Communities are Social Networks, Too

Social MediaSocial networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram¬†are rather popular these days. It’s no surprise, really. Social networks allow people to find and interact with people who share their interests — something they may not be able to do as easily offline for a variety of reasons.

As the popularity of social networks increases and more crop up, the advertising world is quickly turning its eyes towards these networks, trying to determine the best way to utilize them.

Try this: ask a friend or colleague what a social network is. My bet is they’ll start rattling off the names of sites like the ones I’ve already mentioned. Their answer isn’t wrong, but it’s missing out on other communities that can be just as powerful.

Those communities are the ones you can build yourself. They’re not for everyone, but many companies could benefit from creating and maintaining a community. Such communities allow you to easily disperse information about your products to the people who use them, who can then share that information with others via the aforementioned social networks, word of mouth, bulletin boards, personal websites and blogs.

Before you go running off and trying to create a community, however, make sure it makes sense for you to develop and maintain one. I can tell you from experience that building and maintaining a community is no small task, and it shouldn’t be done lightly. If you’re selling clothing it probably won’t make sense to create a community. However, if you’re selling RC Cars, a community would likely be quite beneficial.

If you think creating your own community is something that could benefit you, keep the following three things in mind (there are more I could list, but these are important):

  1. Have a way for your community members to communicate with not just you but each other, such as forums or a mailing list. I know this may seem pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how many places I’ve found think that a FAQ, contact us page, and a latest news page means a community. Not to say that those aren’t important to have — in fact, you should definitely have those, too.
  2. Don’t let your community stagnate. You can do this by being active within your community. Yes, FAQs are there to answer questions, but users may come up with others not covered by the FAQ. Share tips or tricks with your users. Sometimes users just want to know there’s a human on the other end instead of some corporate entity that doesn’t care. Also, realize you’ll need to do some moderation as well, otherwise you could get a few users who take it upon themselves to do nothing but be negative and nasty, which can chase others away.
  3. Devote resources to the community. This goes hand in hand with #2. The resources could be anything from some time out of someone’s day or someone whose sole purpose is to monitor and interact with your community. I recommend a person devoted to the community, as I can tell you from experience that trying to split your time between a community and your regular work duties can be difficult. When you have to split your time in this fashion, sometimes the community suffers for it. Which can lead to stagnation.Also make sure this person can be trusted to be a voice for your company. If they say or do something that offends someone in your community, it will be interpreted as your company offending them, and that can be hard to recover from.

So if you’re looking for a way to utilize social networking online, don’t forget: communities are social networks, too.