The Australian Federal Government is giving small business millions to spend on social media advertising as part of the upcoming Budget. What would happen if they spent that on building their online community instead?
The Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) scheme helps cover expenses for export promotional activities for Australian businesses. The 2019 Federal Budget is boosting the program with a further $60 million, encouraging businesses to advertise on platforms with global reach, like Facebook and Google.
Online advertising is important, even essential, for most businesses to stay competitive. But small business is missing a trick by not considering online community as a lever for growth and impact.
Online communities, which can be built on social media platforms or on dedicated digital forums that give businesses more control, are among the most valuable investments a business can make. Though they take a little longer to set-up and grow, they’re the gift that keeps on giving over time, delivering richer and more impactful returns than digital advertising devoid of relationship building.
Here are just a few of the reasons they’re a smart choice:
Advocacy and loyalty
Recommendations from peers comfortably trump a digital ad in a sea of content marketing and fake news. Online communities are the perfect way to nurture and empower brand advocates and ambassadors, who carry your message across their personal social networks – on and offline. Community members also buy more over time, increasing their lifetime customer value.
Ideation and innovation
Looking to iterate your products or innovate your services? An online community will help you generate and prioritise ideas. Co-create with existing fans of your product, and attract new contributors whose contributions will highlight how to win new business. Let members vote on which product or enhancement to make next, and they’re already invested in its success. There are numerous ideal communities, but Lego has one of the best.
To grow your business you need your finger on the pulse of the market, and a direct line to current and prospective consumers of your products. An online community offers qualitative and quantitative market insights on tap. Community members are quick to respond and intrinsically motivated to help. US power tool company DEWALT saved $6 million USD in research costs leveraging their online community.
Hosting conversations, content and interactions in an online community can dramatically improve your SEO and discoverability. As your community members champion your brand on the wider web, you benefit from their reach and influence in a more affordable and more credible manner than traditional digital advertising. This in turn drives awareness, lead generation and sales.
Safety and wellbeing
It’s become impossible to avoid the toxic behaviour that permeates many social media platforms. Anytime you post content or engage on a site like Facebook you’re stepping into a minefield. How often do you moderate the comment streams under your ads? Building your own community lets you create a healthy, safe culture and tone from the start. Dodge the trash-fire and create something befitting your business.
Focus and scale
You don’t need to be a multi-national to be a successful online community. Some of the best are run by small or niche businesses whose communities afford them a global presence. Affinity and belonging can be a more reliable qualifier than historical behaviour on social media. Don’t jockey for eyeballs the old fashioned way. Create an indispensable brand community that will pull people to you.
Instead of making tech giants richer buying short-term attention, why not spend that money building an owned digital asset that appreciates in value? It can cost you less upfront, while creating innumerable returns for the future.