May 28, 2020

Online Community Building Is The New Hallway Track

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Marketers have to go where people have conversations about their wants and needs. These conversations inform our targeting, our understanding of our customers, and our lead generation strategy. At conferences, those conversations happened in the hallways, in the expo rooms, at the coffee station, or during the networking events.

While conferences provide marketers with a platform to promote their brand through presentations, we really miss the hallway track right now. There, we made connections with interested prospects and had organic conversations that eventually turned into deals.

These little networking moments often turned into our most reliable leads.

So if we can’t go to conferences and can’t share those hallway moments anymore, how do we find those leads? Or at least build online structures that provide the same opportunity for connections with fewer germs?

Guidelines for building communities

Conferences work because they gather a target audience together in a single room. Attendees want to make connections and learn. Online communities can work similarly, but they don’t happen without a little planning and execution strategy.

  • Be consistent: post regularly and frequently
  • Interact: you’re here to build a community, not just lurk while others have conversations. Assign a moderator to your community and set internal expectations about interacting with community members
  • Follow up: people will reach out to you. Don’t leave them hanging
  • Don’t spam: for the most part, the community is about sharing knowledge and making contacts. Treat this like a networking event and downplay the sales pitch. If you start spamming the group or individual members with the hard sell, they’ll get wise to your game and leave

LinkedIn groups

LinkedIn groups are demand generation gold. There are so many advantages to starting and maintaining them, and other than the upkeep, very few disadvantages. Let’s look at some of the advantages:

  • The content you post stays in a centralized, focused timeline, so it’s easy for members (and you) to access it
  • You have control over the conversation starters you include with each post
  • You can invite people that you think might be interested
  • This information and idea sharing takes place right where your sales team is likely to prospect anyway, putting you in touch with all the information your group followers have in their profile.

Set up your LinkedIn group under your brand name, put a few interest-specific assets into the timeline, and start inviting people. Grow this community as you would any other social profile. Invite employees and members to share the link, promote your group in a newsletter, and share updates on your other social channels.

Shameless plug: you can join the TechnologyAdvice B2B LinkedIn Group, Demand Gen Insights.

Facebook groups

Similar to LinkedIn groups, Facebook Groups have the advantage of bringing people together around a common theme. These are especially useful for B2C brands that hope to capture their audience during leisure time, but don’t discount the power of an after-hours chat to bring people together (it works for the networking parties at conferences, right?).

The caveat with Facebook Groups is you’ll need to do some fancy footwork to get business information out of your contacts. While B2C brands can turn these community opportunities into direct sales with a few well-placed links or calls to action, a B2B brand will need better business information to qualify contacts.

Facebook requires that everything is tied to a personal account, so be sure to clarify a business phone number and email address when reaching out.

Forums

Whether you build your own forums or use an existing platform like Reddit, forums are a great place to gather people around a topic.

Build your own forum

If you build your own, you have control over the messaging, the invites, and the moderation rules. That also means you have to monitor and maintain the messaging, invites, and moderation. With extra control comes extra responsibility.

The good news is, if you’re already running a site on WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla, you can easily expand your site by adding a forum. You can also host your forum on one of these platforms outside of your existing site. You can also buy a forum software to build your community.

Make your own page on an existing forum platform

Sites like Reddit, Hacker News, and StumbleUpon let you post content and find your community of readers and commenters. If you want to have more control over who finds and comments on your content, you can build your own subreddit, while Hacker News and StumbleUpon provide platforms for you to post your content for new audiences to find.

Twitter chats and lists

Twitter chats are a great way to build community around a single topic. Most Twitter chats feature questions (provided by the host) that the audience answers. In the ideal situation, the audience both answers the questions as a reply and comments, adds to, or respectfully disagrees with the opinions of others as threads of replies. Setting up a Twitter chat is pretty easy:

  • Choose a hashtag
  • Pick a topic
  • Set a date and time
  • Promote on social media and in your newsletters
  • Post your questions on Twitter during your chosen time. Don’t forget to include your hashtag in your tweet!
  • Engage the audience

If you choose your questions carefully, you can create a thriving social media community that comes back every week. Check out how eWEEK runs their chats by searching the hashtag #eWEEKChat on Twitter.

If you’re looking for something more permanent than a weekly or monthly chat, try setting up a Twitter list. Lists allow you to curate your timeline into content groups, so you only see those included on the list. Other users can also subscribe to your lists, putting you in similar social media orbits.

Virtual meet-ups

You may have noticed that we’ve tried to stay as far away from webinars as possible with this list. While there’s nothing wrong with webinars, the virtual meet-up’s ultimate goal is not to make a sale or generate leads, but to share ideas and build community. Instead of filling the full hour of your meetup with a presentation, consider devoting 20 minutes to a short, thought-provoking presentation, followed by 20 minutes in breakout groups that discuss different topics.

Gain control by building your own audience

The good thing is, that with all of these types of community building, you have control. Just like an event is broken up into sessions based on interest groups, you can build your forum or online event around hyper-targeted segments.

We can help you expand your audience and find the communities of interested buyers you’ve been looking for. We can help you find in-market segments at any funnel stage. Learn more about our demand generation products here.