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5 Best Practices for Participating in Online Communities

Participating-In-Online-Communities

When adding social media into your marketing mix, it’s important to build in time for your team to participate in online groups or forums. In my previous blog post, “5 Reasons Why Online Communities Are A Good Investment for Your Brand,” I discussed the benefits of participating in these groups, including staying on top of industry news, gaining credibility, and generating brand awareness.

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According to eMarketer, 55% of US marketing executives find engaging in online communities to be “very important.” So, if your team has decided to take the plunge (which they should), here are some best practices to help you successfully maneuver participation in online forums including everything from LinkedIn groups to sub-reddits.

1. Focus On a Few "Top" Groups

When looking to make an impact by connecting with different industry professionals, it is important to target your networking efforts. There are thousands of industry groups that you could participate in; however, spreading your efforts too thin will not help you develop quality relationships. A good rule of thumb is to hone in on three “top” groups to monitor and participate in. Paying more attention to a few quality groups will help you develop better, stronger relationships and will improve your recognition amongst other discussion members.

2. Check Back and Follow Up

Similar to best practices when it comes to in-person networking, in online groups it’s important to check back and follow up on the threads you’re a participant in. Doing so can often be overlooked and forgotten, however it is the key to making quality connections. Taking the time to review and respond to interactions and conversations in a forum is both proper social media etiquette and beneficial to your marketing efforts. If users are asking you questions related to your expertise, and you never answer them they probably will not be interacting with you again. You want to make sure that you take advantage of every opportunity a community gives you to show off your knowledge-base, and not following up on what you’re saying to give further insights when appropriate is a lost opportunity to do so.

3. Don't Spam Groups with Links

As I discussed in my previous post, people who choose to be members of these groups are looking to connect with other platform users who are interested in similar topics. If an organic opportunity arises where you can share a relevant link to your blog or website, by all means post it—but it’s important to never have the majority of your posts be strictly sales efforts in these online discussions.

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Not only is this very “frowned upon,” and on some outlets not permitted, but it will deter other users from interacting with you and come off as very “spammy.” Focus on building brand credibility – whether that is as the company itself or as an individual that works at the company – instead of trying to drive referral traffic through links. You’ll still drive traffic and sales to your site this way – just as direct traffic to your website or social media page instead of as referral traffic.

4. Participate In Discussions with High Engagement

Choose which discussion you’re going to participate in wisely. To build your credibility and garner some recognition, you’re going to want to participate in regularly active discussions. What qualifies as an active discussion? Normally it is the discussion with the highest number of comments. Participating in these conversations increases your exposure as well as the odds of engaging with other group members. If you’re focusing on a select few groups to participate in, it’s the most time efficient to participate in groups that get a lot of views, discussions, and traffic. While some smaller groups may have good discussions as well, stick to the ones with the most engagement to get the most out of your efforts.

The flip side to doing this is that with so many more comments and people engaging in the conversation the quality of your comments need to be a lot higher to stand out. This means a greater time investment, but a much greater reward for a good comment in terms of brand recognition as well. Take your time when engaging with larger online communities and make sure you’re adding new value instead of just parroting things that have already been said that add little to no new value to the conversation.

5. Stand Out

The last but certainly not the least important piece of advice I have for participating in online groups is to make an effort to stand out. When trying to accomplish this, consistency is key. Whether it is commenting on a thread each day, interacting with specific users in a group, or showcasing your expertise, it’s important that you make yourself memorable to others in the group with unique and interesting insights. If you consistently add value to the conversation, you will be considered a knowledgeable resource and increase the chances of developing further business relationships with group members.

Now that we have covered the basics, go forth and interact with your fellow industry experts. If you stumble upon any other best practices that we may have missed, feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

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