How to Build Your Online Community

Oct 08, 2009 8:20 PM  By

Greenwich, CT – A Facebook presence is just that. So is a presence on Twitter.

If you have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page, it doesn’t mean you’ve built an online community, said the social media experts who spoke Oct. 7 at a Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association luncheon at Fairview Country Club.

Once you get your Twitter followers and Facebook fans to interact you and each other, you’re on your way to forming that online community.

It’s not just Twitter and Facebook: Your online community can include a presence on your own domain. And you also need a way to drive your community members to each touch point, making each social media presence a link within the chain.

Ken Crites, director of consumer direct for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, said one of his company’s biggest communities is its coffee club, and that it’s the hub of its online community.

The goal of the coffee club is to get its members to buy K-cups for its Keurig single-cup brewers from Green Mountain rather than from other online and offline merchants. Green Mountains offer those members coupon codes throughout the year to keep them active, engaged, and shopping, Crites said.

“There’s a New York-based coffee club with a big upfront offer, but they lose half their members by their fourth quarter [as members],” Crites said. “We can’t afford to do that, so we offer gifts throughout their memberships, and these are the folks that give us the most feedback.”

Another thing Green Mountain does to engage its community: It asks relevant questions on its board. And those can come from poor product reviews, Crites said.

For example, Crites said he can post a corporate press release on its blog about the CEO winning an award, and get no feedback. But a post about something touchy to the community – such as the fact its K-cups are not recyclable – can create a lot of feedback.

Indeed, you should “be a part of the conversation, and make interesting conversation,” said Darryl Ohrt, founder of creative marketing agency Plaid. “Listen to what people are saying good and bad.”

Listening to the community will pay off, said Valorie Luther, founder/CEO of public relations firm Creative Concepts Consultants, who built a social community for Bigelow Tea.

Luther said the primary focus of Bigelow Tea’s Twitter channel is to listen. The teas merchant uses Twitter as a search engine to find out who is talking about the brand for good and bad reasons.

“Maybe we’ll talk back and maybe we won’t, but we just keep listening because it’s appreciated,” Luther said. “It’s amazing when we do listen as a brand or as an individual.”

Ohrt said listening to Twitter helped Plaid on its Plaid Nation social media tour last year. In this case, though, Plaid was the talker.

Plaid was upset that it was socked with a $1,000 a day charge for wireless Internet because it’s Plaid Nation tour roamed outside the U.S., and blasted Sprint, its provider, on Twitter.

Not only did a Sprint representative tweet back, Sprint also negotiated the price down, and became a sponsor of Plaid Nation.