(Sarah’s note: Today’s guest post comes from my friend and business partner, Jon Alford. If you like his work as much as I do, why not join us and be a part of the 2011 Community Marketing Challenge? Learn more about the challenge here, or click here to sign up!)
“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” ~Anthony Burgess
A beautiful community, named Oia, lies nestled on the hills of the Greek island of Santorini. Its architecture and natural beauty are not only breathtaking but protected by law to prevent modern influence.
It’s said that the sunsets are so mesmerizing there that at the close of day every step and wall is occupied by couples who take pause to admire it.
Although Oia has few permanent inhabitants, do you think they care about keeping the community beautiful? Wouldn’t you like to believe that such a small and unique community, no matter how many people, work together to keep it clean and enjoyable?
I’m sure of it.
Now, let’s turn to you. How much do you care?
As a marketer, how much do you genuinely care for your community on Facebook or for those on Twitter? How about the people you interact with in forums or in your blog comments?
Those are all communities. Digital communities, sure. But those are real flesh and blood people you’re networking with not just IP addresses. They come from all walks of life and bring their own interesting stories, skills, and needs to the table.
It’s important to show our communities that we care. Just as it’s important for you to feel cared for when you first join a community. Why? We’re wired that way. We like to feel like we belong and that we’re part of something bigger than the individual.
That said, here are 5 great ways to show you care for your communities.
1. Answer questions. If you’re part of a forum community or even just replying to a comment, answering questions is crucial. Particularly if you go above and beyond to deliver a thoughtful answer. Bonus points if your answers provide actionable steps and innovative problem-solving.
This all contributes to you becoming the “go to” resource that people won’t soon forget. The best part is they’ll directly benefit from your attention.
2. Add valuable communication. Openly share useful content that you find during your online or offline travels. Your community wants to learn the same tips, tricks, and hacks that you’re stumbling upon so teach them.
Contrary to popular belief, a community’s sole purpose is not to sit and wait for your next pitch or affiliate offering.
3. NSA favors. These are no strings attached favors. There’s a fine line between giving your services and time away willy-nilly and doing small favors. Use common sense, folks. If someone is stuck with no inspiration for a blog post, can’t you take a look at their site and offer a suggestion?
Perhaps someone you know tweeted about having trouble with a snippet of code on their site. Can you offer them that snippet or refer them to someone that is savvy?
These are small favors but they add social currency to your community trust bank. Always be certain that you’re making more deposits than withdrawals into that bank.
4. Engage deeply. This takes some finesse and sensitivity to community boundaries. While it’s intrusive to engage too deeply (probing questions about family, physical addresses, health issues, etc.) there is a great advantage to honing this skill. Try thinking beyond the typical tone of a tweet, post or status update.
Directly connect with someone in your network and start a conversation asking about their thoughts behind a comment. Or ask them what truly motivated them to write that controversial blog post. Ask them what they are struggling with the most at the moment (and can you help)?
Everyone likes talking about themselves. The more genuine you are when you ask people about them and you listen and respond, the closer they become to you.
5. Engage regularly. Be mindful of the subtle difference between engaging regularly and engaging often. In some marketing communities you’ll be outright ignored (or banned) if you talk or post too often. This can lead to publishing junk and noise anyway.
Engaging regularly involves striking the balance between value and timing to make sure you do your part in binding the community together.
Bear in mind that this ties in with value-added communication; if you’re being selective and pushing useful content out there (not just noise) then chances are you’ll have leeway when it comes to the frequency of your contact.
Now get out there and market or interact with genuine care today!
Do you have any rules of thumb when contacting your communities? Please share your thoughts or add to my list in the comments.
About the Author: Jon Alford writes about starting and growing your business online and offers one-on-one mentoring and website development at JonAlford.com.