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Today’s Online Communities Are at the Heart of a Great Integrated Marketing Program

Online communities, which began just as a simple way to give your customers a way to share information online, have been transformed into robust and active communities that have the power to impact all aspects of your marketing program. Don’t underestimate what a powerful tool it can be. This doesn’t mean you should use it as a one-way vehicle to share all your marketing materials, or that you have an open-ended invitation to upsell through the community. But it does mean that your marketing team can learn what makes your customers tick and how to bring in more leads. Here are four ways to improve how you leverage your online community today.

1. Straight from the Horse’s Mouth…

Use your community to interact directly with customers. This will have two benefits. When you watch your communities’ conversations and engage with them to learn what they really care about, the first benefit will be improved engagement from your customers. But more important, instead of guessing why people bought your product, how they are using it, or what challenges or successes they’ve had with it, you can ask them directly within the community. Most customers will be excited to talk about their decision-making process and their experiences, and the communication will deepen your relationship.

You’ll also glean a lot from sitting back and observing interactions online. Organic discussions will help you see what your strengths are, what resonates with prospective customers, and where your products may fall flat. These insights will help you develop a better product and reduce support costs through customers helping each other on the community. They’ll also inform your marketing department on everything from how to structure your marketing email campaigns to what content you should create.

2. You Get a Gold Star!

Everyone likes to be recognized, so leverage the innate feeling we all have and take the time to recognize your most valuable customers. It won’t just make them feel good — it will pay off if you incorporate them into your marketing program. Dedicated customers in your community are some of your greatest marketing allies. Engage your community in a fun, creative way through brand ambassador programs to raise awareness about your organization and products. theSkimm, a newsletter for women, has a strong recruitment strategy tied to its ambassador program — Skimmbassadors recruit their friends to subscribe to the newsletter by hosting parties and making it more of a social outlet rather than a solo reading experience.

Brand ambassadors can also generate original, quirky marketing content as well. Take a look at Chubbies’ Instagram account (Chubbies makes men’s swim trunks). Most of the material on Instagram comes from brand ambassadors and Chubbies enthusiasts wearing the shorts in action. These photos paint a clear picture of who Chubbies wearers are, the best places to wear the gear, and the high level of enthusiasm for the brand. Instead of buying a pair of shorts, you’re buying into a club.

3. Don’t Knock, Just Come on In

The more open your community is, the more your search engine optimization (SEO) will increase. It doesn’t mean you need to open the doors completely to everyone — you can configure the community’s privacy settings to fit your specific needs — but if you want to increase organic traffic, it’s a good idea to open up at least parts of the community. For example, you can open discussions so anyone can read them, but only registered community members can comment. Or make the resource library easy to browse, but only community members can download or contribute content.

If your community is active, your customers will constantly create new content that will bring people into your website. This constant content creation can also help the marketing department come up with new ideas and content pieces — your community has insight and expertise that you don’t, so their ideas are valuable to you as well as other customers.

4. Get Out Your Bullhorn

Whether you need to promote small, weekly webinars or your annual conference, communities are a great place to push events before, during and after.

Make your community the registration hub for all types of events. Most platforms should integrate with an event registration company or software, which streamlines processes for both you and your community. If you have all your event registrations through the community, soon community members will know exactly where to go if they either want to register or check the schedule for upcoming events.

Save ad space for you to promote monthly webinars, large conferences or anything else the marketing team needs to promote — like a new eBook or brochure launch. One tip to keep in mind — make sure you rotate new ads onto the community regularly. It’s the perfect place to grab members’ attention daily and helps promote anything you need to promote.

Communities help build the hype around events, but they’re also good at prolonging the life of an event. After an event or webinar, bring people back to the community to download resources or for a debrief with fellow community members. Customers will find even more value in their registration because the event lives longer through recordings, resources and follow-up discussions. It also shows community members who didn’t attend what they missed — who knows, maybe they’ll register next year since they now know how great it is.

Finally, be sure to share the gleanings from your community with other departments. From the CEO’s office to the product development team, the community can be a rich source of information and inspiration for your teams.

Photo Credit: Click to Business Flickr via Compfight cc

This article was first published on Integrated Marketing Association.

Hunter Montgomery

Hunter Montgomery

- Demand generation
- Database marketing
- Start-up ventures
- CRM / MAP (, Eloqua, HubSpot)
- Global marketing operations
- Web - SEO / SEM
Hunter Montgomery