Marketers need to move beyond the 'like'

How many "likes" does it take to sell (insert product name here)?

How many "likes" does it take to sell (insert product name here)?

Too often companies try to assign a dollar amount to each Facebook "like" or Twitter follower, and they miss the larger point: engagement, not audience size, is the most important factor. It leads to trust and, ultimately, sales.

That is where the real value of online communities lie.

Its encouraging that corporate America has moved beyond the first phase of online adoption, where static websites and banner ads were the accepted norm. But while many marketing and brand managers have begun building online communities, one question needs to be answered: how do you get beyond the "like?"

Community-building starts with an invitation – join us and learn more about what we do – but depends on engagement and listening.

The most common struggle marketers must overcome to fully optimize social, multi-way platforms is letting go of the desire to control the message.

As the popularity of networks like Facebook and Twitter grows, so does the importance of fostering open communication. The people joining communities have an expectation of meaningful participation. Anything short of that violates their trust.

Before someone will invest in a product, he or she needs to trust the brand. Building online communities where communication is encouraged, with and among community members, creates brand equity and loyalty while also organically spreading awareness. Not coincidentally, this type of meaningful engagement also is the most effective way to grow the overall size of an online community.

If you think of your communities as more like showroom floors than online billboards, you can better understand the needs of your fans and followers. Online communities are meeting places for your audiences, and in that environment every "like" is a potential sale.

David All is president of the David All Group.

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