Social media remains a smart and cost effective way for many businesses to reach out to customers. They’re a great source for open customer communication and marketing. But how can you effectively build trust among customers and at the same time speak to their interest? Good question. Allow me to use my social media site, reddit (a user-generated social news website) as an example of how to build a business and allow customers (redditors, in my case) to grow it organically. In the process, you’ll learn a few valuable (I hope) lessons on business strategies, which ironically enough could help your business on the reddit front page.
So what’s the secret to getting on our front page (and the deluge of traffic that comes with it)? Be a good community member who submits good content.
Thanks for stopping by.
Well, I guess I can be more thorough than that...
Lesson One: Trust and Use Your Voice
Stop paying for a consultant to get you exposure on any social media site including on the front page of reddit. Remember what your parents said about being mindful of whom you associate with? Reputations matter online just like they do in real life. If you ask/pay/beg your social media guru to submit your site's content for example to reddit, it's associating your work (presumably a nascent brand) with someone who likely has a dubious reputation in the community.
Furthermore, humans do a very good job sniffing out real redditors from those with ulterior motives. So remember, you know your customers best, respect their intelligence and they’ll respond to your genuine message.
Lesson Two: Trust Your Customers, Let Them Help You Build Your Business
When we started reddit, we deliberately had no categories. It was all one big pot of Internet goodness, where the best links would bubble up over the course of a day. That was part of the allure -- being constantly surprised with the random content that appeared on the front page. As the site grew, certain communities started feeling alienated because, say, programming links weren't doing as well (a symptom of becoming more mainstream) -- so we created http://programming.reddit.com. This pattern continued with other communities like http://science.reddit.com and http://politics.reddit.com until we decided to let users do the job for us.
We unveiled user-created reddits with the hope that these communities would create themselves and create things we'd never have been able to dream up. A year later, this turned out to be a great success. Not only do we have vibrant reddits among a variety of communities, our users have innovated entirely new uses for user-created reddits themselves. Take IAmA.reddit.com (read it as "I Am A...") for instance, here, redditors don't submit links, they submit discussion starters like “I am the former-geek CEO of a surviving 5-year-old angel-funded startup. AMA” (AMA = Ask me anything). People vote on the discussions and the community runs its own crowdsourced interview.
An important lesson we learned in the process was that our redditors will find new and interesting ways to use the tools we developed for their own purposes. IAmA.reddit.com was nothing we could have dreamed up. It happened totally organically. And now it's one of the most popular reddits on the site and created completely by the community. In the end, your best customers want you to succeed and can help by not just buying your products or services but help improve them and even (as in the case with reddit) develop new, successful ones for you.
Lesson Three: Provide Something Interesting
As in business, what you sell matters, and in the online social media world the same rules apply but with a slight variation – the product you’re selling isn’t just your services but your content and reputation. Case in point: if you've been trying to submit every entry of your blog to reddit, waiting for the right one to catch on -- stop. A little self-promotion is tolerated, but being a good participant on reddit means sharing the best content from all over the web. Surely it's not all on your own website. And when you occasionally do submit some of your own work, remember to write for the audience you're trying to impress. Some communities prefer thoughtful essays, others would rather read top 10 lists and laugh at pictures of cats.
Building a genuinely good reputation with good content on a site like reddit will do much more good than your deluge of self-promotion. And if you don't like the way moderators are running a reddit, create a new one to compete with it (it's free!).
And once you've found the right community for you - taps into what they’re interested in and passionate about. If you ask, they'll tell you.
There, I just saved you the consulting fees of a social media guru. Good luck and happy redditing.