Comms pros must connect clients with communities

Communities deliver value on three fronts and can be as impactful as earned media, says Scott Gerber, CEO of The Community Company.

Comms pros are under constant pressure to deliver ROI, but many are missing out on a strategy that delivers measurable value: introducing, integrating, and immersing their executives and clients into communities via blogs, newsletters, media columns, membership publications, and other contributor formats.

Communities deliver value on three fronts: visibility, targeted connections, and business growth. They can be as important and impactful as earned media, and should be added to every agency’s or internal comms team’s strategic plans.

This isn’t about promoting executives or clients for likes and shares. It’s about doing the legwork required to identify the people and organizations for whom personal engagement with the executive or client will be meaningful and of mutual benefit.

With thoughtful and strategic community engagement, comms pros can help clients do three things:

One, build visibility. Whatever the industry, know that consumers, clients, partners, and industry peers want to hear from the individual leader and not the marketing team, the social media staff, or the comms department.

They want to connect with the person who leads the company, to hear what they have to say and where they stand. Communities offer the opportunity to stand out not only to its members, but also to people who follow the community.

At my business, The Community Company, we see this happen almost every day. In the targeted, vertical communities we build for media companies, we see members gain accreditation and exposure as they share opinions and insights.

They get credibility internally with community members who come to know who the experts are. They also gain credibility externally with the media company’s broader readership who may be looking for executives with whom to connect or do business.

In fact, we have community members who build entire campaigns around their thought leadership, deploying those assets in social media, newsletters, and their corporate blogs.

It pays off. A recent survey conducted by Edelman and LinkedIn revealed that consumption of thought leadership is on the rise and that 47% of C-suite execs shared their contact information after reading thought leadership.

Two, communities open doors to connections. Building relationships in vetted and trusted environments leads to knowledge sharing with a very targeted community of leaders. It can result in connections that may otherwise have been difficult or impossible to access, and to opportunities that may not be discussed publicly.

The goal shouldn’t be introducing a client to every seemingly relevant community. It should be building strategic relationships with a select number of organizations whose members are highly vetted and curated and where the client can flourish.

Look, for instance at Summit, the invitation-only organization started by and for young entrepreneurs. Since its inception in 2008, it has grown into a prestigious series of events where a global community of leaders gather in intimate settings to learn, do business, and form lifelong connections that lead to collaborations and business relationships.

Just as in similarly vetted online communities, when executives are committed to sharing their point of view and expertise in an environment that’s not sales-oriented, they build trust, loyalty, and valuable connections.

Three, communities create opportunities for growth. Increased visibility and new connections give business leaders the ability to grow their own communities around themselves, based upon the relationships they deem most valuable.

This leads to further business development, potential speaking opportunities, private gatherings for knowledge sharing, etc. Access begets access as the network effect takes hold.

Consider, for example, Peter Shankman, who leveraged his PR connections to build a private Facebook community connecting journalists with sources. He then used those trusted connections to launch a wildly successful company, HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, formalizing the relationships and transforming them into a business. HARO now connects of 55,000-plus journalists with more than 800,000 sources.

As the world becomes more focused on the people who run companies, and less interested in faceless brands, it’s more important than ever for comms pros to embrace communities. Beyond mere storytelling, communities offer business leaders measurable value through personal branding, exposure, and business connections.

And when communications professionals focus on the individual rather than brand, they create more personal and lasting relationships with the executives they serve.

Scott Gerber is the CEO of The Community Company and coauthor of the book Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Business Relationships That Matter.

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