Jan 12, 2012

Think Twice Before Investing in a Social Media Community

Social media communities may be the “in thing,” but are you really sure you want one for your brand?

It’s easy to see the successes brands like Starbucks and Deloitte are having with social media. Starbucks has over 26 million likes on Facebook, and Deloitte has over 81,000. Executives and marketers see these very active and successful groups and think, “I want that.”

I hear it too. My LinkedIn Group, Sticky Branding, has close to 18,000 members. We launched it in May 2010 with 5 members, my team. Within a year it passed 10,000 members, at 18 months it had 17,000 members, and the group keeps growing week-over-week. People see the success we’re having with our social media group, and want to replicate it.

It’s a natural reaction to want what others have, but before you dive in ask why. Why do you want a social media community? What will it contribute to your brand? What type of return do you want to achieve?

Don’t do it for the sales

If you want a social media community to generate more leads, more sales or more revenue, stop right there. There are far faster and easier ways to increase awareness and generate leads.

Social media communities are perceived as excellent demand creation platforms, but that’s not accurate. Having tens-of-thousands of followers doesn’t mean you can market to them. Actually, it’s unlikely you can get tens-of-thousands of followers if the purpose of your community is to market to them. Customers see right through these groups and move on.

Do it for the relationships

The value of a community is in its people. It’s in the connections, the relationships and the opportunities to learn and share with others. It’s in the opportunities to organize and work with a disparate group of people to do something greater than yourself.

The Occupy Movement is an excellent example of a community organized around a shared belief. Groups of people came together in cities around the world to let politicians and the public at large know things have to change. Most people who participated in these movements didn’t know each other when they started, but they shared a set of values that brought them together.

Communities are drawn together out of shared values, shared experiences or shared interests. They come together to learn, to connect, or to do something impactful.

Do you really want to organize and lead?

The relationships are fun and meaningful, but does the effort of building and scaling a community really make sense for your brand?

The Sticky Branding LinkedIn group had less than 600 members for the first nine months. It was hard work inviting one person at a time to the group, and engaging them in conversation. And the work hasn’t ended. The group requires ongoing moderation to keep it functioning well.

We didn’t create the group as a lead generation platform. We didn’t think that was a worthwhile use of our time, or an authentic reason for engaging others in a social media setting. Rather we wanted to connect with like-minded people with a shared interest in creating remarkable, sticky brands. And that’s the value. The group grows, because the topic and the shared ideas resonate. We learn from smart people, get ideas and have opportunities to network and meet people we otherwise would never encounter.

In return we have seen opportunities come from the group, but the real value has been to participate in a community greater than ourselves.

What do you think?

What experiences have you had from social media communities? What value do they bring to brands?

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