5 Reasons to be Thankful for Your Online Community

Anna Ritchie : Community Maven
Anna Ritchie
Marketing & communications practitioner, and product manager for TMCnet. Focus on content marketing and social media with a specialty in Online Community-building for businesses. Follow @Connectincloud and @apritchie
| Expertise and Advice on Successful Online Communities

5 Reasons to be Thankful for Your Online Community

Thanksgiving – though a splendid time to stuff your face – also tends to bring out the best in people. It’s a time we remember and share things we’re thankful for, and spend quality time with family and friends.

It’s also a crucial time of year for marketers to roll their sleeves up and make some tough decisions for 2012. They will be crunching numbers, and asking critical questions like “what’s worth our continued investment in 2012? What needs to be cut? How successful were we in 2011?” and “what can we be doing better?” It’s also a time that, if you have a successful online community, you’ll be patting yourself on the back. Here are a few reasons you’ll be thankful you built the site:

1)      Your online community gives you a place to consolidate your incredible content marketing pieces into one stellar resource center.

Content marketing, along with social media, were the two big “buzz words” for 2011. Due to recent Google algorithm changes, the need for high-quality content is clear: Not only must marketers change their approach from keyword-driven to more meaningful, original content, but must also publish new content frequently in order to make the enviable high ranks of Google search results. So, white papers were written. Blog posts were published. Webinars held, Tweets sent, Case Studies researched and eBooks rolled out. Whew, that’s a lot of content. Now, where do you put it?

Your online community is the best place to integrate your multiple content marketing initiatives. Content can be categorized, organized, and tailored for different audiences. Plus, as opposed to dumping it all in your company website, by housing it on an industry or topic-specific community site, your content is viewed as more credible and educational rather than promotional, or a sales pitch.

2)      You have a place to integrate all those social media initiatives your company “had to do” in 2011 in order to stay competitive.

Let me guess: You created at least one new social media account this year. Oh wow, 4? Well, aren’t you glad you have an online community to bring together all your fans in one easy-to digest platform? Content can be cross-shared, discussions can be open to all your fans, and you can distribute content across all your sites with ease, because it all resides in one integrated repository. With an online community at the “hub” of all your social activity, you own the conversations occurring about your company, and industry. And, you’re easily able to establish a consistent voice across the various sites, something that’s quite difficult to achieve with scattered sites across the web.

3)      Your online community gives you a place to communicate with and build trust with your target audience- something that’s tough to achieve on your company website.

This year was truly the year of the consumer. People don’t want to hear from you – they want to find you. Inbound marketing efforts sky rocketed, and traditional outbound methods decreased. With an online community, you’re able to engage in direct conversations with your target audience. By posting content and resources they are interested in, and talking about, you’re able to jump into the conversation, offering real-time insight and establishing yourself as a credible thought leader. Plus, if there are questions or concerns about your products, you’re able to react to them immediately, which is an incredible customer retention skill. The more quality content you provide and open, honest dialogue you engage in with your audience, the more trustworthy you’ll become. And the more people trust you, the more likely they’ll be to buy from you.

Remember, though, that these conversations are tough to have on your company website. The automatic reaction from your audience may be to avoid interactions with you, to avoid a potential sales pitch before they’ve even gathered the information they seek. On an industry-specific online community, however, there’s less pressure: It’s just a couple of experts sharing ideas, answering questions and providing educational resources to help guide your customers along their decision-making process.

4)      You have a lead capture and nurture center right at your fingertips

Lead generation and nurturing can take an extremely large amount of effort from your sales and marketing team. But, with your online community, you have links to high-quality resources for any stage of the sales life cycle. Passive site visitors? You’ll capture their information with the quality gated content on your community (however, make sure you balance what you offer for free, and what you gate). New prospects? Send them to your white papers to learn more about the current state of your industry. For more serious prospects, you have volumes of case studies to send them to demonstrate best practices and lessons learned.  Regardless of what stage of interest your community visitor is at, there’s a content piece on your community that speaks to them .There’s a forum they can join, or poll they can take. There’s someone they can talk to if they have further questions. This is a powerful portal you have at your fingertips, and one your sales team should be leveraging just as much as your marketing team.  Because your best customers, the ones who renew with you year after year, are the ones who’ve had the chance to make educated decisions and build a strong relationship with you at their own pace.

5)      You’re beating your competitors- literally and figuratively.

Though extremely beneficial for businesses – for more reasons than I’ve even listed here – online communities are still a newer tool for marketers, especially in B2B. But, when done well, they are able to boost your company’s reputation and drive you up in organic search engine ranking. This places you ahead of your competitors who don’t have an online community in many ways: You’re educating their target audience, positioning yourself as the industry leader, owning top real estate on Google, and more.

What aspect of your online community are you most thankful for this week? 

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