If you’re here, you probably understand the need to build authentic community on social media. These days, if your marketing comes across as salesy or canned, it can be a big turn-off for most people. But more importantly, most social media platforms think authenticity is important, too. If you’re behaving like some kind of bot, you’re liable to get kicked off Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.
In the past, brands had no choice but to use the ‘megaphone’ approach – broad reach with little targeting. Eventually, personalization took precedence, and messaging became more targeted. However, effectiveness was still an issue. The best way to truly reach people is to connect with them within their (digital) communities. This “generate[s] much more emotional resonance” (Source: McKinsey.com). OMG, who doesn’t want emotional resonance?
Here are four ways to build authentic community that engages your target market:
1. Find your crew.
Consider who you’re talking to and what they are looking for. Rather than targeting an individual, find a specific group or community with shared interests. Those interests should coincide with the value that your organization hopes to provide. For example, a sports drink company may have a target community of 25-year-olds whose life revolves around fitness. They might be interested in tips for better workouts. If your target group is here for inspiration, make sure your content moves them. Or if they are here for entertainment, add the element of humor, drama, or top-notch creativity.
If you’re not sure where to start, it may help to think about who is currently following you, and try to understand why. Heck, you might want to even ask them directly! What content are they looking for? What are their needs? In our case, we believe our target community is socially-conscious small businesses and nonprofits. They are looking to us to provide thought leadership and social impact inspiration.
Once you can determine why people are (or would) follow you, that can help provide a framework on which to build. For example, your target community will determine your channel. Are they more likely to be on Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Pinterest? Or maybe creating (or joining?) a forum or closed community of fans or users is the best way to reach them.
2. Be yourself.
While some strategy and planning is always necessary (see point #1), it’s important not to get caught up in analysis paralysis. Remember that people have followed you because they genuinely want to hear from you. Instead of trying to wordsmith everything, put on your best face, or practice 1,000 times (and then still not post) – take action. Start recording or writing and just post it (with one caveat: you might want to make sure it’s not offensive and fits your mission)! You might be pleasantly surprised at the positive response you get when people really feel that you’re just being yourself.
In the Social for Good Impact Marketing Course, Kara Hoholik said it this way. “Clarity is important, but perfection is not.” In other words, ensure your content achieves the goal (entertaining, educating, etc.), but give yourself the grace to make mistakes. It’s okay to have a small typo, have a kid pop up in the background, or stutter over a word! Shoot, that adds to the authenticity.
If you’re not yet comfortable with how to find your unique voice, here are a few ideas from the course:
- Write in the same way you would talk to your friends.
- Record and watch yourself speaking to learn how to write like how you would speak.
- Try journaling your thoughts so that you get acquainted with your own stream of consciousness.
Oh, and feel free to pepper your content with gifs, memes, emojis, quote images, etc.; it’s the language of social media. Plus, they can sometimes communicate emotions better than words.
3. Don’t forget to engage.
The best way to build an authentic community is to think of your social media community as a good conversation. You’ve got to say things sometimes but can’t do all the talking. You also need to listen and respond appropriately.
For example, don’t just pat yourself when you’ve made an amazing post. I mean, yay, but if you don’t reply to comments, you’re missing the whole point. And please don’t just send an emoji or like. If you don’t respond to the individual with an actual comment, they’re less likely to engage with you in the future.
Let’s take it one step further. How about continuing the conversation by asking meaningful questions? For example, if they sent a compliment, you might reply, “Thanks! What did you like most about that [post, video, quote]?”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the need to respond to each comment, setting a time to respond to comments each day might be helpful. Plan for even just a few minutes of responding, and stop when the time is up.
If you don’t have enough time to engage with every comment, you may consider slowing down your posting schedule. This way, you’ll be able to expand your community in a way that is sustainable for the long term.
Be intentional about responding to other people’s content as well. You might find people in your field (including “competitors”) that fit your target community. Engage with their posts. Like, follow, share, and send DMs. You honestly never know when you’re sparking a mutually beneficial partnership.
Here are two other engagement tips we just had to share:
- It’s a good idea to pay attention to what resonates with your community and adapt your content accordingly.
- Keep an eye out for people who interact with your brand more often and recognize them. You could give them sneak peeks of new products (and get initial feedback!), provide some swag, or offer a discount. This encourages them to be an active part of building your community along with you.
4. Follow the rules.
That might sound weird, but hear us out. It’s important to protect the precious and fragile ecosystem you are nurturing! People will leave if they feel that they are not safe, that you are inauthentic, that they aren’t being heard, or when they no longer receive value from the relationship.
Here are a few examples of guidelines for protecting the community:
- Only contribute content that is relevant, authentic, and helpful to your chosen community. Before posting, ask yourself, “What is this offering my community? In what way is it valuable to them?” (source: Canva).
- Set expectations within the community on how they should interact (e.g., treat each other with respect) if this is a forum or private community.
- Follow a consistent schedule (where possible) so that your community can look forward to your content, such as weekly emails go out on a Wednesday. It creates a sense of tradition when they know what to expect from you.
- No getting defensive. Use complaints to learn and improve your products or services without trolling or seeming like “Big Brother.” Feedback from clients and potential leads is like gold!
- Limit promotional content. You could use the 80/20 rule – 80% of the content is informative or some other value-add, and 20% or less focuses on product offerings. It may help to focus on a few “hero” products that resonate well with your community rather than bombard them with many options.
Let’s sum it all up.
With all the time people are spending on social media these days, building an authentic social media community may be one of the best ways to reach your target market. Start by selecting your target group. Then establish your unique voice, keep the conversation going, and be intentional about how you manage the group. Still feeling overwhelmed? Reach out to us for help. Or take our self-guided course on social impact marketing.