Social media channels like Facebook and Twitter have been a part of mainstream Internet use for the better part of a decade, but the ways in which brands use them have changed dramatically. Instead of using social networks solely as marketing platforms to trumpet their products, today's companies also use them to build and enhance the customer experience.
"Brands and entertainers realize the benefits of connecting and communicating directly with their fans, without an intermediary," said Sylvia Vaquer, co-founder and creative director of SocioFabrica, a global digital strategy and design firm. "Where once artists and brands had to rely on massive marketing budgets to build their fan base and audience, now they employ social media tools and platforms like Instagram and Periscope to help grow a flourishing community of fans."
In a recent Business News Daily article, John Swanciger of small business community Manta said that building a community should be a brand's top priority for its social media use. Here's how you can create an engaged network of fans and followers around your business. [Social Media Marketing Solutions for Small Businesses]
Know your audience well
Your social media followers are not just a homogenous fan base that all behave the same way. They are individuals, each with their own reasoning and behaviors associated with why and how they interact with your brand. Just as traditional advertisers segment and target their audience with different messaging, your brand needs to understand the different groups within its social community and engage accordingly whenever possible.
"A good foundation for creating a strong community of fans on social media is simply by being genuine in your interactions and getting to know your fans," Grammy-winning reggae dancehall artist Sean Paul told Business News Daily. "For example, my fans in Europe and Japan respond differently and generally have different preferences or knowledge in regards to my music as compared to my fans in the U.S. Similarly, I have a completely different relationship with my fans back home in Jamaica. My engagement with fans differs based on what I know will bring forth a better response."
Ask — and listen to — what people want
Building a community on social media means producing content your audience wants. The best way to find out what they want, of course, is to ask them — and then really listen to the feedback they give.
"We recommend artists and brands produce lots and lots of content — and not just any content, but the content your community wants to see," said Vaquer, whose company launched its new social-based visual marketing platform Nicho yesterday (Oct. 14). "Ask fans what they want in a quick Instagram video, or dive deeper with a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything)."
When your community speaks up, follow through by implementing new campaigns, contests and other initiatives based on what fans have requested.
Put fans at the center of your strategy
Part of any successful social media campaign is paying attention to the user-generated content (UGC) in your social feeds.
"Make [fans] the star of your social channels," Vaquer said. "Don't just occasionally 'like' what they post — regram, retweet and reblog what they are saying and sharing to your entire community. Once fans see an artist or brand is actively listening to their social chatter, they will engage even more, growing brand awareness within their network."
Paul agreed, noting that he has used the beta version of SocioFabrica's Nicho to take advantage of the wealth of UGC from his summer tours.
"I used a special hashtag, #fullspeedtour ... [and] captured the vibes from my shows by collecting videos and photos posted by my fans," Paul said. "Having them all on one place was a great way to recreate the excitement. I've also done some photo and video contests to get my fans more involved in my career."
Justin Garrity, president of social engagement platform Postano, said the reason UGC is so successful is because it allows social fans to share photos and posts that have meaning to them, rather than just promoting a product.
"Brands are increasingly becoming more lifestyle focused, promoting ideas that are bigger than their specific products," Garrity said. "Instead of asking fans to upload photos of the products they purchased, brands are now asking fans to share photos, videos and thoughts ... about what the products enable them to do."
For instance, he said, Cliff Bar printed the hashtag #MeetTheMoment on their products this summer to encourage fans to take photos of places where Cliff Bar enabled them to go. In these photos, the focus isn't on the product, but on the trips and activities of the brand's community.
Brands are moving away from the traditional and formal approach to social, and embracing more organic and authentic content, Vaquer said. Overly promotional social media content and posts come across as disruptive and inauthentic, causing a massive drop in 'likes' and followers.
"Consumers and fans follow brands and artists because they feel like they are getting a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the very latest," Vaquer said. "We are in an era where having millions of followers can open doors to lucrative endorsements or brand collaborations. [Businesses] see those opportunities and understand that they have to ensure their social streams feel genuine to continue growing their community. Promotion is still going on — it's just disguised a bit to complement this shift."