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In Social Media, Come Bearing Gifts

Li Evans
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In many cultures, it's customary to bring a gift for the host or hostess when you've been invited to a party or an event. If you show up empty-handed, the other party guests who watched you arrive with nothing might look down upon you. You might even get a cold shoulder from a few of the attendees because they perceive your actions as rude.

Now stop for a moment and think about your marketing actions in social media. When you come storming into a community with only your marketing message, people won't just jump up, hoot and holler, and willingly embrace you into the community.

Basically, you're no better than a party crasher. You know those annoying people who just show up uninvited and expect to get free beer, free food, and hook up with friends?

Just like the party crashers, you'll be the pariah of the community and most likely won't be invited back to any party the host or the attendees you meet will have in the future.

It's imperative that you understand the community you're dealing with so that when you come uninvited into the community, you come well prepared to add value to it.

Understand What the Community Finds Valuable

Research the communities you want to deal with by watching and listening. This will help you begin to understand what the people within the community find valuable.

No community is the same -- no one-size-fits-all sample pack of your product or service will serve as a gift that the community will accept.

Think about this concept for a moment. If communities hate to be marketed to by marketers, why would you think that coming into a forum and offering up free sample sizes of your latest product go over well with them?

Just because your offline marketing team says that the free samples went like gangbusters at the events they planned doesn't mean it will do the same online.

Communities, whether it's a group of bloggers or a forum of moms discussing how to deal with their child's temper tantrums, all find different things valuable. It may not be just one thing.

It could be a number of combined things, like the opportunity to voice "their own story" on a major platform, the opportunity to show off their latest pictures in a new fangled online gadget, or a list of what not to combine their medications with.

The point is, you don't know what the community find valuable unless you listen to their conversations.

Content is a Gift

The gift you give to the community and its members doesn't have to be a physical "thing" when you're dealing with members of a very passionate community. These members can find content even more valuable than the product or the service you sell. Studying a community can help you understand what type of content they find most valuable.

Content can become a valuable commodity in these online communities, because the members are passionate about your industry, brand, product, or service. They've already experienced it and are sharing those experiences with other community members.

They've bought the new version of your software, or have already gone to Best Buy and gotten that new Bluetooth-compatible car radio installed. Now they want more. They want to connect and feel special about that connection.

Content doesn't have to be text on a Web page, either. Videos, photos, and podcasts all serve as great forms of content.

Putting up your latest presentation on a slide-sharing site about how someone can "trick out" your product and have even more fun with it can be a very powerful piece of content that get shared around a community. It's all about understanding what community members deem of value, not what you think is valuable.

50-Cent Coupons Mean Nothing

Almost any company can give a coupon. I can buy the Philadelphia Inquirer any Sunday to get a ton of coupons.

Coupons aren't special or unique, and rarely sway me to change from a product I'm loyal to try another brand. Just like with press releases, marketers need to realize that social communities aren't another coupon distribution channel.

For a coupon program to work with social media communities, there must be something unique. In essence, you need to make the community you're engaged with feel special.

Making the community members feel appreciated for their involvement or engagement is crucial; if they can find the coupon anywhere on the Web, there's nothing special there for them to hang on to or identify with.

Here are some ways to make coupon programs work in social media communities:

  • Offer community-specific promotions: For example, reward people who engage with you on Twitter or MySpace with a special promotional code that's very specifically tied back to that community. Tie it down to what the code is named. This will go further to remind the community member you were engaging with them on that particular platform.
  • Offer limited-time promotions: Don't have a coupon promotion for an unlimited or undetermined amount of time. The value of that coupon to the community members goes down because eventually the coupon is no longer special. Community members know the longer a coupon is out in circulation the less likely it stays "special" to them. Coupons and coupon codes get passed around the Internet -- some social media communities are dedicated to finding and promoting the latest active coupon codes. Once your "special" promotion hits one of these forums, it's no longer unique or special.
  • Limit the coupon distribution method: How the community members get the coupon or promotional code is another way to make sure the specialness of the coupon stays intact. If you limit the way the coupon is distributed to either snail mail or e-mail, the coupon tends to retain its specialness as to having the code published on a Web page that anyone can have access to.
  • Don't tell them the coupon is coming: If you're rewarding the community members with a special coupon or promotional, surprise them with the "thank you" coupon. E-mail or send it through snail mail to the community member. It shows you're going the extra mile and taking the time to give them to directly, that they're really special to you and your company.
  • Jazz it up: Don't just have the coupon look like every other coupon you've delivered. Make it look unique and stand out as special. Include specific wording that thanks them for their participation in your project or engagement in the community. The community members will notice and talk about it as well.


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