Social media marketers often spend a lot of time selecting the right social media tool to use – Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, etc. Instead, they should be focusing on ways to engage online “communities of interest.”
What are “communities of interest?”
Social media and social networks provide the ways people can connect online. “Communities of interest” are why we connect. The very concept of social media is in allowing online groups to form around a particular topic or idea, and connect with others that have a similar interest. These are communities of interest.
It’s clear: “health” is the most significant area for which “communities of interest” seek online information today. And hospital marketers should recognize the importance of participating and engaging in these communities.
How can we do this?
There are many ways to engage online communities of interest. Here are three simple things to help you get started:
Identify if the community already exists. If it does, begin to participate in it. If it does not, determine if the need for a community exists. If there is a need (it fills an online niche your patients could benefit from), create one.
Don’t market – build trust. Instead of broadcasting your marketing messages, find ways the community can interact and engage with you. Ask questions and participate in conversations.
Remember: size doesn’t matter but interactivity does. Building a community online takes time – don’t expect it to grow overnight. Be patient and persistent and not only will your community size grow, but so will the trust they have in you.
I’ve been taking swing dance lessons and have found that I can Charleston pretty well. This surprises me, as I’ve never been light on my feet. But my instructors were persistent and taught me to not only keep practicing, but they gave me a couple of tricks – steps – to make me look professional.
First step: Always be prepared
On the dance floor, you never know when your partner might want to switch the move. Or what the next song the band will play. For dancing, you always have to be ready. Keep yourself framed, and have a slight bend to your knees. It sometimes helps to lower your center of gravity.
When building or engaging a social media community, you also have to be prepared. Get to know the language of the social network – participate and listen. At any given moment, your community might go an unexpected way and you have to sway with it. You cannot predict when or where you have to respond, so be ready.
Second step: Communicate clearly
Whether you are a “lead” or “follow” on the dance floor, you have to communicate clearly with your partner. Much of the communication comes in non-verbal clues – a hand up signaling a turn, a rock-step to guide you to start to do the Charleston. And the cues have to come in a timely way – you can’t communicate a change in step too late, because your partner won’t know what to do.
Social media communities also appreciate communication that is conversational and appropriate. Be brief, be relevant and be clear. Get to the point – and get to it quickly, or else your message may be lost. Unlike dancing, however, sometimes in social networks you might lead and other times you may follow.
Third step: Be consistent
When swing dancing, it’s important to do your moves consistently and regularly. When you spin, it’s important for the lead to be there in a consistent spot, with his hand in the right position. There’s nothing worse than having your partner throw in an inconsistent move or gesture. It can sometimes through off the whole move, if not end your dance prematurely.
When communicating through social media, you also need to be consistent. If one day you post five updates to your Facebook page and then leave it neglected for two weeks, no one will know what to expect and stop following. Consistency helps followers feel your posts are real and genuine (like there’s a person behind the posts and not some automated robot or RSS feed). Plus, the more you provide consistent contributions to social media, the more interaction you will draw…which leads to engagement.
Fourth step: Be interactive
Swing dancing is most fun when both partners engage with each other – responding to one another, and adding energy and excitement to the dance! Take a look at good dance partners – they always work off one another, smiling and laughing and making verbal and non-verbal cues.
In social media marketing, the best interactions lead to the highest levels of engagement. Respond to posts, thank people for participating, ask questions, read your audience. Make non-verbal cues by showing how fun and interactive your community can be. More people will want to jump in and dance with you!
Fifth step: Know when enough’s enough
Even the best dancers know when to stop. You can’t do the same step over and over – your partner will get bored and probably not dance with you again. You also have to know when to switch it up, when to switch to a Lindy Whip or dance the Shim Sham. You don’t always have to Charleston.
The same is true for social media. Know when to stop posting certain types of content. Change it up – share stories, then pictures, then videos. Take a poll. Ask a question. Keep your community exciting and interesting.
Knowing these simple, yet effective steps, will not only guarantee that you’ll be taking good care of your community, but it will also guarantee your dance card will always be full.