By Tom Dunkerley, head of sales at Sift Media.
The word ‘community’ has been around the online world for many years. It refers to websites where people congregate for any number of reasons – a shared profession, a hobby, to achieve a purpose (fundraising, for example) or personal circumstance (such as diabetes). Now, with the advent of Web 2.0, it is increasingly used as a term of publishing endearment.
Online marketing campaigns built around communities offer a relevant, targeted and direct means of reaching a chosen audience. But how can you maximise the benefit of these campaigns and leverage more pound for pound ROI from your marketing spend?
Explore the opportunities that online communities can offer to target profiled databases
Most business-to-business (B2B) online communities will have a significant level of profile information about their audience. This information is gathered either through a member's registration to a website's interactive features or subscription to services such as email bulletins.
Members will generally be comfortable exchanging their profile information for access to content and to participate in a focused community. Typical profile data could include; job role, turnover (T/O), number of staff, salary, gender, company name, address, post code, email address, telephone numbers and professional interests.
As an advertiser, access to profile information adds focus and refinement to your marketing campaign. For example, if you want to deliver your brand message to managing directors in £50m plus T/O companies whenever they visit a certain site, this should be achievable (although you should expect premium pricing!).
Websites with high levels of community engagement will impact positively on your click through rate
Technology aside, successful communities are built first and foremost around shared interests, strong editorial and/or user generated content. This stimulates discussion, and importantly, trust. The sum total of this experience is becoming recognised as the level of ‘engagement’ that a visitor has with a website.
The Association of Online Publishers is represented on the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards and has worked to develop metrics for levels of website ‘engagement’. This is to help establish a common currency for website statistics, enabling straightforward comparisons of one site with another.
Two statistics to note when thinking about engagement are ‘duration of visit’ and ‘number of pages visited’. It’s argued that these provide some evidence of how ‘sticky’ your site is. However, this shouldn’t be taken as gospel as other technical factors, such as the inability to track how long users leave multiple windows running on their browser, must be taken into consideration.
Spend some time on community based websites to engage the audience with your brand
I believe that if you want a true reflection of engagement, visit a strong community website and spend 30 minutes taking a look around. For example, ukbusinessforums.co.uk receives over 1,000 posts a day from small business owners – one quick visit and you get a sense of how active and engaged this audience is.
Comments on articles and posts in forums are typical ways in which you can assess engagement, but also consider surveys, polls and webinars – all of which show a commitment from the media owner to encourage audience interaction.
So, why is this important for your marketing campaigns? Firstly, the longer users spend on the site the longer they are being exposed to your brand and subsequently, the propensity to click is that much greater.
Secondly, if you want your brand to be positioned at the heart of community, you should make efforts to actively engage with the audience directly. You could, for example, encourage your employees to spend a small amount of time each day visiting and commenting on relevant forum discussions.
Lastly, but by no means definitively, contextual behavioural marketing technology allows you to target your adverts to the personal 'browsing DNA' of a visitor, discussion or thread. If a topic relevant to your business is being discussed online, imagine the impact of being able to deliver your brand alongside the keywords (as determined by you) that are relevant to your marketing objectives.
Talk to your media owner about their audience and involve them in tangible objectives (they’ll know more than you think)
How often do you lean on the media owner to learn more about the audience you are looking to target? Maybe you think you know your market inside out because you have been doing the job for years? You might be surprised.
To build, host, manage and serve a successful online community, a media owner needs to understand its audience and to consume itself in the audience's world. A media owner's editorial function will strive daily to match its content to the practical business issues faced by its readers. And they will naturally have access to site metrics and understand how a visitor engages with the publication.
For example, the typical Financial Director in a £50m+ T/O organisation logs on around 8am, checks email, may click on news from email bulletins and land on your site. You probably will not see this individual again until – if you’re lucky – lunchtime, or the end of the day.
By sharing this information with you, a good media owner can add value to your campaigns. Also, it’s worth remembering that editors and marketers of online communities are constantly researching their audiences and your account manager has access to this specific information.
Ask your media partner the question; "Now you understand our product and service, how would you approach marketing to achieve X…?" It might just pay off. Finally, let them advise you on content, messaging and creativity on a tactical level.
You’re not asking them to write the white paper or create the brand, however having an appreciation of what makes their community tick enables them to offer valuable advice.
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