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The marketing pendulum swings back towards building communities. The most effective way to build a real, lasting relationship with your customers is to be a useful member of the community they are a part of. By providing value, the community will be more open and receptive to your input.
Naturally, I am a part of many social media communities, but I've also found that the more general entrepreneurship communities are amazing as well for building a voice and relationships with thought leaders, influencers, your potential customers and clients. They have been an essential part of my learning, market research, product validation, and promotion strategies. If you're in any way into social media or consider yourself an entrepreneur, I warmly recommend contributing to as many of these communities as your schedule allows.
This should go without saying, but just in case - don't spam! It's probably useless and will get you banned anyway. Think long term, and think how to offer value first, make real connections second, and promote third.
If you know of a great community I have missed, or think that some community is not described fairly, let me know. I'll look into the matter and probably correct the issue if it makes sense.
Ok, let's go!
I like old school forums because they're usually full of experienced veterans and there's low tolerance for nonsence. People who are on forums have either been doing the activity for a long time or are so passionate that they even go to old school forums :). You could promote in some of them, but you should be careful and offer a lot of value. Often the profile you create will have the option for you to place your link. Some of the forums only allow paid promotion, which is something I haven't done and cannot speak about the effectiveness of it. But being valuable and friendly goes a long way, I've had users contact me about my product just by opening my profile, so the golden mindset applies: offer value first.
You could technically call these forums with a more modern twist. That may be the reason for their larger audience than their predecessors. They are the modern equivalent of the old town hall, where people gather to hear the story of the travelling wanderers and bards. Proper behaviour etiquette applies - contribute, bring value, and promote if the rules allow it. These are some of the greatest, most engaged, most active and useful communities on the face of the planet, with their participants being some of the most talented and successful you could come into contact with online.
User-generated content is a very good thing to have for many reasons, and the smartest bloggers know this. Since some of them have huge traffic and commenting on their posts is as easy as using Disqus, a few small or medium communities of loyal devotees have formed around certain authority blogs. Some of the members are only yes-men just hoping to collect some points from the blogger by constantly commenting things like 'wow such an amazing post you are an immortal omnipotent influence god i love you marry me', but the rest are genuine members contributing to the discussion. Blogs that have their own communities are not that common actually, I only know of a few blogs on social media that have people commenting on their posts often.
Participating on Reddit is a long-term game. Most users choose to use Reddit in an anonymous way, and little of them know or bother to personalize their profile, upload a picture etc. Upvotes to your posts and comments translate into karma points, and no matter how hard people chase those, they are still worthless in the end (unless virtual points mean a weirdly lot to you). Building a reputation is tough, users often don't look at the person posting the post as much as the post itself. Still, Reddit is vital and I can't imagine a digital marketing strategy without it. You need to be patient, post high quality content, participate in the discussions, and take advantage of the times when a promotion opportunity presents itself. Some of the subreddits have dedicated threads or days for self-promotion, and you'll want to learn what works best there, play around with timing etc. Lots of the content you see go viral online is first posted on Reddit. It is one of the oldest online communities, or an ever-growing set of communities to be precise, and I believe it is the first one that introduced its unique format of dialog. Reddit is a must with at least a few of the key subreddits for your niche or industry.
Some subreddits are perfectly named, and I'm sure people have had great plans for them when creating them. For some reason, they have never really taken off. I consider participation in these optional or less frequent. Many of them have little to no activity, so maybe even your blog or product link could be welcome if relevant.
Quora is a goldmine. Marketers are slowly realizing this fact, so expect Quora to be ruined soon :), but until then it will be an amazing place of civil discussion. One of the last bastions of intelligent debate remaining online, the questions asked there feel like pointing you in the direction for your next blog post. The topics work kinda like tags, which means that a question for say social media might fit into several topics related to social media. Monitor them all just in case.
The good thing about Facebook groups is that they're pretty trendy right now so there are a lot of people in them. The bad thing about Facebook groups is that many of them are created to serve a purpose for the admin. While there is tons of useful info shared, promotion is tougher, but engagement is pretty good and spam is less of an issue. The moderated groups, which is most of them, require you to answer a few general questions before they let you become a member. Go ahead and answer them. Some of them optionally ask for your email, I would advise postponing giving your email after you're sure you like the group. They won't say no later. It is a very good idea to talk to the admins of the groups first before posting anything that might be deemed promotional.
Honestly, I expect more out of LinkedIn groups. Given how the network has this aura of seriousness and professionality about it, it seems unfitting that some of its biggest communities are not really engaged, or the engagement numbers are ridiculously small compared to the number of members. It's probably an indicator that people who are on LinkedIn just join these things and don't do much else. Still, there are tons of valuable discussions going on, value is being added and shared, and tasteful promotion can be successfully pulled off.
Twitter chats usually happen on a determined day of the week, usually every week. They are hosted by a moderator, and all of the tweets under the hashtag being posted at the determined time are considered to participate in the chat, but they stay on Twitter forever as part of an archived discussion. There are some awesome things happening occasionally. You could technically spam under that exact hashtag during the hours while the chat goes on, but most of the participants are marketers such as yourself so they recognize spam easily and only get annoyed. Building relationships and learning is much more valuable. The glory days of this type of channel might be gone, but it's still a useful channel to keep an eye on.
For some reason I have a feeling that Facebook have been hitting Google hard, and the push that Facebook makes for video fits into this paradigm. The battle for video is just beginning, and even though Facebook have withstood Google's attempt to destroy them with Google+, and are actually stepping into Google's territory by becoming a sort of search engine by themselves, YouTube is still the undisputed heavyweight when it comes to video. Since video production is hard, building your community there is supplemented by bringing value with comments. Of course, you comment on videos from channels relevant to your product, sometimes even the ones from companies that could be considered your competitors too. For social media marketers and entrepreneurs, these are the essential channels to keep an eye on.
Medium is a perfect tool for people that just want to get to blogging and writing and not really worry about the other headaches that come with it. So much value is created every day that it's impossible to even consume it. I've found that building a following and an audience on Medium is not really easy, but not really hard neither. Power and influence tends to centralize a little, which is not in favour of an upstart, but offering value still goes a long way. Contribute with your thoughts and comments, people will appreciate it, but please, please, read the entire article first! Even if it's a slightly faster read, make sure you know what you're talking about. The patience and focus will pay off. Content is organized by both tags, which are hashtags assigned by the authors, and topics, which are determined by Medium. An author can write independently or under a publication. The most important tags and topics will just be listed, and the authors and publications with big followings that generated debates and have communities naturally form around them will be described in a little more details.
Out of all the different types of communities, slack channels are the most cutting edge. The free plan of slack only allows for 10.000 messages so you might miss out on a few things if you're not a paying user. Still, a lot of these communities are worth participating into. I'm sure there are many more that I have never noticed, these are some of the ones I'm into.
Wheeeew! That's a lot of communities! Have I forgotten your community? Don't be mad, instead contact me and I'll make sure I add it, as long as a) it's a community and b) it's about either social media or entrepreneurs. In the words of one of my childhood heroes - all righty then. Hope you'll participate and be useful in these amazing communities.
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