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Learning from the Experts: 4 Online Community Practices that are Driving Real Results (and How to Implement Them for Your Own Site

December 01, 2011
Every week, we are pleased to work with TMCnet online community sponsors on case studies for the Online Community Connection newsletter. These case studies cover best practices, challenges and lessons learned by sponsors who have built, and are maintaining, successful sites. In case you missed any previous issues, we wanted to bring together a few success stories this week and highlight 4 practices community sponsors should consider for their sites.

1)     Run Exclusive Promotions and Campaigns (Jabra’s (News - Alert) Headsets Community)

Jabra has been sponsoring the Headsets online community since late 2010, and has seen significant growth in their audience as a result of the initiatives on their online community. One initiative that was particularly successful for the company was the “Pass for Cash” campaign, which they chose to run exclusively through their Headsets site. In this particular campaign, Jabra worked with their TMCnet design team to create exclusive ads that were football-themed, since it ran in the height of football season. As a result, the Headsets community received over 600,000 page views with over 100,000 unique visitors in just 2 months. Not only did Jabra increase their fan base, but experienced a “$500k increase in revenue as a direct result from the campaign and its promotions across TMCnet,” states Karl Bateson, Channel Marketing Manager for Jabra Headsets. 

Promotions are a great way to boost engagement on your online community and build a loyal fan base. By offering exclusive discounts, or contests, you’re providing an incentive for visitors to return to your site again and again, while creating a band of followers who are loyal to community and feel rewarded and appreciated for participating in it. Those strong relationships are hard to break once established.

2)     Provide Educational Content (like White Papers) that Your Community Visitors Crave (Interact’s IVR Systems Community)

White papers are an excellent, and quite popular, initiative for marketers as they service multiple purposes: Build brand awareness, demonstrate thought leadership and generate leads from prospects that download them. Getting your white papers into the right hands, however, can be a challenge, which is why many community sponsors post and promote their educational assets to visitors who are already coming to the site for the latest industry news and research.

Interact, sponsors of the “IVR Systems” community on TMCnet, spent a significant amount of time developing white papers this year in order to position the company as an industry leader and build their brand awareness in the marketplace. They leveraged their online community to promote the white papers and have experienced a significant number of downloads from this practice every month, as Katie Sheridan of Interact shares, “we were anticipating 15-20 leads per month, and are at a pace of 50-60.” 

Their secret to success? Writing white papers that their audiences want to read. This means taking advantage of the hot industry “buzz” words of the moment and writing pieces that cover topics people are talking about, and searching for.

3)     Integrate Social Media Activities (Soffront’s Cloud CRM Community)

This year was truly a banner year for social media, as businesses large and small, B2B and B2C, flocked to social sites to build profiles and engage with their target audience. But, as many learned, managing multiple sites is challenging and time consuming, which is why many turned to online communities as a way to integrate their various online efforts. By providing a “hub” where content, industry news and other educational pieces live, you have an opportunity to then streamline how you distribute that content across your social sites.

Soffront's main focus for 2011 was on building their social media presence to engage with their target audience on LinkedIn, Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter and through their Cloud CRM community on TMCnet. Here are a few things they would advise other community-managers to practice:

  • Visit other industry-related communities on various social sites and see what people are talking about
  • Search related keywords on Twitter (News - Alert) to see trending topics related to their products and services
  • Jump into the conversation by commenting and posting relevant content
  • House a large amount of related content on an online community to share across other social sites

Internal management of these various sites can be challenging, however Jennifer Young, Sr. Marketing Executive for Soffront, shares some of her techniques. For one, Soffront “updates the sites frequently, especially since there’s so much competition: You have to keep up with the latest technology [and] reflect the latest trends in your social media.” This includes posting industry-related (not just company-focused) content on your online community, sharing community content across all social sites, and taking the time to share select pieces on other community sites like LinkedIn (News - Alert).  

Making connections with industry influencers is also vital to getting your messages to your target audience; a tip would be to follow these analysts on Twitter and LinkedIn and see which groups they subscribe to. Then, subscribe to and contribute content on those groups, and direct message certain experts when you have a new case study, white paper or other resource released and see if they’d be interested in analyzing or reviewing the piece.

4)     Have Fun and Be Innovative! (TSG Global’s Text Messaging Community)

TSG’s Text Messaging site is an extremely engaging online community, and their team has some great advice for engaging audiences with content in unique ways. CEO Noah Rafalko states “we started to have some fun, and built some innovative applications” (check out their site for examples). TSG believes that going outside of your typical business role and doing something different is a great marketing technique.

A tip: Engage your sales staff or people from within your company who may have something to offer your audience.  With their “if something doesn’t work, that’s OK” mentality, the idea of taking “risks” with content isn’t a deterrent for them.  However, there should be some types of oversight to ensure the company’s reputation is solid, especially when using social media channels.  TSG recommends companies be careful about people relaying the right tone and messages about your company on social media sites. Reputation management is something many companies are faced with when engaging a wide network of writers, bloggers, twitter contributors and more, but once standard practices are set in place, this should be fairly easy to manage.

Now it’s your turn. What are some interesting practices you’ve seen, or have implemented on your online community? Connect with us and share your experiences.

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Anna Ritchie is product manager for TMC's (News - Alert) Online Community Program. Previously, she worked as a change and communications practitioner for a global consulting firm, and as a freelance marketing and communications specialist. She received her master's degree in English from Seton Hall University and her bachelor's degree in English from Loyola University.

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