Everyone responsible for engaging communities has a decision to make.
Do you persuade members to come to you or do you go to them?
Do you spend your time trying to get people to participate in your platform? Or should you engage members where they are?
The former is great when it works. It enables you to have a lively community on a platform which you can completely customize to your needs.
The problem is it’s becoming harder to do this. It’s painful to spend thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of dollars developing a hosted community experience and struggle to get people to use it.
The latter approach is equally precarious. You can spend countless hours building communities on platforms over which you have little-to-no control. The rules might suddenly change or audiences might quickly change their preferences. Your account might be closed down with little justification.
Align With Strategic Trends
As you know, we always align strategies to current trends.
The trends here are quite clear. The popularity of hosted platforms is declining and the popularity of social media platforms continues to rise.
No matter what you do, there is going to be a sizable chunk of your audience who won’t engage on your community platform. As time goes by, this chunk is going to get bigger.
Test this on yourself if you like. How much time do you personally engage in a hosted brand community that isn’t your own? Can you even recall the last time you did it? You’re not alone.
We need an approach which aligns with current trends.
A New Mindset for A New Era
The old mindset was to create a central platform and drive everyone to it.
This mindset is outdated today.
The new mindset is to engage members where you can offer and gain unique strategic value.
Community is less about a destination you host and more about an experience you facilitate.
Where Should (and Shouldn’t) You Engage Members?
Before we get into the minutia of platforms, let’s remind ourselves of strategic thinking.
Thinking strategically means recognizing opportunity costs. Time spent on one platform is time you can’t spend on another.
A general doesn’t spread troops evenly across every battlefield. They decide which battles are worth fighting and then allocate their resources to win those battles decisively.
Our goal is to find the few places where it’s worth building a community outpost and commit the resources required to deliver a remarkable experience.
The battle we fight is the battle for our audience’s attention. We win it by delivering the value they urgently need that no one else can provide.
The Decision-Making Framework
We’ve summarized our thinking about whether to engage on a new platform below.
Much of this is self-explanatory, but it’s worth going through each decision.
1) Where Does Your Audience Participate?
It shouldn’t be difficult to discover where audiences participate today.
Create a list of all the platforms you think or know your audience engages in today. List specific accounts/channels rather than broad platforms (i.e. r/brandquestions vs. ‘Reddit’).
Interview a couple of members to see if they suggest any others which aren’t on your list.
Then compile this into a survey you send out to your audience.
Whenever a member selects an answer, the survey should prompt them to explain why they participate in that channel. You can suggest attributes if you like.
This gives you both the list of potential places to consider and the exact value members want when they go to each.
2) Can We Offer Unique Value?
Adding another voice to the conversation doesn’t magically make it a better conversation.
It doesn’t matter how popular any platform is if you can’t offer unique value by hosting or engaging in an outpost there.
Common examples of brand value here might include:
- Offering a verified/validated source of information amongst rumors and chaos.
- Providing exclusive information and insights.
- Answering questions others don’t have the ability to answer.
- Supporting leaders with more resources.
- Providing a space where you truly listen to member feedback and act on requests.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. If you’re going to be on another platform, you should be able to use your unfair advantage to offer unique value members can’t get from anywhere else.
(Note: You must be offering unique value members urgently want. If it’s not abundantly obvious they want it, don’t be there).
Resource: How To Benchmark Your Community
Resource: What Is Your Unfair Advantage?
3) Can We Gain Unique Value?
You should only participate in places which offer you unique value.
If you’re simply engaging with the same audience in another destination, what’s the point? You’re just working twice as hard for the same outcome.
Unique value typically includes some combination of:
- Access to unique audiences. The platform offers you access to audiences which are difficult to reach through existing channels.
- Access to unique mindset. Third-party channels are great for getting the real story from members b/c they feel like it’s their space versus a company-hosted space.
- Unique functionality. This is the ability to deliver information in unique and valuable ways (think YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, event hosting platforms, etc.) which support your community’s goals. Plenty of things are unique, but do they help you achieve your community’s and organization’s goals?
- Improving brand perception. Will participating improve your brand perception? If all your competitors are on a particular platform. The opposite could also be true. it might make sense for you to be on a platform before competitors are. Sometimes it improves brand perception to be a pioneer (think Adidas on the Metaverse).
The critical lesson is you should increase your reach, relationships, or perception as a result of being on these platforms. If you’re not achieving one of these goals, consider carefully if being on the platform helps or hurts your outcomes.
Remember, it is expensive to host or engage in any platform at a high level. If you’re not going to get unique results from it, don’t do it.
4) Is The Platform Rising Or Falling In Popularity?
For most platforms, you have a choice about whether to host a community there or participate in one. Remember participating in a platform is a lot easier than hosting a community. The latter is a far bigger commitment of resources. But you have to participate the right way right or face the consequences.
Three is a simple framework you can use here. If a platform is rising in popularity, you might want to invest the time to build an outpost there and really commit to it.
On some platforms, you can simply see and track the level of engagement over time. At other times, you can look at public statements of user engagement to get a good picture. Pew Research is also a good source.
However, if a platform is falling in popularity, you probably want to spend far less time on it. You probably don’t want to invest too much time in a platform that’s falling in popularity.
Resource: How Brands Should Participate In A Community
Resource: Popularity of Social Media Engagement
How To Use Each Outpost
Once you have a broad idea of the right platforms to engage, it’s important to engage in each the right way.
You can see common examples of this here:
This varies a lot by the type(s) of community you’re building.
Two different types of community communities can use the same platforms in very different ways.
Test the platform with ideas before making a full commitment to it.
Resource: Five Brand Community Building Models That Succeed (And Why)
Resource: How Brands Should Participate In A Community
Don’t Try To Use New Outposts As Inbound Recruiting Tools
In theory, you can create an outpost on popular platforms like Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, etc. and use it as a source of new members for your existing community platform.
In practice, this is not going to happen – at least not at a level that makes the endeavor worthwhile. Attempts to use platforms as a recruiting tool will almost certainly end in disappointment for both you and your audience.
Your audience(s) have chosen a platform for a reason. That reason isn’t the result of a lack of awareness of other platforms. It’s simply a reflection of their preferences.
When you try to persuade people to move from their preferred platform you’re going to cause frustration. It’s far better to accept the preferences of your audiences and create the best possible experience you can on that platform.
New Platforms Require New Metrics
You’ve probably already spotted the problem with the above. You can’t use your current measurement system on new platforms.
For starters, this is often an apples-to-oranges comparison. How one platform counts a member, view, or action is different from another. It’s not an even playing field.
The far bigger problem is most of the platforms which will let you build outposts are designed for advertising. You often only get a small sample of aggregated metrics which reflect the needs of advertisers.
If you’re going to build an outpost on a platform you need to accept you’re measuring the success by the metrics available to that platform. Almost every platform offers some method of seeing views, posts, and comments.
You need to measure growth in the metrics available.
To get started, here are some unique steps.
- Use interviews and surveys to determine where your audience participates today.
- Evaluate the unique value people want and get from each platform.
- Analyze if you can offer unique value to the platform.
- Determine if you can get unique value from the platform.
- Research if the platform is rising or falling in popularity.
- Use our framework to determine how you might engage each platform by your community type.
- Five Brand Community Building Models That Succeed (And Why)
- How Brands Should Participate In A Community
- Popularity of Social Media Engagement
- How To Benchmark Your Community
- What Is Your Unfair Advantage?
- Which Platforms Should You Engage On?
- Primer: Strategic Thinking
- The Unique Value of Each Community Platform