In the online environment many businesses put their community (made up of customers, partners and prospects) to work as unpaid sales advisors or customer support agents. It’s hard to believe but sometimes these virtual teams of volunteers can be more effective than your own salaried people. Online communities or forums allow users to post and answer a wide range of topics as well as debate the most pressing industry-related issues of the day.
Huge online brands such as eBay and Amazon operate highly effective online communities. Regular users of these communities (a mixture of employees and customers) often become so knowledgeable about a product or service they can identify a problem and advise a solution before you even know there is an issue. Some companies actually endorse community members as official moderators. The motivation for these moderators is perhaps the desire to build their own reputation as Thought Leaders.
Indeed, I know several people who have gone on to form reasonably successful careers as consultants built on their reputation gained from participation within communities. Allowing your community to help each other with simple problems will free up your resources to deal with larger issues. With this in mind, you should constantly monitor your online communities and be ready to jump on anything that needs your input.
Ten tips to help you build a community around your thought leadership
1. Always strive to produce great content: Great Thought Leaders are never complacent when it comes to producing great content. Shoddy, ill-thought out content will not win any ringing endorsements and your community will vote with their feet.
2. Make your ambassadors feel part of something special: Try to involve people in your content creation. They could act as case studies, provide quotes for white papers or you might just ask their opinion prior to the release of an item of Thought Leadership to help them feel part of the process. You could also give your ambassadors first glimpse of any new material, giving them the perception of a competitive advantage by being among the first group of people to benefit from your Thought Leadership.
3. Engage socially: Take the time to single out followers and friends on the various social media networks, thank them for their help, re-post their content and make them feel like a valued member of the team. The Follow Friday hashtag (#ff) on Twitter is a great way to show you value your followers.
4. Learn to listen: You cannot possibly pretend to know it all. Take the time to listen to your followers. Give them the opportunity to add value to your Thought Leadership programme by adding their comments to your blogged articles or the opportunity to speak at your events. Be prepared to take notes and try not to be offended by any criticism. This might give the opportunity for the occasional off-piste comment to infiltrate your Thought Leadership but it may also give you your next great idea.
5. Reward people for sharing: For many people the mere fact they are associated with a great Thought Leader in their particular field of interest will be enough reward. However a small cash reward for referring new clients can act as a powerful incentive to be more community spirited. This could be in the form of an affiliate or referral programme where you pay a percentage or flat fee for a sale or a valid introduction. Or it could be something far simpler, like sending a Christmas card, birthday greeting or even just a random gift (all part of making people feel special) to your most active or helpful community members.
6. Networking is not just about business: Try and find time to meet with your clients, prospects and followers at industry events or organise purely social meetings with them outside of the work environment. Have a round of golf, take them to the theatre, buy them tickets to a sport event or just have a drink with them and get to know them. Have they got kids? Where did they last go on holiday? When business and friendship collide great communities are formed.
7. Be a matchmaker: If you have two clients or prospects that could benefit from working together go out of your way to make the introduction. Be careful here and don’t recommend anyone who you wouldn’t want to work with yourself.
8. Collect new friends: Always be on the lookout for new community members. Make it as easy as possible to keep track of them once they have discovered your Thought Leadership by giving them every opportunity to either follow you via the main social networks or through an email subscription.
9. Be likable: Remember people like to do business with people they like. Speak in plain English and try not to talk down to people. We all have to start somewhere and even the most inexperienced and naïve follower can develop into a valuable community member. If nothing else their enthusiasm will be infectious.
10. Dedicate significant time and resources to building your community: If you cannot be bothered to commit to building community around your Thought Leadership, then why should anyone else?
The above abridged text was taken from the eBook: Becoming THE Expert: Enhancing Your Business Reputation through Thought Leadership Marketing.
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