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Targeted Online Communities: Where Less Selling=More ROI

Targeted Online Communities: Where Less Selling=More ROI

When marketers discuss their social marketing efforts, one term is always at the center of the conversation: ROI.  How can I get the most out of my Facebook activity? How do I convert a Twitter follower into a customer? How do I even know my audience is truly interested in what I am talking about? You’ll often hear marketers and bloggers alike compare procuring customers through these channels to “finding a needle in a haystack.”  These sites certainly do have value.  However, too often, pages such as Twitter and Facebook consume the attention and energy of marketers while they neglect, or simply ignore, smaller haystacks containing more delicate, but also more valuable needles.

Community sites such as Toolbox may lack the mainstream name recognition or flashy interfaces associated with the top social marketing resources, but the lack of attributes such as these is actually a blessing in disguise for marketers.  Unlike typical social media sites, where a business must compete with potentially millions of message givers from every conceivable field for the reader’s attention, targeted online communities are centered on a particular industry or interest.  A marketer can, “filter out the white noise and engage [their] target audience directly.”

The key word a marketer needs to consider when foraying into these sorts of sites is community.  If you go in expecting instant gratification, you will almost certainly be disappointed by the results (or lack thereof). A marketer looking to gain influence, respect, and the admiration of his peers within a targeted forum needs to carefully and patiently cultivate a voice.  However, as this Mashable article notes, “it’s not just about having a voice, but having an authentic one.”

Other members of the community should feel like they are having a meaningful discussion with you, not that they are simply being sold something.  Tamar Weinberg, a prominent social media blogger, describes the danger of ignoring this advice: “If you go to a forum and you just start doing, oh, check out this site. It’s like the equivalent of spam in your inbox. You’re not going to click on it.”  Many of the posters you interact with are going to be extremely influential and knowledgeable within their discipline; they will know if they are being “used.” Developing these relationships will take time before you should consider beginning to mention your products or services outright.

Just because “selling” is not at the heart of participating in a targeted online community does not mean there isn’t potential for significant ROI.  Relationships built through community participation can turn into positive word of mouth (WOM) from respected industry thought leaders, bloggers, or just a fellow marketer/buyer.  Positive WOM can produce leads that even the most creative, efficient marketing efforts would not.  A 2010 McKinsey Quarterly article explains: “often, what really makes up a consumer’s mind is not only simple but also free: a word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source.”  With the right combination of patience and investment, a marketer can use targeted social communities to not only benefit from the positive WOM of others; you can become the trusted source yourself.

What do you think? Do you have any experiences, good or bad, within online communities? Are they really worth the time investment?

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