What Community Organizing Can Teach Us About Social Media Marketing

By Bianca Rosen

I’m not going to lie to you. I never saw myself doing social media marketing.

Coming from a background in community organizing, I thought my career would look much different.

What I’ve learned, however, is that community organizing and social media marketing are not so disconnected. Both require building strong communities to be successful.

And communities no longer exist solely offline. In fact, “72% of people see community existing online as much as offline” according to a recent global survey.

Tatiana Peck, Global Strategy & Insights Lead at Facebook, gives her two cents on the ever-changing definition of community. “The beautiful thing about community,” she says, “is that it means so many different things to different groups. However, we consistently see four catalysts that bring people together: shared expertise, shared passions, shared beliefs and shared situations.”

Now that we’ve loosely defined community, let’s take a look at some basic principles of community organizing and what we can learn from them as social media marketers:

#1. Build relationships around shared passions, beliefs, or values.

Just like a community organizer, innovative social media marketers should focus on building authentic relationships with their followers based on these commonalities.

Are you not sure what these commonalities are? Or which commonality is the most powerful connector in your community?

Sit down and answer this: Why would someone follow me?

For example, our client, the California Retail Hardware Association is working to build a community of hardware store owners in the state.

A couple of reasons someone would follow them include: they own a hardware store, work at a hardware store, are thinking about opening up a hardware store, or want to know more about running a small business.

Peck provides this example: “if you are selling orange juice, don’t just think about people who love oranges. Look for inspiration from communities of people who love all things colored orange (orange lifestyle?), people who suffer from vitamin C deficiency, or people who value the same sustainable farming practices that you do.”

What is the thread that runs through all of these communities? Consider that and build on it.

#2. Create a story for your community that connects and solidifies bonds.

Community organizers build these relationships through the stories they tell about their cause, and social media marketers should do this through their content.

“The key is in how you think about community,” argues Peck, “Many marketers tend to view it as a target audience.”

By shifting away from this perspective, we can create more content that strengthens the identity of our community, rather than solely the brand. In the long run, this has a more significant impact and develops more loyalty amongst followers, fans, and customers.

#3. Share information, expertise, and resources of community members.

Not only does this refer to the value-adding content that social media marketers should offer, but also elevating the resources of community members.

This can look like sharing follower’s content and acknowledging leaders in the community. Beyond being leaders in the community, these people can become de facto leaders of the brand.

“You’d be amazed at the level of creativity that emerges when a brand puts the needs and interests of a community at the forefront and asks how it can help solve problems,” Peck explains. “It’s a value exchange that goes both ways.”

#4. Create opportunities for action.

Facebook found in a study that looked at global conversation and survey data that people most associated community with the word “action.”

Community organizers move people to action to achieve a specific goal.

Social media marketing is not much different. We ask our followers to “learn more,” “visit our website,” “click here,” “sign up,” “register,” “buy tickets,” etc.

Yes, this helps to achieve marketers’ goals, but it should also serve to build the “connectedness” of the community.

Social platforms are also reflecting this shift towards community building and away from just selling.

Facebook, for example, is focusing on expanding Facebook Groups and seems to favor posts from Groups rather than those in the newsfeed. Recent features include tools for community management, advanced analytics for Group Admins, and paid subscriptions for Groups.

LinkedIn Groups is also ramping up with the release of new features that serve to decrease spammy content and increase engagement.

The structure and the will to be part of an active community online is there; social media marketers need to take advantage of it.

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