Mansi Mehta
Guest Article

Building social communities and overcoming data challenges...

Our guest author writes about how brands with sizeable following on social platforms can engage with the audiences they’ve cultivated there.

As India is a younger country in its journey toward digital adoption and maturity, brands here often face added challenges when it comes to connecting data between different audience segments and platforms. This lack of data can make it difficult for brands to understand who they’re reaching — leading them to continually sink money into retargeting and reinvesting in that same audience over and over.

Case in point: many brands in India may have a sizeable following on the social platforms they support, yet lack engagement from the audience they’ve cultivated there. This is a clear indicator that there isn’t content that resonates with consumers there — in essence, they haven’t taken the time and initiative to truly cultivate a community.

The importance of long-term community building

There are two traps brands may fall into, that limit their success on social media. First, they forget the fact that social platforms are communities by definition, often defaulting to conversion-based content, rather than building up the brand-consumer relationship.

Another mistake is to treat social media as a channel to simply broadcast a big idea rather than engage with audiences — a strategy that causes brands to miss out on the insights they could have gained on their consumers through social listening.

Community building, meanwhile, gives brands the chance to cultivate an audience of consumers who, if supported and engaged with over time, become passionate brand advocates — paying dividends down the line once the brand shifts focus to expand their reach further.

It’s difficult for brands to use shortcuts to reach through traditional means like TVC as consumers move online and live event viewership like sports are down. Connecting with content creators, who serve as cultural lightning rods within niche communities and channels, offer opportunity for brands to build relationships through relevant reach.

Balance people and product

To successfully invest in your digital community, ensure your focus is on people, not just product. Start by considering who you’re trying to reach, what brought them there and how they communicate with one another.

Again, relevant reach is key. “In too many research interviews and inquiries, companies have cited the ‘billions of eyeballs’ that social media potentially offers as their reason for being on social media,” writes Forrester senior analyst Jessica Liu in her report ‘Make Social Media Bigger Than Marketing’. “The truth: the eyeballs may be there, but social consumers vary in their willingness to interact with brands or industries.”

By having a better understanding of your audience and what resonates with them, you can establish content pillars, talk tracks and themes to define the content and tone of voice most relevant to your chosen community. You may want to establish rules for how often a product is featured or mentioned on a given channel.

In community building on Facebook, for example, I’d suggest promoting a product only twice out of every 10 pieces of content you publish. All of this is to reiterate that the most important thing about community building is making a human connection.

Nurture your community, and learn as you grow

Community building isn’t a static, one-and-done thing; it’s a process. As your community diversifies, so should the way you communicate with them. Imagine if you built a community for mothers: how you speak to a new mother would differ from an experienced one or one who’s still expecting.

Across the customer lifecycle, they’ll hit what we call inflection points: steps in the journey where needs and desires change. Learn to identify these inflection points to deliver a more pleasurable personalised experience.

People want to feel heard, not overheard­­ — a concern that’s pervasive on social. But if you succeed in appealing to audience preferences and interests, the content and engagement within your digital community will provide a fair exchange value.

Users will be more likely to provide feedback and data when they feel it will enhance their experience. For example, a clothing company might poll its audience on their favourite patterns and designs to achieve greater insight on the preferences of their most passionate consumer base.

Digital communities are an investment. Just because you’ve built it doesn’t mean it will remain. Nurturing your base and continually reworking your strategy based on user behaviour are critical to its health. Otherwise, customers may outgrow the relationship and move to a brand that better caters to their needs.

But when brands succeed in providing the experiences and communities online that their audiences crave, they can develop key insights that brands in India commonly lack, giving themselves a competitive edge in the fast-growing digital landscape.

(The author is VP growth at MediaMonks, India a creative digital production company producing websites, games and films.)