Reaching into online communities

I read with interest the story in Mashable today on Virgin America’s offer to encourage families to send in their Awkward Family Photos in partnership with this US blog site. What struck me first about the story is that brands are waking up to the power of blogging communities. The beauty of these niche communities is that they may have already hosted several discussions about your brand if they have your target demographic. This promotion creates a fun way to interact with this community and is a great example of finding a community that has a close fit with the fun values of the Virgin brand.

The difficult part is how you target these communities and start to engage with them. Without a monitoring tool it will be difficult to target them and the work requires one to one conversations rather than any broadcast messages which many marketers are not yet accustomed to. There is however a growing raft of players enabling advertisers to market within these communities and Facebook and others will be challenged by them over the next few years as communities of interest flourish and we become more prolific bloggers.

You may argue that these communities are unlikely to want to be sold to but if you have a smart engagement strategy and think of them as corporate clients that need some careful account management then you are likely to be on the right track and early trials I’ve seen have already pointed to success in reaching into online communities.

This brings me to the topic of “Social CRM” and what does this really mean? I decided to tap this term into Google and came across an interesting Facebook community on Social CRM with a great article from Jeff Bulla on the 40 top tips on how to be a Social Media Rockstar . The article had already been retweeted 226 times which is a good indicator of a good read and helps his site to move up the search engine rankings. He has also learnt the importance of using Twittercounter stats on his website to keep his visitors up to speed on his 41,000+ Twitter followers.

Amongst Jeff Bulla’s blogs there was another interesting story about a ski company Vail Resorts that had decided to ditch 80% of their print marketing budget and reinvest it in social media as they realised that video was a more powerful tool to engage their target customers. Their customer booking period had collapsed from 6 months to 2-3 weeks and they now work on a week by week messaging calendar. This is a sign of things to come as we have to tweak our campaigns to the rapid market changes around us.

So what does all that have to do with Social CRM you may ask? Well for those brands running Facebook pages their “Insights” stats package is giving them a richer seam of information on their fans (age, sex, demographics) and enabling them to track the engagement impact of each posting that they make. They are also able to look at how each wave of customers invited into Facebook by email is responding and quickly understand who their advocates are.

There is often an initial fear from brands that they must control their Facebook presence by having customers land on the wall with only their official posts but this then does not encourage participation from other fans if they cannot immediately see other fans participating and not all Facebook users are aware that they can click on different views of the wall.

The ultimate end goal is to enable your customer champions to become your admin users so they can help to respond to posts. For some Marketing Directors this is seen as a step too far. Levels of trust are still low in social media even though the days of the broadcast only marketing model are drawing to a close. Social CRM is here to stay and there are already brands working with Social Sign Ins to their websites. OK that topic will have to come in a future blog. Watch this space….

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