A truly engaged community is a coveted thing in the world of small business. However, many Australian companies don’t realise that this is rarely something you can build on your own. It’s a community, with individuals that have a common interest – you or your brand. You don’t “run” the community, you facilitate it. Engaging this group is much more about expanding their lines of common interest and less about telling them what to think and say and do.
However, there is a subtle balancing act required here. Hundreds of fans, no matter how devoted, could accidently cloud (even damage) that carefully prepared image with confusing and inaccurate messages.
Helping your enthusiastic community along in creating content about your brand with tips and guidelines can be a great way of leveraging the power of its voice without stifling it with strict rules or devaluing it by turning members into unpaid, outsourced marketing copywriters. People are happy to take guidance on what to say or share, but only a small percentage of companies actually provide such support.
Make a brand bible available explaining the company vision, mission, promise, values, personality, and tone. It can include copy guidelines, style samples, social-media suggestions, and graphics like logos as well as colour palettes. By giving your community these tools, you empower them to better advocate your brand. But remember that you are providing a set of guidelines and not a rulebook. The brand bible merely allows them to align themselves better with you. Start imposing restrictions, and you’re in danger of doing damage to the relationship.
We all like a good story. And yours is a good one. So share it. Humanise your brand in your customer’s eyes and help them feel part of its story. Give them a sneak peek behind the curtain. After all, customers stand by a brand’s values over its products. Telling your story can help potential customers relate to your brand and start imagining how it might become part of their lives. A reader that relates is engaged, and one that is engaged is more likely to share your story with others.
And remember, they’re likely to have a pretty good story of their own. The thing to understand about user-generated content is that it isn’t about you. It’s actually about them. So, talk to them. About them. How they feel. Even if it’s how they feel about you. Imagine if your favourite brand asked you about your personal story… how much more connected to them would you feel? How much more likely are you to stay a customer?
User-generated content helps you get a better understanding of how your brand is perceived and what customers are really thinking and talking about. The strength of a business’s advocate community can be the factor that sees a business thrive or barely survive. Whereas a disaffected community can ruin a company’s online reputation, one that is well informed, well looked after, and well supported (but not policed) is able to breed loyalty and boost credibility.
But trust is a two-way street. Yes, you first provide the tools your audience needs to get better aligned with your brand, but then you place your trust in them. With the freedom to speak their own words, they then evoke trust from their network because what they say is user to user—open and honest. Any trust shown with users, or fans of your brand, is ultimately returned when authors of user generated content have readers that become your customers.
Wayne Jasek, Director of APAC, Kentico