A social media community can be one of the best places to build your reputation as a thought leader in your industry. It takes commitment and consistency, as well as a clear understanding of your brand’s voice, but an online community provides valuable insights that make the time and effort worth it.
Build your community right, and it can be an invaluable business tool. Just consider these examples:
• Want to beta-test a new service and need qualified feedback? Your community can help.
• Need a new vendor? Ask your community for referrals. They’re likely to know more about your business and be able to make more nuanced suggestions that an audience that doesn’t know your company.
• Curious how others think a new piece of legislation will impact your industry? You’re likely to hear a wide range of opinions if you ask your online community.
If you’re sold on the need for your business to create a community on social media, here are six steps to get you there.
Pick one or two platforms to start
Creating a new community on social media takes time and resources, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick one to two platforms and concentrate your efforts on those sites. We focus on Facebook, with a page and a group, and Twitter because that’s where our audience is. One of the many other platforms, such as Instagram, LinkedIn or Pinterest, may be better for your business.
Create original content
While you should look at what the competition is doing, don’t copy other companies’ strategies or content. Spend time before you launch your community by thinking through what’s different and positive about your company. Then create original content that tells that story. For us, that meant creating posts that help small landlords with common problems. Original content requires an investment of time and money, but it’s worth it in terms of the professional image you’ll present to the world.
Invest in professional art and photography
Just as you invest in professional writing for your blog posts and social media messages, so should you buy professional graphic design and photography to accompany your posts. Professional art gives your posts polish and helps you stand out from the crowd online. You can supplement your company’s professional photography with images from companies like Shutterstock and iStockPhoto. These sites sell stock photography for pennies per use. A graphic designer can take those images and make them fit each platform’s slightly different requirements.
Get the conversation going
One part of your strategy should be to publish links to your company’s blog posts. But social media is all about creating a sense of community through conversations, so you have to do more than post links. You have to generate conversation. There are several ways to do this.
You can create a poll, then create conversations about the results by asking follow-up questions. Ask for volunteers to test a new service or give feedback about a new product. Post articles about industry trends and ask your audience what they think. Give away something of value. Be interesting, and people will want to talk.
Use scheduling software
A scheduling tool will be your best friend as you build and manage activity in your community. These tools allow you to post new content automatically to multiple sites and to schedule new content days, and even weeks, in advance. You just have to keep an eye on pre-loaded content to make sure it’s still relevant. This allows you to spend your time on community-building tasks, such as answering questions and responding to comments that keep the conversation lively. We use Buffer, but there are dozens more available including SocialOomph, Hootsuite and TailWind.
Monitor the conversation 24/7
Once you’ve got your community started, it’s important to keep the conversation going. That means someone must monitor the page 24/7 because oftentimes professionals don’t get a chance to read until after their business day is done. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds. You, or a designated team member, just need to set the account to send you notices when a new comment is posted. Be sure to ‘like’ other people’s comments, welcome new members to the page, respond to comments and thank people for their reviews.
As your community grows, you may find a regular contributor or two who can help you moderate the page. But, you’ll never want to delegate all responsibility for the page to an outsider. After all, someone inside your company must maintain and protect your brand identity from trolls and off-topic discussions.
Copley Broer is CEO of RadPad and CEO & founder of LandlordStation. A 15-year veteran of the commercial and multifamily real estate industries, he’s a thought leader in the use of technology in real estate.