Building Engaged Communities – Traackr Interview

Recently, I have enjoyed being interviewed by my fellow content marketers in the industry. Here’s my interview originally posted on Traackr.

Amy Higgins is the Content Marketing & Social Media Manager for Concur’s Small Business Division. She’s built all sorts of communities including uniting teenagers, Opera lovers, food photographers and most recently small business experts.

Amy, you’ve created communities of influencers and advocates for consumer- and business- facing organizations of all sizes. What types of business goals have these communities helped achieve?

That’s a tough question to answer since all of the communities I’ve developed have taken a life of their own, sometimes along the business goal path and other times creating new journeys.

Some of the communities are easily tied directly to the overall business goals — from general awareness to product adoption and retention. Yet, other communities seem to naturally develop on their own with unseen end goals, which later can tie directly to the business.

For example, one community was developed to help customer adoption and retention and ended up also helping with product development and customer service. I learned that you have to let the community tell you what to do and not the other way around.

You have an interesting position that combines content marketing & social media. Tell us how you leverage content as a way to engage your potential customers.

The saying goes that content is king; however, I say that context is king, content is queen and social is your knight. You can produce content and promote it through social media until you turn blue in the face, but your content will never have any engagement if it doesn’t resonate with your audience.

As the knight, social can help amplify any content. Through social, your content can reach not only current customers but prospects as well. But remember, only after you fully understand your audience’s pain points, both known and unknown, can you first create content that your audience will want to engage with, either by sharing it with their networks or reaching out to you.

In online engagement, there’s a lot of crossover between marketing and public relations. You firmly sit on the marketing side but you take a very relationship-focused approach. Do you think marketing and PR need to work together? Are the lines becoming totally blurred?

Yes! Totally. A brand can hurt itself more than help itself by having marketing and PR work independently of one another. On the marketing side, I can find customer stories that are not only great for blogs, but they can also be used for PR stories.

For example, say we have a new study out about the usage of our product, how it’s changing the way people do business. That story will not only help potential customers along the decision making process, but it might interest a reporter writing about new technologies. If marketing and PR don’t work together, the traction and reach of that story might be lost.

When you’re new to a space and you don’t know the influencers personally, what does your game plan look like? In other words, how do you go from stranger to engaged?

I would turn this question around and ask you, “How do you go from stranger to ‘engaged’ with anyone?” Influencers are people too. I reach out to them the same way I would reach out to anyone.

Learn what they do, their interests and their hobbies by reading their blogs, following them on Twitter and other social networks. Yes, in some circles, you might call this “stalking”, I call it education.

Next, I just start engaging with them on social — retweet them, comment on their blogs, join their Twitter chats, etc… Eventually, like with most online engagements, a relationship develops.

Then, you have a foot to stand on when you reach out to them for help with your marketing campaigns. If at all possible, try to meet them in person. Just remember not to pitch them, become their friend first. You’ll end up getting more out of it for yourself and your business. Relationships matter.

I imagine you can’t always succeed on your first try. Tell us about a time you tried to outreach to a new group, but it didn’t quite work out. How did you course correct?

When I worked at Google as their Bay Area Community Manager for Google Local, I had a difficult time at first creating a user group of the product. I was concentrating on people who used the product already and not new users.

I ended up looking outside the product for people who were avid Google+ users and engagers — ones who shared their personal lives, not just articles on the platform. I ended up finding a great community of photographers, many of whom were also foodies. With their love of photography and food, they made the perfect community group to help grow Google Local.

You recently served as the Director of Marketing for the San Francisco Opera’s BRAVO! CLUB. When I think of the opera, I don’t think social media savvy people. How on Earth did you manage to engage young people and get them interested?

Most of BRAVO’s members are in fact avid social media users. The trick was finding them and talking to them on their terms, not on yours. BRAVO! Club is a young professional group, ages 21 – 40, dedicated to developing a younger generation of opera lovers.

People join the group for a variety of reasons, either to use the Club’s great opera discounts or meet other opera lovers in their age range. But most importantly, it’s all about the community for them.

So, preaching to them about opera or cramming opera facts down their throat will never work. BRAVO! takes a community approach — build on that community to get others interested, the word of mouth.

We shared photos of members and their friends on Facebook. That way members can tag themselves and share the fashion and excitement of others in their social network. We also created programs that help engagement, such as quizzes and contests. That way members engage not only with the Club but with their friends, thus helping spread the community.

Actually, I met you, Evy, through that approach. A common friend introduced us because she knew we both loved opera. And then, I introduced you to other opera lovers, alas the cycle continues…

If there really was a team of superheroes named the Engagers and you were on it, what name would you give yourself?

Betty Blaster Bomber (aka Ms. 3B) – Just like a great photobomb, you never know how great it is until it’s fully developed.

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.

Han Solo