Budgets for online marketing are divided among the several options available – from spending on more direct advertising, sponsoring banners and buying Google Adwords to spending on SEO, social media marketing, and similar tools.
While each business works out its balance with the right mix of channels, it’s good to take an aerial view of the external community for customers and partners and understand it’s role in the overall online marketing context.
Here is a typical flow of an online marketing strategy:
first generate awareness –> accelerate branding online –> generate interest (generate sales leads) –> engage customers / nurture interest (or sales leads) –> retain customers and deliver customer service / support
If this is the objective of a marketing plan, then where would “building an online community” fit into the marketing equation?
Surprisingly, it fits in through all of these stages!
With the right social SEO marketing strategy, an online community can also generate early awareness among potential customers – one would typically attribute those costs to SEO, online advertising, email campaigns, newsletters, PPC campaigns, and more inbound marketing based campaigns.
When it comes to advertising, like PPC, Adwords, television and radio, they are effective for a very limited time period.
That aside, they can only communicate a very small (limited) marketing message and still be very expensive.
In case of Adwords, it’s usually a word or two, on television a few seconds, and in print, a limited number of words and pictures and so on. Eventually, to go beyond just creating initial interest you need to direct people to a place where they can get a lot more information and where you can communicate a more complete message from a salesperson, landing page, or website.
Providing customers and users with an external online community to come together, collaborate, and have discussions goes much beyond simply providing more information around your business the way a static company website would do.
Other than providing customers with a platform to interact and share, it provides your online marketing strategy with a two way communication channel to execute on many stages of an effective online marketing initiative.
Here are 4 ways social business software can help your marketing efforts:
1. Accelerating Branding
Social software platforms for businesses and building communities tap into the word-of-mouth effect and sharing aspect, which has made Web 2.0+ technologies stand out in today and tomorrows world.
Companies that offer a community software platform for their customers and partners on their website have observed that after working on building their initial membership, the community, in turn, helps spread the word and attract a larger base of users with similar interest around the website.
Features such as RSS, sharing posts, photos, videos, and other content through email and other social sites trigger the spread of awareness about the community and results in a growth in the number of users.
In turn, there is an ever increasing number of users who are aware about a business’s brand.
2. Generating Interest & Generating Sales Leads
While this can also be done by a more static website, which can carry a lot of information that drives interest, a social software based website has the added advantage of a variety of media such as on demand video, podcasts, webcasts, discussions, blogs and more — which can all add to helping to sell the business, quite indirectly as compared to a sales person.
A product or business that is clearly backed by a community of customers becomes an attractive option to any user. Because they can clearly see third party support … and not just sales representatives from the business saying it’s good because they work there and depend on the buyers money to live.
With the ability to freely interact with other customers, ask questions, get opinions, and find solutions to problems on the community, it can be an extremely effective tool in selling.
3. Engaging Customers / Nurturing Leads
Perhaps the area where an online community platform can score over any other solution is keeping customers engaged.
Having their attention over prolonged periods of time is where many marketing organizations let potential business slip through. Even after initial awareness, a user will only buy if they need something offered immediately.
As for all the others, you need a way to keep them engaged and nurture them till they are ready to buy. Whether to develop customer loyalty or to nurture potential customers till they are ready to buy, building an online community is a great solution to service your existing customers and nurture and educate potential customers.
4. Customer Retention / Customer Service
A well-built external community for customers can go on to deliver customer support and customer service … which ultimately results in customer satisfaction.
Creating a central resource of support documents, building a knowledge base, and providing a platform for them to find solutions, to not just issues around products or services, but a wider support platform where the community helps each other … can result in happy existing customers as well as other people who may eventually turn into customers.
With social business software platforms being such versatile tools for marketers to execute on their various objectives, more businesses are pushing their online communities as one of the most prominent features of their websites.
Used in combination with advertising and other media to reach out to customers, it provides a central base to gather, nurture, and hold onto your business’s most valuable component … your customers.