more complex for marketers to navigate and their algorithms can compete against a brand’s needs. Organic posts are reaching an ever-decreasing number of people (on Facebook, organic post reach sits at around 5.2%). With social media advertising spend among US brands in 2022 projected to reach almost $63 billion, this means vast sums of money will be spent in vain.
“If a brand has a strong social media following, people talk about it as a community because there is engagement there – but it’s whether those followers get something from being part of it. I think that’s incredibly hard to do on a social media channel.”
Director of Growth Marketing, Sova Assessment
Another issue is the lingering distrust of social media platforms. Only 17% of young people (under 24 years old) trust social media platforms to provide them with accurate information. This means that anything that a brand says through social media will be taken with a pinch of salt. Brand communities, on the other hand, give brands more freedom to build longstanding trust with members as they are a safe ‘owned’ space. Impactful conversations, therefore, should occur on a brand community.
Five steps to integrating your community and social media
To integrate the two channels, we recommend the following five steps:
Get your teams together
It takes a village to build a successful brand community and social media growth engine for it. Your community management team and social media marketers will have to work closely together to seamlessly deliver a consistent message and experience. They will have different skills, so it’s important that both work to their respective strengths and experiences.
Their success metrics will also differ. A social media marketer, for example, will be more interested in the number of new followers, likes, and comments. Meanwhile, a community manager may look at membership growth month-on-month versus attrition, the number of community event sign-ups, active member numbers, and the amount of user-generated content. A combined success measure could be the number of social media followers converted to community members.
Depending on what your brand community’s goals are, and what it offers, you may also wish to bring in your digital marketing, content marketing, and customer support colleagues.
Identify your advocates
To convince your social media followers to join your brand community, you first need to understand who they are. Your community on social media consists of people who follow all of your content on social media, share it with others, and enjoy seeing everything that your brand does. Find those people and invite them to join your brand community — encourage this by offering exclusive content that they cannot get anywhere else. Becoming part of the ‘core’ membership group in your online community, for example, might give them access to VIP events, beta testing of new products and services, or opportunities to network with respected experts.
Find your thought leaders
Opinion leaders and experts will help to foster a sense of exclusivity in your branded community that people won’t be able to get through social media. It will encourage them to join and continue checking in to see the latest news and insights from fellow community members. Fostering original thought leadership in your community will also provide you with organic content that can be reused elsewhere, such as a LinkedIn post or Twitter thread. Telling your followers that this content came from your community can be an effective way to attract new members, as it suggests a high level of engagement among your user base.
A community should be an engaging space where members can interact with like-minded people. Without strong connections, your community (and social media, for that matter) will falter. Friendster provides a cautionary tale here. It was once the hottest platform in social networks and was courted by Google for $30 million in 2003. By the time 2009 rolled around, Friendster was almost obsolete. Although it had tens of millions of users, the bonds linking people to each other weren’t very strong. They were loosely affiliated with other members, which meant that their engagement wasn’t particularly high and when the platform interface changed, many users decided it simply wasn’t worth learning to use. For a community to thrive and last, it needs to foster strong links between people and become integral to their lives.
In the early days of your community, you may have to prompt people to engage with posts, create their own content, take part in discussions, and meet other members. You can do this through member spotlights, where a member is highlighted for their contributions and original thinking, events that encourage networking, and expert panels that spark discussions. Hosting regular meet-and-greets with new members and creating ‘icebreaker’ questions will also help.
Choose the right platforms
The platforms that you choose for your social media and community efforts will largely depend on your goals. A community designed to support a SaaS business will have different goals compared to one developed around an event. If you anticipate your community having a lot of content, you’ll want a community platform that can make content more organized and navigable. If you want to use your community data often, having integrations with Google Analytics or business intelligence tools will be invaluable. Look at what you want to achieve through your social media and community channels, then compare the many vendor options out there.
Bringing your community together
When you work to social media and online communities’ strengths, the two channels can complement each other and drive significant brand awareness and customer growth. Using social media to drive people to your community means you can reach larger numbers of prospective members. You can also identify your most loyal fans based on their past social media interactions. Your brand community can then become a place to build their trust and loyalty, eventually converting them into life-long, revenue-generating customers.
Ready to bring your community together? Book your discovery call today, or for further enquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org.