Annamarie Bermundo, a Senior Consultant in Capgemini UK’s Marketing, Sales and Service team shares insights into best practices brands can leverage in order to create and build an active community on Facebook.

Nowadays, the power of the consumer is at an all time high.  Given our ability to compare features and prices on virtually any product, brands are forced to differentiate themselves in other ways.  In a time where customer relationship and engagement are even more important, proximity is key…and not just in the physical sense.  Listening, learning and responding (yes, actually interacting with them beyond store level), is vital and social media plays a major role.  For companies such as Starbucks or Dell, social media has pushed them into the limelight in terms of customer engagement.

To reiterate a point from a colleague’s earlier blog post Social media focus: What are you doing to stop alienating your customers?, companies need to engage in an open two way conversation (consumer and brand).  For many, an obvious choice is Facebook as it is fast and easy to get started with minimal set-up required but success has not been forthcoming for everyone.

Within the marketing world, many have made attempts to start up brand fan pages.  It’s been the industry equivalent of the 1980s film Groundhog Day, with different brand managers reliving the same disappointing experience:

  1. Brand manager X would set up a facebook page and enthusiastically post for a few days (even answering some questions/posts from followers)
  2. X would then invite other brand people to join the page and hope collectively that they knew enough ‘cool’ people to help it go viral
  3. After a few days, posts dropped to one every other day (rationale:  I work enough as it is…I shouldn’t spend my precious free time posting for work!)
  4. Eventually the page would remain stagnant with a fanbase topping at no more than 50 people

I admit it.  I did it when I first started in a digital strategy role for a global beauty brand.  Despite this failed attempt, I knew there was something that could be done in order to start up and build an active Facebook community for a major mass beauty brand. Success for us meant breaking above the 1,000 fan mark and having constant engagement from real consumers on the page.

Funnily enough, the solution was simple – success would rely on strategy and planning, which included a level of advertising and forward thinking about engagement.  With this in mind, it wasn’t long until we became the number one brand page in Canada within the mass beauty category with an active community.

Here’s how it played out:

1.  Advertising: As much as we want to believe word of mouth will get us more than 100 or more than 1000 fans, unfortunately if you build it, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will come.  Advertising is a great way to push traffic to your page and build momentum within the community.  I know many are sceptical about advertising on Facebook…but really, it is relatively efficient at delivering maximised impressions and given the right creative strategy (polls vs. text ads; contest vs. no contest), even with a click through rate under 0.3% you will still get a significant number of consumers interacting with your ad and ultimately getting exposed to your community page.  Layer a contest giveaway linked to your brand DNA and you’ll get some good traction.

2. An engagement strategy which encompassed actual content and resource commitment helped the brand build traction with the community. One of the biggest pitfalls related to these Fan pages is lack of engagement. And I’m not just talking about posting comments or content but ensuring there is a resource that can do it on a regular basis and follow-up on any conversations or questions the content may spurn. If you want to keep consumers visiting your page and interacting, regular content and maintenance are key. Content can be anything from a question you post (and you’d be surprised how many people will respond) to exclusive content like a video.  But having someone responsible for ongoing maintenance and monitoring is fundamental to keep momentum behind your page.

As you can see, it’s not rocket science but it does take commitment.  The strategy put in the place for this particular beauty brand  yielded +30,000 ‘likes’ in under 2 months and today has grown to over 50,000 with strong interaction from the community.  As social media evolves, new ‘best practices’ and trends will come out of the woodwork but the beauty is with a platform like Facebook, marketers can easily adapt as well.  For companies such as Victoria SecretRed BullAdidas Originals, it’s become an important part of their multi-channel mix.

So my advice is don’t get trapped in the marketer’s Punxsutawney.  If you’re going to do it, it will take commitment, resources, strategy and planning. Ultimately if it inches your consumers closer to you versus the competition, it will be well worth the effort.

What do you think? What other examples of brands do you know that have successfully created an active community on Facebook or other social media websites?