You’ve seeded great content, and have a small, core group of members participating in your community and generating quality content. Now’s the time to work on your overall growth strategy to drive more and more activity, and increase engagement. After all, a customer community really isn’t much of anything without activity and engagement, and you won’t get either of those two behaviors in your community unless the rest of your customers know that it’s there!
Once you’ve completed a successful soft launch work closely with your internal teams to integrate the community into your overall brand strategy, then come up with a strong promotion plan for your official launch, followed by an ongoing promotion plan to ensure the overall health of your community. Here’s some ideas to get you started:
1. Integrate your community with your corporate website
When making a buying decision, 89.3% of customers will visit a company’s website to find answers to their questions. When looking for service or support, 68.8% of customers will visit a company’s website. Whether you’re using your community to meet marketing, support, product ideation or eCommerce goals, there’s a strong case to be made for why your community needs to be integrated with your corporate website.
Prominently display a link to your community in your website header and footer. You can take this to the next level by customizing your community with a matching header and domain alias, so that the customer experience between corporate site and community is seamless.
Use Engage widgets to pull relevant community content into specific product or shopping cart pages so that potential customers can get their questions answered without ever having to leave the page. Add a feedback tab to collect overall conversation from other pages on your site.
2. Leverage social media
Announce your community through your social channels, and build social campaigns to encourage new activity. Remember, tweets only last for a couple of hours out in the wild, so be sure to schedule multiple posts through out the day and week. Consider creating a video about your community and uploading it to YouTube and Facebook.
Add Get Satisfaction for Facebook to your brand’s Timeline so that customers can engage in your community without ever leaving the Facebook experience. Install Get Satisfaction for HootSuite to create new community topics from tweets, ultimately driving users back into your community.
Post an announcement on your corporate blog with some fun screenshots and background information.
3. Incorporate your community into your existing email campaigns
Work with your marketing team to incorporate mentions of your community in your outbound email campaigns. Encourage prospects to come ask questions in your community with your nurture emails, and prompt customers to post additional ideas for your team to review in product announcement emails.
4. Network, network, network
Leverage your professional network to help promote the community. Send personal emails to colleagues who would be interested in community conversations, and encourage new connections to join. Add links to your community to your email signatures and to your business cards. Have your 30-second elevator pitch prepared for when your community comes up in conversation with new people that you meet on the street.
5. Cross-pollinate with other communities… the right way
Participate in other communities with like minded interests as you. Engage in open, honest conversation with other community members, share content and tips that are useful, and work to build strong relationships. If you’re doing a good job in participating with other community members, they’ll likely take notice and want to learn more about you and what you do. At that point you can invite them to your community and encourage them to participate there as well. If you try to invite people over to your community without building a strong relationship it will likely backfire. Jumping from community to community dropping links is not effective community promotion… it’s just spam.
6. Include the offline world
As much as we’d like to believe it, no online interaction will ever replace the value of meeting someone face to face with a good old fashioned handshake. Put together offline events for your community members so they can meet one another in person, and help strengthen their relationship with you, each other, and with your brand.
Hold a happy hour meetup at a popular bar or restaurant, and encourage existing members to bring a friend to introduce to the community. Have visuals displayed in order to pique the curiosity of those who happen to be frequenting the same venue.
Develop print promotional materials for your community and hand them out at tradeshows or conferences.
7. Use incentives
Contests aren’t the best way to drive ongoing engagement, but they’re great for developing a quick spike in activity. Come up with a fun contest for your community members that involves your product and the community. For instance, you could encourage folks to post photos of how they use your product, or submit a short video on why they love your product so much. Meet with your legal team prior to launching a contest to ensure you’ve covered all the bases, and be sure to follow through with the prize at the end.
Encourage long-term engagement and activity by incentivizing current customers to invite friends. Maybe a free schwag kit for the first 5 people they bring into the community? Layer on the rewards for when the referred member participates the community… for instance, you could add on a coupon or a free coffee for the original member once their referral participates a few times. Be sure to work with your legal team and have tracking mechanisms in place prior to launching an incentive program.
8. Consider paid advertising
Depending on the overarching goal for your community, paid advertising might be a useful tool for increasing visibility. Whether you use ads from Google, StumbleUpon, Facebook, or other online services, be sure to set up some sort of measurable goal to ensure you’re getting an adequate return on the money that you’re spending to promote your community.
Additionally, if you already have paid ads running through traditional media outlets consider including a bit of information about your community.
9. Post a consistent stream of relevant content
Quite simply, people go back to the places that they’re interested in. You visit the same vacation spots because you’re interested in the local culture and entertainment options. You visit the same restaurants because you’re interested in what food is being served. You visit the same websites because you’re interested in the content that is being shared.
If you’re not providing a consistent stream of content that is interesting to your community members, you’ll notice activity start to dwindle and the number of new community members will start to trend down. When thoughtful discussions are being posted at a regular cadence, community members will begin to share your content with their networks and start encouraging the rest of their social circles to join.
Additionally, relevant content will help ensure that your community appears high in search rankings when others search for similar keywords.
10. Incorporate your community into your application
Most users of software spend the bulk of the time in the vendor’s software, and not on the vendor’s homepage. Adding entry points to your community, or at least messaging about your community is a great way to ensure that it stays top of mind for your users. Are there opportunities for a widget (or 3) to be embedded? Would it be useful for the end user to have community topics pulled in through the API or a federated search option? Could you embed the entire community web experience within an iFrame in your application? What about a simple banner that reminds your users to visit the community once they’re finished using your app?