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How Brands Should Engage With Online Communities

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

Many brands would do better to engage with existing communities than create their own. Even those that create their own should have very clear rules for engaging the community.

As a good rule of thumb, always add, never subtract from the community.

An addition is where you do increase the value of the community. It might be greater knowledge, exclusive information. It’s something you can do infinitely without a downside. A subtraction is where you subtract attentino from the community. It might be trying to gain traffic to your own site, spamming members with a product offering etc.

Here are some other key rules:

  • Respond to discussions about the brand. Most communities have a search feature. Use this to figure out what people are saying about the brand and respond appropriately. If you can’t respond to a complaint directly, ask the member how they would like it to be resolved.
  • Participate in debates not connected to your products/services. This is easy, safe, territory and establishes your credibility as a serious participant in the community.
  • Make friends. Be genuine members of the community. Make friends with others. Engage in the off-topic areas of the community. Congratulate people on their achievements. Suggest things in the community. Be a person first, a company representative second.
  • Ask for opinions on products/services. Be careful with this. But, occasionally, ask people for their opinions on a specific aspect of a product or a service. Giving members options or choices works better than generic What do you think of our new {widget}.
  • Ask for help. If you need people to help your company with something, ask for help.
  • Offer something exclusive to the community. If your company has the means to offer some exclusive products or run a competition, contact the community admin and see if they are ok with you doing it.
  • Give exclusive information. Give members of a community some exclusive information about your brand or product. This doesn’t have to be big, but just things that will solicit interest and start some rumours about your work.
  • Contact the community owner/admin. When possible, contact the owner/admin of the community. Ask if you can do anything to help or if there are any special brand guidelines to be aware of.
  • Disclosure. Use the signature to reveal that you are an employee of the company you work for. Where relevant, include it in the text of your messages e.g. “I agree, at Widgetco we tried both of these options….”

What not to do

Most of these wont be a surprise.

  • Have a company account. Accounts should always be registered under individual names, not company names. If you must, mix the two. EA_Phil being an example, but never use a WidgetCo as the name of your account.
  • Promote. Any direct promotion is likely to have an adverse effect on your efforts.
  • Subtly promote. An entire category of pretending to participate but doing so in such a way as to promote your brand.
  • Criticize. The rules are stricter for company representatives here than they are for the average member. I’d say never criticize anyone, for anything, at anytime. Especially don’t attack a competitor.
  • Engage in religious/political debate. It’s just not worth it no matter how right you are.

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