3 tips on community-building in digital marketing

Four years ago, when Andrew Gunadie first launched his “Canadian Please” video on YouTube, he hadn’t had any vision in mind for how he would make it spread.

But spread it did – as of this writing, the video garnered nearly 4 million views, and it’s one of many that helped him net the Digi Award for 2013’s “Online Personality of the Year” in December. Still, besides launching the “Canadian Please” video about a week before Canada Day, there was no real, formal strategy in place, he said.

“‘Canadian Please had all the ingredients for a viral video. It had a catchy song, it was viral, and it spread through websites and through the news,” he said. “But I had no idea at the time what kind of influence it would have on cultural studies, and what would come out of it.”

Gunadie was one of four media professionals invited to speak during a panel discussion held at the Digital Dialogues conference in Toronto on Thursday. Organized by the Ontario Media Development Corporation, the one-day conference explored emerging trends in media and technology.

For Gunadie, his experience seems to match up with what a lot of other digital marketers go through – the process of trial and error. Even if you plan ahead, it can be hard to predict what will work and what won’t, making today’s digital marketing a shaky bet at best.

Still, Gunadie and his fellow panelists were able to share at least a few thoughts on what’s worked for them. Here’s a quick roundup of what they had to say.

1. If you want to build a community, don’t focus on just one platform.

For Jeffrey Remedios, co-founder of Canadian independent record label Arts and Crafts Productions, building a community of fans centred around artists and their music is one of his top priorities. And while using social media platforms is a great way to connect with them, Arts and Crafts doesn’t necessarily live on them, he said.

“We’re tourists who are cheap. We’re not beholden to any one of the platforms. We’ll use them all,” he said. “So Facebook is important to us, but if we focused on Facebook, we’d be building our house on rented land. We’re focused on building our own community, and we’ll use Facebook where appropriate.”

The focus right now is on tapping into Arts and Crafts’ online community to connect with its fans offline, Remedios added. For example, the label is looking at organizing more festivals.

Then there’s Gunadie, who made a name for himself with his YouTube videos. But while YouTube was one of the platforms that made him popular, he said he hesitates to call himself a YouTuber.

While he regularly tracks the metrics of his videos, because they’re what gets him more money from advertising spots, he says a lot of the metrics can change depending on simple things beyond his control – say, a design change at YouTube. So in determining what he calls success, he looks at other factors.

“Am I happy? Am I paying my rent? Am I going somewhere?” he said, adding he hopes there’s a life past YouTube.

“There’s Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Vine – all these platforms kind of exist for me with the aim to draw people back to the YouTube space. But what’s going on in that space now, it’s clear to me that’s not where I want to be forever.”

He’s started hosting a show for the Toronto International Film Festival as well, and he’s also now making live appearances, he added.

2. Segment your audiences and serve them the content they want.

Kids Can Press Ltd., a Canadian publisher for children’s literature, tries to segment its audience and figure out who they’re targeting, says Naseem Hrab, the brand’s director of marketing.

She says they’ve figured out their primary audience – kids, as well as their parents – are coming to their website to interact with the characters they love, like Franklin the Turtle and Scaredy Squirrel. They’re not as interested in just reading their site content. Instead, this particular audience is very engaged, with many of the kids creating a lot of fan art.

And that level of engagement does translate to sales, Hrab noted. Librarians will stock more copies of particular books if kids and their parents keep requesting them.

3. While it’s great to get social media chatter going online, it’s even more important to be top of mind in the world of “dark social.”

It’s good to get a handle on whether people are talking about your content on social media, said Tessa Sproule, CBC’s director of digital content. But none of that really means that much if no one is talking about it in their homes and at their kitchen tables – the places known as “dark social,” which can’t be tracked by hashtags, trending topics, and other metrics.

“The real world is incredibly important. Social tools and social platforms are great indicators of what’s happening in the real world, but the real world kitchen table is driving awareness of the stories you’re trying to tell. I look at Facebook and Twitter like a thermometer. It’s not making it hot outside – it’s just telling you it’s hot outside … Ultimately, you want an emotional relationship with your audience,” she said.

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Candice So
Candice Sohttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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