Mari Smith is a social media thought leader and Facebook marketing expert. Mari supports businesses and brands looking for innovative ways to improve their online presence with a three-part strategy: content, community, and conversion.
According to Mari, “Content is king… but community is queen, and she rules the house.” We sat down with Mari to talk about the ways brands can authentically incorporate community-driven marketing into their online strategies, and the potential benefits of this approach in 2023.
Most brands today are looking for new ways to embrace and engage their fans online. Why do you think community has become such an important element of direct-to-consumer marketing in recent years?
Especially since ChatGPT blossomed onto the scene in November last year, technology has been moving at warp speed. Yet human beings haven’t fundamentally changed all that much, and as humans we want to belong. When it comes to relationships between brands and customers, we as consumers want to know that we matter, we’re seen as important to the company, and the brands we like care about us. Brands should be able to humanize, personalize, and customize the interactions with their customers, whether that happens in a private or public community.
A phrase that came to my attention recently is social media saturation. The typical consumer has an account on almost 10 social media channels, and it’s hard to connect with brands on a deeper level. When your brand owns and controls its community, whether that’s on one specific platform or a Facebook group, it’s much easier to reach those individuals on a deeper level than trying to establish relationships spanning half a dozen channels.
I think of communities as two categories. There are public communities, like the people we engage with on Twitter or on a public Facebook page, and then there are private communities like Facebook or LinkedIn groups. Over the last year or so, there's also been a big uptick in group chats; Facebook has community chats that are an aspect of groups, and also other private platforms like Discord or WhatsApp.
Organic social engagement can be elusive for brands without the right approach. What are some of the ways brands can focus on building community through social media and beyond?
First and foremost, the most important thing is having real people represent your brand. If it’s a major brand, there might be a few individual spokespersons. It’s critical to use first names when interacting with your online community; a person’s first name is the sweetest-sounding word in their entire vocabulary. It's just much more informal and even intimate, in a way, to just call someone by their first name.
This goes for community members, but also for moderators and group managers: if you’re speaking on behalf of a brand on social media, try signing off with your first name. Social Media Examiner does that really well — you always know who's posting and who's commenting from their team. Another great example is Canva. The Canva Design Community on Facebook has 300,000 members, but the moderators also have their own pages. It's just so much more personalized and human when you get to know the people behind the brand.
Social media content is a wonderful way to share your company’s story and help your community connect with the real people behind your brand. It’s also valuable to have a call-to-action within your social content that can drive people to your community. From Facebook groups to peer-to-peer support or access to community managers, don’t be afraid to say “Hey, come join our community. We’ve got thousands of happy customers over here and we’d love to connect with you.”
What types of marketing content and strategies do you think are most powerful when it comes to community engagement?
Video is the top of the list, there’s no question about it. With platforms like YouTube shorts, Instagram live, and Reels, it’s a very prevalent format right now and will continue to be for years, no doubt. After in-person interactions, video (especially live video) is the next best way to connect on a human level. All video formats — landscape, long-form, short-form, live — have the potential to bring stories to life, especially when they feature real people.
From a brand standpoint, I would also encourage community members to share their experiences, even if it’s something simple. Try just asking people to share a picture of their pet, their biggest challenges at work right now, their first job, and other content relevant to the organization running that community. Create opportunities through your content for your community members to engage with you.
Make sure that community moderators and managers are fully trained on all the offers that the company has, so they can actually spot buying opportunities. If somebody's asking a question in a group, the community leaders should be able to point them in the right direction, whether that’s a link or a way to get in touch with your sales team. In a community context, that kind of selling can be really effective.
What are some of the long-term benefits for brands embracing community-driven marketing — beyond just increasing engagement?
Community-driven marketing can help deepen brand loyalty and trust, which then increases customer retention and customer lifetime value. It can also build word of mouth; the happier people are with you and your product, the more likely they are to share their experience with others. Even if a customer is having trouble or something goes wrong, they’ll remember the support they receive from your company as a valued community member.
Many brands also have the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with customers when they share values, like a sustainable mission, that people feel magnetized to join. A brilliant example of this is Daybreaker, an organization founded by Radha Agrawal that brings people together for morning dance parties across different cities, without alcohol involved. Radha is now teaching a course on community-building, and wrote a book about finding your community and connecting with others. That’s the kind of movement people want to join, and brands could benefit from adopting a similar concept.
What’s your best piece of advice for social media and community managers?
I would say to absolutely go above and beyond to make people's day. Technology is moving like crazy, but people still want to have those real connections. Social media managers and community managers are often the very first point of contact for public-facing communications. Any time you’re engaging with someone online, you’re the voice, the face, and the name of your brand, even if there are dozens of people on your team. That’s where the soft skills of deep listening, compassion, empathy, and understanding come in — people will remember your brand when you use those skills to shape the way you interact with them online.
Bio: Mari Smith is recognized globally as a leader in Facebook marketing, with a special emphasis on SMBs, brands, and direct sales organizations. She offers consulting and training on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger marketing best practices.