What is community marketing in 2019?

The concept of community marketing isn’t new. But have marketers been limited by outdated views of what a community is for?

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Jan 24, 2019
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I wrote last week about why we think communities and forums are distinct. As a bit of a follow on I wanted to look more specifically at communities in the context of marketing.

I looked up the word ‘community’ in the Oxford English Dictionary recently - as you do - and found that it has a huge number of different definitions. My favourite, and the one which best illustrates the topic of this post, is this:

“A group of people who share the same interests, pursuits, or occupation, esp. when distinct from those of the society in which they live.”

Why does this apply to marketing? Well, most marketers, myself included, are trying to market to a particular audience - a particular group of people. Our audience could just as easily be called our community.

Current definitions of community marketing are too narrow

A quick search of ‘community marketing’ on Google paints a different picture though. In the many definitions I found under this search, there were a surprising number that talked only about communities for existing customers.

The results also suggested community marketing was essentially a good way to gather insight for business development. Or that it’s the same as social media marketing.

I think these suggestions give a very narrow definition of community marketing and what’s possible to achieve with it.

To me, community marketing is broader. It's about creating spaces for people who share interests which directly relate to your brand, connecting them to each other and to your company - more specifically, to your people. And letting them talk.

Now is the time to take advantage of the benefits of community

There are three main reasons why I think community marketing is coming of age:

#1 - A genuine alternative to social media

I’m not suggesting you delete your brand social media profiles. Rather that you can provide an alternative for your audience.

We’re all experiencing problems with social media, whether as users or marketers. The overwhelming amount of content, algorithms which mean your content isn’t reaching your audience, lack of trust in content published there. The list goes on.

GlobalWebIndex’s Consumer Trends for 2019 report suggests that stepping away or downsizing on social media has become an increasing trend throughout the past year.

The survey found that 46% of the internet population in the US say they have decreased time spent on social networks, while 41% of people say the same in the UK.

There is an opportunity here to provide genuine alternatives to social media. Spaces which cater to the niche needs of our audiences, and help them to find content and people that are relevant to them

#2 - Harnessing the power of thought leadership and content marketing, then adding to it

I don’t think content marketing is going anywhere. But I do think it’s missing something. Brands are now adept at putting across competent - or even brilliant - thought-leadership driven content. This is the start of providing people with places to go to find information on subjects they’re interested in.

But there’s a crucial element missing - personal interactions. With the move away from social, people are looking for alternative places to discuss subjects, not just consume content.

#3 - It’s about quality of engagement and reaching the ‘right’ people

I’ve recently read a number of articles disparaging marketers’ reliance on numbers (like this one in Campaign). The advent of digital made everything incredibly measurable. But do those numbers always mean what we think they mean?

We often talk about engagement on social media, for example. But that’s reduced to ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’ of posts. Is that true engagement? It’s really easy to click a button. It suggests agreement, maybe, but not necessarily real engagement with what you stand for.

Numbers also mask whether you’re actually reaching the right people. New leads are pretty meaningless if they’re not the right leads. Something that’s increasingly being acknowledged in the industry - as per point number one in this Entrepreneur article.

If you can create a niche community that contains the right people, the people who your company ought to be talking to, then that’s more valuable than reaching ten times the number of irrelevant people.

Community marketing = thought leadership + content marketing + people + social

Community marketing brings the unique opportunity to put together the best bits of thought leadership, content marketing and social media, with a real focus on people.

Brands can create their own go-to destinations for expertise, learning, and discussion on a particular topic (or topics).

And that discussion element is crucial - making it easy for people to talk to other people, rather than a ‘brand’.

Marketers need to put people front and centre. The experts in their company, their customer advocates, the people who really know their stuff. 

That can be hard, because you need to persuade those people to engage and actively contribute. But it’s worth it to drive real, personal connections between your company and your audience.

Want to know more?

Download our guide to community marketing in 2019>>

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Kam Arkinstall

Marketing Director, Zapnito

I've worked in marketing and communications for over a decade, with experience in the charity sector, STM publishing, and agency-side for a variety of clients. In that time I've done everything from brand development to media relations. But my real passion is for all things digital, particularly content marketing and social media. Love: strategy, plain English, tea. Hate: corporate jargon.

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