The velocity of social media adoption and the ease with which brands can create ‘outposts’ in the major social networks often leads to them ignoring the existing communities that have been built around their industry, product or service. Sometimes you don’t need to create that Facebook Fan Page or build that bespoke social network to interact with your customers and ultimately create brand advocacy…for most industries and niches, these communities already exist and are extremely active.
There are some free social media tools that can help you find them
- For Blogs: Google Blog Search and Alltop
- For Social Networks: Go to your search engine of choice and search for “Niche Social Networks” (there are some good lists in various posts)
- For Groups in the Major Social Networks: Facebook and LinkedIn Search
- For Forums: Board Reader
- For all social media: Socialmention and IceRocket
And then of course, there is the enterprise social media monitoring solutions such as Radian6, ScoutLabs, ViralHeat, Brandwatch, Sysomos (and many more). They will all give you a more structured breakdown of the influential communities around your industry and the influencers themselves, although I recommend some manual research for quality control.
Hang out in these forums, blogs, and networks. Listen, join in, comment, chat to people. Then you can get a feel for their propensity to join a new network and the kind of user experience and content you will need to provide to get them to migrate to a new one and keep their attention long enough to get some actionable insights.
Don’t get me wrong, there are significant, long-term, benefits of ‘owning’ the social media community in terms of data capture and the depth of the insights that can be gleaned from the interaction. But community outreach should be part of any social media program as the starting point. There are also some nice SEO benefits from participating and backlinking from high page rank blogs and communities.
‘Unofficial’ pages, blogs and networks have been built from the ground up and show none of the negative characteristics we see from many official ones such as, shameless promotion, push messaging, discounts or coupons as the only unique content, rigid moderation etc. Spending time in these networks is not only an important part of social communications outreach but will also help set tactical guidelines for when an official channel becomes viable.