One of the biggest areas of confusion around social business is the differences between public social networks, like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and private online communities where most activity occurs behind a secure login.
I'd venture to estimate that well over 95% of the social business discussion and content revolves around the big public social networks, while only a few experts are writing about how organizations can use online customer and member communities.
If you do a few minutes of digging online, you'll come across the "either/or" discussions. This is an artificial juxtaposition that breaks down whether organizations should use public social networks OR a private online community, when it reality companies don't have to choose one or the other. Organization can (and often should) use both, for different purposes. The conversation is not made clearer by technology companies or consultants that have a preference for (or financial stake in) one approach over the other.
Socious has offered tips to help companies and membership organizations avoid using public social networks and private online communities for the wrong tactics. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn are very good for what they are intended to do. Private online customer or member communities have the features and functionality to add a great deal to your product, support, and marketing strategies. Mixing these up can quickly lead to a heap of frustration and performance issues.
Today, I want to take the conversation a step further and lay out exactly how public and private social networks can work together. The following at three big ways to capitalize on the characteristics of your public social network channels to strengthen your online community strategy.
#1) Driving Members to the Community
As I have mentioned, private online communities and sites like Facebook and LinkedIn serve very different purposes for an organization. They are available to different audiences, have distinct features, and address different goals. However, successful organizations are finding way to use their public social networks to increase engagement in their private online customer or member community.
First, it is vital to understand the importance of setting up processes to drive people back to your private online community. You could create an online community full of highly relevant value, but that is only half of the equation. Your target audience, whether it is made up of prospects, customers, members, or partners, is busy.
Developing community management processes to bring members back to the community to get that value is critical to sustain activity in your community. These tactics will involve the tools in your social community software, like the built-in email marketing system and personalized content alerts, but should also take advantage of public social networks.
To better convey this point to your executives and social business team, imagine a wagon wheel or any hub and spoke model. The center is your online community website. The spokes are all of your social media outposts.
In the same way that public social networks are used in content marketing strategies to drive people to your website, you can use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to bring people back to your community or make non-members aware of the value in your online customer or member community.
#2) Content Curation and Discussion Topics
One of the top reasons that people join your online customer or member community is for one-stop access to content, discussions, and experts that can help then do their jobs.
As you know, while your community is most acitve inside your private social network, your industry is active all across the web. Systematically monitoring Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ (and maybe Facebook) is an efficient way to stay on top of industry trends, research, and breaking news.
You can then select the articles, videos, infographics, and other social media to bring into your community. Successful ideas for using information you came across on public social networks in your private community include:
- Framing news in a blog post with your reaction and thoughtful questions to spur conversation
- Using an article on industry best practices to start a discussion in your forums
- Adding a report to the document library
Tip: Use the segmentation that you set up in your online community platform to share content with only those audience to which it is relevant.
#3) Recruiting New Members or Customers
As you scan public social networks for topics, hastags, and keywords, you will undoubtedly come across smart people that you are not familiar with. You may think to yourself, "That person really knows what they are talking about. They could add value to my community." or "This person is in my industry, but it not a member of my community."
Check your membership database or CRM system to make sure this prospect is not already a customer or member, and then invite them to learn about and join your organization, or at least participate in the community.
Tip: If your online community is for paying members or customer only, work with your online community software provider to set up a free area of your community for prospective community members. Make sure it has enough content and activity for that segment of your private social network to be valuable for your prospects, so that they eventually move down the path to becoming a full member of the community.
Public and Private Social Networking Takeaway
When a vast majority of the social business information on the web revolves around public social networks, it can be difficult find validation for your customer community strategy. However, you know that public and private social networks serve very different purposes, so steer clear of people who try to convince you that it is an "either/or" discussion. You know better.
Both the big social networks and your private online community are important, but together they produce powerful results (think 1+1=3). Organizations are increasingly turning to private online communities to strengthen relationships with prospects, customers, members, and partners. Why not boost the performance of your social business strategy by incorporating your reach on the big social networks, starting with the simple tactics listed in this article?