As social media has becomes more of a mainstream marketing channel, a lot of brands (and even some agencies) struggle with finding some sort of best-practices for social media marketing. Aside from the odd corporate blogging manifesto, brands are often left to figure social media out for themselves. By considering the difference between markets and communities, however, brands can begin to develop an understanding of how to approach their customers in a social media setting.
Markets vs. Communities
When it comes to using social media to engage existing and potential customers, something that you need to remember is that those customers represent your target market and a separate, standalone community. If you want to engage them on both levels, then, you need to understand that communities are about interaction.
Whereas you target a market, you participate in a community. Consequently, there are different rules of conduct.
In a community, business is not the first order of business. Relationships come before sales. Engaging communities is a great way to boost sales, but you actually have to become a respected and trusted member before you can tap into that potential.
There are two general ways you can participate in existing communities and start building trust with their members: direct engagement and indirect engagement.
Direct community engagement is more of a longtail strategy because it entails building up your brand's membership within a separate community. Often, you will need a kind of brand ambassador who identifies the online communities that your target market belongs to, and then reaches out to them by sharing their insight about products and services that are related to the community's underlying interests.
Indirect community engagement can yield results more quickly, but requires that you rely on other independent third-parties to broker your brand's relationship with a community. It entails building relationships with the influencers or community leaders — people who already have a reputation within the community for being trustworthty. By offering these influencers a heads-up or "sneak peaks" into your products or promotions, you can often get your message out quickly.