Are you in the lucky position of having a very active online community on your own website? A busy comments section, or a chatty forum?
Bravo – in today’s world of Facebook and Twitter fever, it’s often hard to get a dedicated community involved in a discussion on your own site. It’s a powerful thing: the discussion is likely to be focussed and relevant to your user and all the discussions go on under YOUR brand’s name. The user knows where they are, who you are and what you stand for. There are also obvious benefits to your on-site advertising revenue as well!
However, a forum on a specialist website, or post comments, can easily become a walled garden. Your community is active, but may not be growing. Despite the increase in sharing tools (eg ShareThis) members rarely flag up their activity off-site so potential new users may not even know you exist.
If you want to maintain the rich discussion on your site, whilst also promoting it to the outside world, you could try setting up accounts with the big boys – Facebook and Twitter.
(Note: several of these ideas may not be relevant if your forum runs on a membership-only basis, or deals with particularly sensitive or private issues. In these cases I would suggest setting up a friendly, simple introductory page explaining who you are, the purpose of the site and the forum and why members get involved and linking to this as opposed to particular discussions).
Keep Branding Consistent
Marketing 101 this, I know, but you’ll be amazed how many companies do not have consistent branding across all of their accounts. Use your regular logo/images and use descriptions (or edited version) from your website so people know the site is genuine. If you are not already on these networks, chances are someone else has set up an unofficial page – make sure your new account stands out as the official one. (If someone has set up a fan or unofficial site – make contact with them, they may be happy to promote your arrival!)
Don’t be tempted to match a members-only environment on your site with one on Facebook or Twitter. You are not trying to replicate your on-site community – this is a tool for promoting the discussion and you want it to be as visible and discoverable as possible.
Don’t Cross-Post Everything
The benefit of the larger social networks is that they’re SO easy to access via phones, tablets and of course, computers. If you replicate all the discussions on Facebook, you are giving your customers an excuse NOT to visit your site.
Keep your unique selling point – the fact that all the conversation happens on YOUR site. By selecting occasional content to flag up on FB or Twitter, you are saying “here’s what you’re missing, get involved”.
Be smart with your messages
Don’t just cross post the title. Instead, draw new audiences in to your community with phrases like “Great discussion going on about England’s chances LINK” or “Dave reckons England are doomed – what do you think? LINK“.
Make sure the link in your social media message links directly to the content – none of this “front page, find it yourself” nonsense. The user won’t do this: they’ll get fed up and probably won’t return or click on one of your links again.
NOTE: If your site runs on a members only basis, deep linking will not be relevant here as the user will immediately be faced with a login screen. Send them to a friendly introductory page instead, or use the link to promote your community on a general level, instead of a specific discussion.
Use a tool like Bitly. Not only does this help with analytics (Bitly can tell you the number of clicks the link has received) it also makes the messages look tidier and easier to retweet/forward.
(this goes for all social media usage)
Make sure you have at least one eye on comments and postings referring to your brand. Use a desktop tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, and have searches running for the various iterations of your name including abbreviations and nicknames. This means you can respond to any feedback swiftly (and in private if necessary)
If someone asks a question that is answered in a forum post, send them the link to a relevant discussion (or introductory page if members-only) and encourage them to get involved. If it is not already covered on your site, either create some content or start the discussion yourself, and point them to that.
Yes, on Twitter hashtags are sometimes overused (or used inappropriately), but they can be useful for engaging with a whole new audience.
Keep an eye on trending hashtags and, avoiding spamming, get involved in the debate. Similarly, keep an eye on relevant events or discussions happening and make sure you your brand is in the mix. if there is a genuine link i.e. “Great to see #internships in the headlines: one of our hot topics this week LINK” or “We’ve been having this very debate recently LINK #internships”
Engage with Other Accounts
There are likely to be a host of organisations similar to your own, or working in the same field, already on these social networks. Find them and connect with them. Chances are they’ll help promote your work by retweets your messages or mentioning you in Facebook posts. All this helps drive users to your site. Also don’t forget to return the favour – start talking about what they are doing too – share and share alike!
Twitter and Facebook are still great ways to promote your brand – due to the sheer numbers of users and the diversity of interests. Handled well, you could generate a lot of interest for your on-site discussions.