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How To Appraise Your Social-Media Community

With social media marketing, it’s almost impossible to divide the hyperbole from the reality. Communities are inaugurated with hoopla and high spirits only to waste away into the oblivion of countless other online has-beens.

Companies often find themselves caught up in social media for no other reason than the fact that their competitors or “everyone else” is doing it. After a while, it’s natural to wonder, “What is the result of this effort and expense?”

Here are nine ways to evaluate the viability of your digital progeny:

1. Membership growth is not the ultimate measure of achievement
Online communities are considered a necessary evil by many CFOs. As a result there is a lot of pressure to show strong growth. But there’s more to the story than an exponential increase in registration.  

2. Community engagement is an ongoing responsibility
“If you build it, they will come,” is a fantasy that doesn’t carry over from the cornfield to online communities. If you don’t meaningfully engage every day, your audience will most likely wither away. If you are not truly committed to provide continuous support, it might be better to avoid this arena.

3. The community rises to the occasion if the brand is attacked
This is one of those really sweet and unexpected payoffs from a loyal community. If and when your brand receives some criticism for a disappointing new product or a public faux pas, the community will come to the defense of the brand.  

4. Providing evidence of economic viability
It can cost a substantial amount to start and support your online community. This leads to the inevitable pressure to validate its worth to management. The community will serve as a media outlet, sustaining related marketing efforts to yield sales.

5. Communities enthusiastically embrace direct sales channels
Purists are horrified at the thought of tainting a community with selling. It is true that there is always the risk of appearing to “sell out,” but an engaged community doesn’t shy away from product discussion and debate. Online stores are a common by-product of a community that leads to a source of revenue.

6. Use the community to steer product development
Seeking input from the community is a double edged sword – there are legal issues to contend with and the contributors must be acknowledged. Ignoring ideas can generate ill will. However, selectively utilizing research and feedback can result in meaningful contributions to product development.

7. The marketing department takes notice
Online communities are often started as a form of customer service. This perspective gives the community a sense of camaraderie because the emphasis is on creating content of genuine value and not delivering marketing messages. When the marketing department starts knocking on the door, you’re on to something big.

8. The community begins to shape marketing campaigns
Companies need to listen to and learn from the community. Businesses need to have conversations and engage with their audiences. The internet must be used for something more than just another email blast with a bunch of offers – that paradigm was better suited for broadcast advertising.

9. Content developed by the community maximizes SEO
When the community expresses its desires for content and the company responds appropriately, the result is better SEO. The only trick is to provide enough fresh material for a voracious community. And by optimizing this content for search, site traffic is destined to increase dramatically.  

The underlying beauty of this system is that it acts as a closed loop. As the community matures it improves in every aspect. Truly, two-way communication, community engagement is a quantum leap above the traditional practices of advertising and marketing.

Taking it slow and not setting goals that are overly ambitious is the best way to proceed when getting involved with a social media community.

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