Hundreds of social media and community managers are in Sydney this week for the Swarm Conference, which examines how to build communities online and what role these play in effective customer acquisition strategies.
Conference coordinator and senior manager of community and content at REA group Venessa Paech told StartupSmart online communities are worth the investment for start-ups as assets for a range of processes.
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“It absolutely can fit in customer acquisition, and that’s very popular for smaller brands,” Paech says. “But it can also be part of a product incubation strategy, where actual or potential consumers can engage with products and you get real-time customer feedback.”
Paech shared her top three tips for building and making the most of online communities with StartupSmart.
Recognise smart social media doesn’t necessarily create online communities
Paech says many business owners mistake effective and engaging social media for community-building activities.
“There is still a lot of conflation between having a social media presence and building an online community, they’re not mutually exclusive but they are different,” Paech says. “It’s about creating a peer-to-peer knowledge community. As a brand you can enter that space, but your role is primarily about encouraging discussion among users. This creates a big sticky asset for a digital business.”
She says start-ups should be aware it takes longer to build an online community than a good social media presence, but it’s worth the effort.
“A vibrant community is a tremendous business asset for start-ups who have smaller budgets, but I would caution it’s a longer game. You don’t need 50 people, but it does take time and dedication,” Paech says.
Know your objectives and manage expectations
Given the greater time investment and the variety of focuses available for an online community, Paech says start-ups need to identify their objectives for their community clearly.
“Defining the objectives of that community is absolutely key. Without that, people can attempt to create one because it’s a bit fashionable but they don’t know what they want out of it, and that’s not a good use of your time,” Paech says, adding founders need to make sure their objectives align with why your community members would join and participate.
“If you want to make a lot of money or build traffic or even change the world, you need to create a space that attracts people who will scale your enthusiasm and passion. So you need to be super clear about your purpose so it’s easily communicated in a noisy online world,” Paech says. “Community founder burn-out, like in start-up culture, is the fastest route to online community decimation.”
Manage and moderate to boost engagement
While many start-ups won’t need an army of moderators to fend off abusive comments or trolls, Paech says the reason why founders should invest time in moderation is to encourage engagement and boost the community by connecting people.
“I can’t overstate the importance of moderation, not in the sense of an army of gatekeepers and censors, it’s not just about mitigating the risk. It’s about hero-ing ideal behaviour, and encouraging that,” Paech says.
Paech says the key to vibrant communities is connecting people with needs to those who can help, almost as a host would at a networking event.
“You are the relationship builder, rather than the person serving all the advice and running the discussions. When the community starts to take shape, and it’s not just you having a monologue in public, that’s when it starts getting valuable,” Paech says. “If your users really get something out of it, they’re more likely to come back. This repetition of visits takes it from the casual relationship to being with you for the long haul.”