On social media, it’s not enough to broadcast your message to your followers—nor is paying to appear in news feeds through ads.
Brand managers must actively cultivate private groups to get their messages in front of key stakeholders. Private groups are the future of social media, according to some experts, as news feeds are abandoned for less-crowded channels.
“In fact, 41% of consumers believe brands should create private groups, presenting a big opportunity for businesses,” says Rachael Samuels, manager of social media at Sprout Social, a social media management and analytics platform for businesses.
“Newsfeeds today can become cluttered with posts from friends and family, ads, and organic content from brands—consumers are looking for a better way to sift through the clutter and engage and share content with those who are most relevant to them and their circumstances.”
This aligns with what other social media experts report, as platforms such as Instagram and Facebook see a decline in user interest, but Slack, Discord and YouTube are more popular.
As Talkwalker’s Todd Grossman told PR Daily:
“Marketers should be aware about what communities in their various industries exist and consider ways of creating content that will be seen there,” he says, but he adds that you don’t need a brand presence in these forums.
“It could be done without access to the community, as long as you have an advocate who can place themselves in there,” Grossman says.
Creating your own community
Developing your own social media community is simple, Samuels says.
“For example, if your brand sells pizza, one way to engage your target audience may be to create a group for beer aficionados where they can discuss the best beer pairings for pizza night,” she says. “When brands can be the conduit of this type of connection, they will drive loyalty and nurture brand advocates in the process.”
However, brand managers shouldn’t limit themselves to their product offerings. What aspect of your organization might be an interesting hook for your community? Do you sponsor important work with a local charity? Are you committed to expanding the conversation around an important topic in your industry?
“Groups are a perfect place for topics that are tangential to your brand but may not necessarily be a primary focus of your content strategy,” says Samuels. “Think of private communities as just that, a community [whose] main objective is for your audience to learn from and engage with each other, as opposed to your brand.”
This is when taking a stand on your organization’s values can be a great tie-in for promoting your organization online. To identify relevant topics, invest in social listening.
“Brands should use private communities when they want to bring together a subset of their audience around a specific topic related to their brand,” says Samuels. “A great way to identify some of these opportunities is through a review of the content your audience is engaging with and an audit of the questions and feedback received.”
The communities element is so important for your organization’s social media future that it should replace your social media profile/page in terms of investment for your overall strategy, Samuels argues.
“The benefit of these communities is that they give brands and consumers an open platform for conversation,” she explains. “Public communities, in most cases, should be the leading component of a marketer’s social strategy. Everything from product news to educational content to customer care are good fits for your social profiles/company pages.”
Platforms for groupies
Developing your private group is more important on some platforms than on others.
“Facebook and LinkedIn are the two primary social platforms for groups, so for marketers looking to add private communities to their strategy these platforms are where to start,” says Samuels. “However, beyond prioritizing a platform, it is important to understand the audience you are targeting as that will often inform not only the focus of the group, but which social platform is the best fit.”
Your group of like-minded entrepreneurs belongs on LinkedIn. Your club for long-distance runners belongs on Facebook.
Who is already doing a good job in developing private social media communities? Samuels points to the exercise bike company Peloton as a shining example.
Peloton, the on-demand streaming provider and maker of the Peloton Bike, successfully started a Facebook group in 2015, and hundreds of thousands of people have joined since its launch. The group serves a dual purpose by bringing people together to share their own experiences and support one another on their Peloton journey, while also giving the brand ideas and feedback on company news and announcements.
Angling your content
What kinds of content can help you build a community on social media?
PR pros know that video performs well on social media, and creating content that generates engagement can help a post overperform. What tactics can help drive users to join the conversation?
Start by providing meaningful information.
“Relevant content that poses a question is key to building a group that is valuable for both members and the brand,” says Samuels. “As mentioned earlier, groups are first and foremost a place where people can connect with and learn from one another. Content that can help spark this connection for the audience would be community questions, articles and op-eds on related topics, and advice-seeking posts.”
Community manages should think of themselves as moderators of a global conversation. Offer topics to get the ball rolling and leave you marketing messages at home. Most users have nothing to add to a call for more consumers to buy your products and services.
“It is also worth thinking through how to deliver the content,” adds Samuels. “Forty-five percent of consumers said they want to see more live video content from brands on social, and 24% want more user-generated content. Aligning your strategy with these mediums is another way to deliver on consumer preferences and invoke more of a desire in the audience to participate.”
Put it in practice
Nils Thorson, brand strategy manager at Transamerica and a PR Daily Awards winner, agrees that social media is all about creating a community. For his team, the way to measure that engagement is “comments per month.”
After it took over some social media channels from its subsidiary brands, Transamerica dramatically increased overall social media engagement—based on the comments gauge.
“By both creating content that [our audience] told us that they want to see and content based on the data analyses that we do … comments a month went from eight comments a month in Q4 of 2018 to 32 in Q1 to over a 100 in Q2,” says Thorson. One tip that Thorson uses to drive engagement is to recognize achievement in your community.
“We’ve created social media awards to congratulate people within each agency,” he explains. “We say: ‘Hey, if you see someone who really represents the brand or if think someone is doing really great work or if there is an office that is doing great things for its community, nominate them and we will give out this monthly social media award.’”
Users want to engage in a positive way, and by giving a community an outlet to celebrate its superstars, you can significantly strengthen an online group.