Why Community Strategy Matters

Organic reach on social media is an incredibly competitive space, leading some marketers to pronounce it to be basically dead. Those who are more optimistic spend time talking about tactics that brands should be leveraging- from influencer marketing to employee advocacy.

But I’d like to suggest something a bit different. Organic reach in its original free-for all form is indeed mostly dead. Yet this does not necessitate the turn to a paid-centric approach. Rather, the introduction of the algorithm signaled a new era in Organic reach rewarding community-centered content and social strategies.

In this space, platforms filter posts according to a complex algorithm which takes into account the reception of a post by a user’s network to decide whether to serve it to the user. The 2016 US presidential election brought these filtered out “bubbles” into sharp relief. People went onto Facebook believing they were getting an accurate sample of their network’s views when, instead, they were receiving pre-filtered views through the algorithm. (This led KIND snacks to create a “Pop Your Bubble” App ¬†which connects you to 10 people on Facebook with different opinions than your own.) Regardless of the pushback, however, Facebook knows that it’s doing something right. It just hit the 2B user mark and Instagram which also debuted an algorithm last year, is now at 700M users. Most significantly, this past July Google entered the personalized algorithm fray with the introduction of personalized search results based on your interaction with various Alphabet properties.

Social Influencers represent another key group of actors in the organic Community-focused approach. Influencers derive their power from cultivating a strong follower-base and building a unique community. They are driven by the desire to set themselves apart for personal branding purposes and building power niche audiences- such as black vegan bloggers– that brands can appeal to. Influencers work to get their communities to engage with them, which in turn sends a powerful signal to the platform algorithm to continue to deliver the same type of content to those users. Influencers + Algorithm means that suddenly, there could be a whole dedicated group of social media users engaged with the #BlackVeganBlogger hashtags.

Brands embarking on an organic community strategy should assess¬†all of the niche communities that relate to their messaging/product. Every piece of content, and corresponding social posts, should be created with the goal of generating interaction with one of those communities. For example, a brand selling Kale Chips could market to: Black Vegan Bloggers, Mom Vegan Bloggers, Urban Vegan Bloggers, LGBT Vegan Bloggers, Parent Vegan Bloggers, College Student Vegan Bloggers, you get the point- right? Content highlighting these niche communities tends to get shared more simply because it’s less common. This tactic is first and foremost about making sure that your content is geared to speak to target communities with the aim of getting picked up and re-shared.

According to this model, tactics such as influencer marketing and employee advocacy are part of a larger overall community-strategy geared towards increasing social media organic reach. It follows therefore, that the smallest unit of social media marketing is not the influencer or the individual. Rather it’s the niche community through which social media marketing derives relevance.

 

 

 

Musings on Leadership & Influence

Many years ago I gave a talk on being a leader to a group of undergraduates who were in a leadership program a top 10 university. One of them asked me, in that adorably naive way of type A super honor students, how they could get people to follow them as leaders. It was one of those out of sync moments where I had to do a few mental steps to keep myself from laughing out loud at such a superiorly entitled question. When I finally responded I’m sure my answer was a bit of a disappointment- “You’re a leader when others call you that, not before. Leadership is earned.” I’m sure many were puzzled, if respect mattered so much then what in the end, was the use of the elite university program that they were enrolled in? Thankfully no one actually asked me that question- I was, after all, a guest speaker of said program!

Leadership, like influence, is a concept that cannot be defined in a vacuum. Simply listing “Leader” or, for that matter, “Influencer” on a resume without any context is a misnomer. Identifying leaders or influencers should begin with an assessment of community and/or organizational strength. In a democratic system people choose who they are led and influenced by. That’s why communities and healthy organizations are the bell-weathers of true leaders and influencers. Brute strength and force can accomplish only so much- as Travis Kalanick found out to his chagrin.

It’s for this reason that influencer marketing is such a fickle game. The big money is invested in the celebrity influencers but, with a few exceptions, their fleeting popularity is a numbers game with little community to support it.

Influencer marketing is appealing to brands because of its root in human psychology. We listen to certain key people in our lives and trust them when we make purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, the conflation of influencer with celebrity means that more often than not these are not the people being recruited by brands for influencer campaigns. People may be amused by Kim Kardashian and click “Like” but that must not be mistaken for an act of trust. And it’s trust that gets your community to take measurable actions such as supporting a cause, downloading an app (and using it), or making a purchase.

Until brands and agencies alter their approach to influencer marketing- trading in the “Insta-famous” to a verifiable multi-variate analysis- they will consistently fall short of their potential. Influencers can and should be held to a clearly defined return on investment. But it first starts with turning the process of identification upside down and starting with the community not the persona.