social--phone“We need to be on Twitter!” “We need to share playlists on Spotify!” “Someone teach me this ‘Snapchat’ thing!”

How many of you have heard this from an executive at your company, or, if you are an executive, have had these thoughts yourself? Many companies feel the need to jump on the social media bandwagon without fully understanding why they should or what they will be sharing once they get there. Social media isn’t a sales destination—it’s a relationship building tool. Companies who understand this and approach social media platforms with a well thought-out strategy can reap the benefits of the power of online communities.

First, it’s crucial to understand what type of community your business needs to be reaching. There are two distinct types of online communities: special interest and trigger.

Special interest communities can be either broad or very specialized. These groups form based on a shared interest that symbolizes a piece of the members’ identities, for example: antique car refinishers, sports journalists, Jane Austen readers, or German Shepard owners.

Members of special interest communities are looking for entertainment or information from their peers, as well as seeking opportunities to be experts themselves and show off their own knowledge of the subject. These people see value in content that can surprise and delight: something that is unexpected that captures their interest. They also seek indulgence: finding others who can share their affinity for the topic and talk for hours on end, discussing minute details and theories that can deepen each other’s knowledge.

In a special interest community, members self-identify, and join by choice. Anyone can be a member, as long as they share some level of interest in the topic. Some members may be very active in sharing content, while others may prefer to sit back and absorb the content.

Trigger communities are very different. These communities form around significant life events or phases when groups of people come together to seek support and important information. Trigger communities can form around both short-term and long-term triggers, meaning that individuals may only join for a limited time, or for life. Examples include: pregnant women, people who are gluten intolerant, those who have suffered the death of a twin, or young professionals new to a city.

Members of trigger communities are seeking two things: support/solidarity from others experiencing the same thing they are, and advice from trusted experts or advisors. Professional advice and experiential advice is sought out and highly regarded. Most people come to trigger communities with specific questions that they are looking to have answered.

Trigger communities are brought together by a shared experience, rather than an interest, and for this reason members share many traits, while having many other traits that vary widely. Only people who have a specific experience can be a member. Many trigger community members will leave once they have gathered the information they are looking for, or have passed through their current life phase to another. These types of communities have very fluid membership, so the content is often repetitive and standard. Those who are members of long-term trigger communities are looking for extended support, and therefore, the content must continually offer something new and useful to be engaging.

What type of community is your business trying to reach? Knowing this simple fact can greatly determine the type of content you want to create, as well as where you should be sharing that content. If your company sells Justin Bieber t-shirts, Snapchat and Spotify are great great places to reach your special interest audience of young girls who like a musical celebrity. LinkedIn, isn’t going to work for you. If you are a formula company, you’d want to look for trigger communities of expectant and new parents who have a lot of questions. On platforms such as blogs or Facebook groups you can share expert advice on infant nutrition (or you could even start a discussion forum on your own site and monitor the whole conversation!).

Overall, knowing exactly who is in your target audience and why they may be motivated to interact with your brand is the first step in developing meaningful relationships with customers.

If you have questions about where to begin in defining your audience, or determining the best way to interact with them, contact us at [email protected].