Opinion

Your social presence is not a community (but Facebook Groups can be)

Despite many marketers believing social and community strategy to be one in the same, in reality, they are much different beasts, writes Quiip's Erin Tierney.

In the world of social media, the term community gets thrown around a lot. But we need to get things straight. A social media audience is not a community. It’s an audience.

A community by definition is “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”. While liking a brand or product is considered as sharing something in common, a community can’t solely be based on an audience responding to content provided by an organisation.

You can be forgiven for thinking that social media management and community management are one and the same, but in reality they are distinctly different.

Social media focuses on audience building, impressions and reach; community, on the other hand, focuses on connections and conversations, as well as repeated visits by members and growing the user base. Social media, generally speaking, is one-to-many communication, whereas community is many-to-many.

Fundamentally, for a community to exist your members need to recognise each other and regularly engage with each other. This rarely happens on social platforms that are designed to create conversation (and reactions) around branded content.

Sure, you may see the same commentators engaging with your posts, however, they are more super fans of your organisation, rather than a community. If you do start seeing key members of your audience interacting with each other in a positive tone (rather than negative, troll-like behaviour) then you’re witnessing the rumblings of a community-in-the-making, and this should be encouraged.

The great news is that you can, in fact, create and foster a community on social platforms with platform extensions such as Facebook or LinkedIn Groups, where natural conversation can flow from all members, rather than just an organisation.

A core group of members (also known as super users) can also drive the majority of the conversation and also help moderate the group. This is perfect for when you want to dip your toe into the community ocean but don’t have the internal buy-in to fund an intensive forum build.

One thing that you need to remember is that Facebook or LinkedIn Groups aren’t recommended for a short-term solution, any community is a long-term investment otherwise you’ll be unlikely to succeed and if you do, only to abandon your community, you’ll be leaving your community with a bad taste.

Getting it started

If you’ve thought about Facebook or LinkedIn Groups and are looking at setting up a group, one key thing to consider is not to make the group based around your brand, but rather an activity that your organisation is linked to. Your community needs to feel like they are invested in the group, rather than being controlled by an organisation.

Kmart Mums Australia wouldn’t be as popular of a group had it been created by Kmart itself, as members wouldn’t feel as as free to share their product “hacks” under corporate branding.

This isn’t a place to push brand messaging (that would be your Facebook page) but by fostering conversations, your branding becomes synonymous with a thriving online space.

Moderation

In regards to moderation, the same considerations must be made for any groups that you create – community guidelines, risk considerations and response guidelines should be created prior to the group inception. Other things to think about – are you looking at a closed group (where a person needs to request to join to become part of the group) or public, where anyone can join?

With a public group you have no control over who joins and who posts, so you may be inundated with spam and fake accounts designed to disrupt any community conversation leading to increased moderation time.

To help lower the investment by your organisation within the community (once it’s off the ground), you could look at utilising your super users to assist with moderation. By leaning on your community, you are showing that they are an integral part of your community strategy, will help encourage self-moderation and will have investment to ensure that the community is a success. Since your super users will be volunteering their time (and as we know it’s a thankless role), be sure to reward their contributions from time to time.

Content

Ensure you have your content ready and published for when your group is up and running. Think of it as a restaurant, people tend to be attracted to venues that show activity and life, rather than somewhere that seems empty and dull. The same can be said for online spaces.

Creating a couple of conversation starters to have on hand help create activity in any lull periods. Don’t go too overboard though, you don’t want to overload any new users with a barrage of information, we want them to feel comfortable to take part in conversations. The idea is to start the discussion in the group but then become hands-off, encouraging users to comment and post themselves, forging their own perceived ownership of the group.

While having a social presence shouldn’t be confused with owning a community, it’s easy to make the leap by tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn Groups. By identifying and embracing the differences in the tools, you can foster both an audience for your social content and a fantastic community that thrives under your brand leadership.

Erin Tierney is community consultant at Quiip.

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