Ever since social media became so prominent, companies have seen a huge online fan base as something of a marketing holy grail, with the number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers becoming a benchmark for success.
Unfortunately, lots of companies jump into social media with energy and enthusiasm but quickly get disappointed or frustrated when the results aren’t quite as big as their ambitions.
The road to building an online fan base that is both big, and crucially, of value, is a long and winding with very few shortcuts, but here are five steps to think about in order to succeed:
1. Start with a great offline experience
Do not fall into the trap of looking at online experience in isolation. Online success depends on offline behavior. Analysis of a million online conversations involving brands showed that more than 50% originated because of the product or service quality offline.
People talk remarkably openly online about their offline experiences with their friends and even complete strangers, so a strong fan base will start much more easily if customers are receiving an offline experience that is outstanding enough for them to share.
If you love a brand, product or service offline, you’re much more likely to be proud to be seen to “like” it online.
2. Take time to listen
Many companies see social media as a new channel to broadcast their message, much like any other media they have at their disposal. It is, in fact, smarter to turn that around and focus on the “social” element of social media and use it as a listening channel.
When consumers talk about a brand online, the company has an opportunity to boosts its fandom by giving those consumers an answer that is professional, helpful or even entertaining.
Listening on social media is more than just following the mentions you receive. You can learn huge amounts by looking out for conversations not only about your business, but also other related products or topics, or even how the market views your competitors.
It is helpful to see the latest trends, and by being a helpful, positive contributor to conversations you may even help out some people that did not know you.
3. Create content that inspires people
Creating your own content is necessary if you want to attract online fans. People are naturally attracted to content that is fun, inspiring or just helps them with a question or problem that they have been struggling with.
However, many companies jump into social media and invest in online content before taking the time to listen to what people are saying, or failing to get the quality of product or service right. This approach is often a quick road to disappointment for companies, because if people don’t like your brand online and you are not giving them what they want, it is very unlikely they will engage with or share your content.
First you must win the heart of consumers, then you can provide content that really inspire them.
4. Be smart and make the most of your content
Winning real fans online goes much further than simply managing your Facebook and your Twitter accounts. If you are going to invest time and/or money in creating good content you should make the most of it, so consider using content on your own medium like your company website or blog.
The moment that content is placed on your blog you can create a number of positive effects. First of all, you have something interesting to share via social networks simply by linking to it.
Secondly, blog posts can be easily found via a Google search, particularly as search engines look favourably on websites that are regularly updated with fresh content. This content can then be discovered by any number of new people who are not yet familiar with your company.
If your content has been interesting or helpful, these new contacts may like or follow you because of their personal interest in what you have to say.
Placing your best content only on Facebook is like fishing without a hook. It is like throwing your tastiest bait in the river. The fish eat it, “like” it and then simply move on. By hooking people in so they experience the content on your own platform, you are improving the chances that each individual will browse through your other content, look at your products, sign up to your newsletter, submit an enquiry or even make a purchase there and then.
5. Be disciplined
The positive impact of each of the previous points can become largely neutralised without this final crucial rule. Lots of companies start their social media activity with huge enthusiasm, throwing time and money into growing their online fan base.
However, after some time many businesses find they either aren’t getting the early results they had envisaged or they cannot keep up the pace with the amount of input required, and decide to stop investing in the channel.
Unfortunately, the difficulty with building an online fan base is that it is often necessary to over invest during the early stages. Creating great content takes a lot of time and energy, and in the beginning this seems like a big investment per member of a small fan base.
The flipside of this is that the level of investment required for the campaign does not need to increase with time. This means that after the sometimes frustrating initial period of over investment, the return on investment actually increases every day as the number of fans and followers grows.
When you start out building an online fan base it will often feel like whatever content you put out fails to get noticed and does not have any impact at all. However, companies and individuals that are disciplined, stay committed to their online strategy and keep putting effort into their online fan base do get rewarded. Discipline and hard work is the key to success in growing a fan base for your business.
About the author
This article was written for ByteStart by Prof. Steven Van Belleghem, author of The Conversation Company and The Conversation Manager (Kogan Page). Follow him on twitter @StevenVBe or visit: www.StevenVanBelleghem.com
More help on ByteStart
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- How to promote and manage your brand on social media
- How to develop a strong USP and how to use it to attract more and higher value customers