Companies seeking to build a community around their brand would do well to master the use of social media, according to Lin Humphrey, assistant professor of marketing and law in the Ithaca College School of Business.
Humphrey, who has worked as a digital marketing professional for American Express and Carnival Cruise Lines as well as at a top marketing agency, is the co-author of “Fostering Brand Community Through Social Media.” Published by Business Express Press, the book serves as a guide for brand and social media managers to build and maintain brand communities in the emerging, dynamic space of social media.
Humphrey says that having a community of loyal customers who feel strongly about your brand has long been the “holy grail” of marketers. In the past, such communities often formed organically, such as the large community of dedicated Jeep drivers. But in an increasingly online world, many of those communities have moved – or been born – online.
“Now we have social media pages like Facebook where you can become a fan of something,” said Humphrey.
Social media gives marketers more tools to build and sustain brand communities, such as access to real-time information and feedback from consumers about their products. Savvy, competent brands can use that feedback to draw customers back and build a community.
However, simply being active online is not enough. Using social media as an “echo chamber” by sending only promotional messages and failing to respond to consumers is a losing strategy, according to Humphrey. Meaningful interaction between the brand and consumers is key.
“Just putting out a post isn’t community,” said Humphrey. “It’s building a loyal and passionate fan base where the relevance of the message is there.”
While Facebook is the largest online venue available to brands in terms of its sheer number of users, Humphrey cautions that brand marketers should value interaction and engagement over size. For example, the recipe delivery service Blue Apron has a vibrant community on Instagram, where consumers regularly post photos of the meals they have prepared. To nurture this community, Blue Apron made an app that allows customers to superimpose the name of their meal onto their photo using the company’s preferred typeface and branding.
“They realized that food is a communal experience and that with photography on our phones it’s something we can share with a much larger audience,” said Humphrey.
With the nature of social media ever-changing, Humphrey says that while the broad principles laid out in his book can be applied across platforms, future updates will be needed as new platforms, such as Snapchat, continue to emerge.
“Fostering Brand Community Through Social Media” is available in print and as an e-book.