Brands need to participate in a community, either one that they have created or a preexisting one that they have joined. Online communities can contribute to the brand’s influence and growth big time.

It is not necessary for a brand to create its own community from scratch, but rather it should build on the already existing community of people who care about the brand. Cultivate it and let it grow. With the help of the people in it and the brand itself.

Engaging in an online community means always contributing, not taking. Always contribute to the welfare of the community not always directly to the welfare of the brand. In the end, whatever good you do for the community, reflects on the brand, and thus stregnthens it.

Rich Millington lists some key rules for engaging in an online community in his “How Brands Should Engage With Online Communities“:

  • Respond to discussions about the brand. Most communities have a search feature. Use this to figure out what people are saying about the brand and respond appropriately. If you can’t respond to a complaint directly, ask the member how they would like it to be resolved.
    Participate in debates not connected to your products/services. This is easy, safe, territory and establishes your credibility as a serious participant in the community.
  • Make friends. Be genuine members of the community. Make friends with others. Engage in the off-topic areas of the community. Congratulate people on their achievements. Suggest things in the community. Be a person first, a company representative second.
  • Ask for opinions on products/services. Be careful with this. But, occasionally, ask people for their opinions on a specific aspect of a product or a service. Giving members options or choices works better than generic What do you think of our new {widget}.
  • Ask for help. If you need people to help your company with something, ask for help.
  • Offer something exclusive to the community. If your company has the means to offer some exclusive products or run a competition, contact the community admin and see if they are ok with you doing it.
  • Give exclusive information. Give members of a community some exclusive information about your brand or product. This doesn’t have to be big, but just things that will solicit interest and start some rumours about your work.
  • Contact the community owner/admin. When possible, contact the owner/admin of the community. Ask if you can do anything to help or if there are any special brand guidelines to be aware of.
  • Disclosure. Use the signature to reveal that you are an employee of the company you work for. Where relevant, include it in the text of your messages e.g. “I agree, at Widgetco we tried both of these options….”
    What Not To Do
  • Have a company account. Accounts should always be registered under individual names, not company names. If you must, mix the two. EA_Phil being an example, but never use a WidgetCo as the name of your account.
  • Promote. Any direct promotion is likely to have an adverse effect on your efforts.
  • Subtly promote. An entire category of pretending to participate but doing so in such a way as to promote your brand.
  • Criticize. The rules are stricter for company representatives here than they are for the average member. I’d say never criticize anyone, for anything, at anytime. Especially don’t attack a competitor.
    Engage in religious/political debate. It’s just not worth it no matter how right you are.