In previous weeks we’ve looked at traffic sources and worked through different methods to optimise for them, but what do we do if there isn’t any? Driving community growth and member acquisition is essentially online marketing. Think of your community as a brand. Below are a few different approaches for stimulating traffic. Try them out and see what works best for your community.
Guest blogging provides you with the opportunity to leverage somebody else’s audience and is one of the best ways to get exposure (and relevant traffic). If you build a reputation as someone that is helpful and adds value, you’ll build relationships that will transfer over to your own site.
Make sure you target reputable sites where your posts will make sense – there needs to be some overlap in audience (i.e. your target audience needs to be visiting that site).
Tools like Moz’s Followerwonk scan Twitter profiles and can help you to target appropriate people to approach. Once you have a shortlist, research carefully to make sure that their content is in line with your beliefs and that their audience will be a good fit for your community. Read the blog comments to make sure they are modelling the kind of behaviour that you are looking for.
If possible, investigate opportunities to become a regular contributor or pitch a series of content, rather than a one off post.
Building personal influence
Guest blogging will set you on the right path to building your personal influence. Other ways include doing guest interviews, being interviewed for podcasts, and taking part in hangouts or webinars. The aim is to get in front of other people’s audiences as much as possible.
You will need to show that you have a deep understanding of your business (ideally a really defined niche area), but don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know something. Having integrity and honesty is as important as knowing what you are talking about, if you want to gain respect.
Your ultimate goal is to build a reputation as a thought leader in your niche. If you’re a networker, connect with as many influential people as you can. As your reputation builds, you’ll likely get opportunities to speak at events, extending your reach further.
For more information on building a personal brand, read this definitive guide from Quicksprout (warning: pop-up overkill).
Here’s a bonus activity for over-achievers. Build your own personal brand site.
Redirecting existing web traffic
If you have a steady traffic stream to your main site but it isn’t funnelling over into your community, there are changes you can make to take advantage of that.
- Examine your existing traffic flows and determine which ones might be leveraged for the benefit of your community. One example that we’ve already discussed (in Week 3) is placing banners with community CTAs (calls to action) on high traffic yielding pages.
- In a similar vein to banners, side bar widgets can be an effective way of redirecting traffic. Consider using a heat-mapping tool like eyesdecide to establish the most efficient areas to place your CTA.
- If you have an ecommerce site, consider post purchase redirects – you’ve already earned trust so you can capitalise on that. Make the redirect as contextual as possible (e.g. a discussion thread about the product they bought).
Post purchase (confirmation) pop-ups are another option. The example below could contain a CTA directing someone to a follow-up discussion thread for the (Un)webinar.
- Exit popups afford you the opportunity to have one last shot before someone leaves your site. They appear on the screen just before a bounce.
Tip: Just use ONE popup or Hellobar at a time. Nothing is more frustrating (or less professional) than a site with pop-ups around every corner.
Optimising your navigation
Again, a tool like eyesdecide can provide data that can help you decide whether your main navigation bar is being well utilised. Do people actually know about your community, or is it buried somewhere in your site without a clear navigation path?
Converting from mailing lists
There are a number of ways to take advantage of your existing mailing lists to redirect traffic to your community, but be careful that you don’t spam people with unwanted messages.
- Order confirmation emails have very high open rates, so it makes sense to take advantage of that. A good example of this (that actually adds value) would be to place a CTA to a part of the community that supports the product that someone just bought.
- Try adding a ‘Did you know we have a community?’ section at the end of your emails (like @richard_millington has been doing for Sprint recently).
- When someone signs up to your newsletter (or any other mailing list) you can retarget them in the confirmation email with an additional message about the community.
Using social media
There are a number of ways of utilising social media to drive traffic to your community, but be mindful of how much time you spend and what return you get. It doesn’t make sense to split your energy across all social media channels. Choose the ones that are most relevant to your audience and do those well.
- Use social media listening tools (Hootsuite works – but there are hundreds on the market) to find out who is asking questions about your niche/subject so that you can reply with links to relevant discussions.
- Try Facebook ads, Twitter cards or promoted tweets
- Advertise your community to relevant LinkedIn groups
- Run Twitter RT competitions to increase your following, and then push your community discussions out via your RSS feed
- Send each post out two or three times per day if necessary, to hit your main audience timezones, but be wary of over-sharing to the point of spamming.
- Offer followers extra benefits for sharing your posts/tweets/URL
Building new lists from LinkedIn
The traffic that you get to your LinkedIn profile is usually highly relevant – people are viewing it because you do something that is of interest to them, or know someone that they are connected with. Send a personal message to anyone that asks to connect with you, telling them about your community (highlighting its value proposition).
If you want to target contacts that haven’t tried to connect with you, be careful how you go about it. Personalise your contact, and don’t add people to mailing lists without their permission. The most effective way of utilising LinkedIn contacts is by forming a group. LinkedIn allows you to search for people by industry (and keywords).
Look for people that work in sectors that are relevant to your community, and give them a reason to want to join your group. Offer them relevant free content, or the chance to network with peers. Because they are already on the platform, the barrier to entry is lower than joining your community on a separate site.
Once you have a group established, you can message people with links to relevant discussions on your own site. Add clear CTAs at the end of any content that you publish.
Hosting shared events/webinars
In the same way that guest blogging extends your network and influence, so do shared events and webinars. The key here is awareness. Shared webinars and events offer the opportunity to get in front of someone else’s audience (and them yours), while sharing the running costs. People won’t join your community if they don’t know it exists. The more people you can get in front of, the more likely they are to hear about your community, and if they hear about it in connection with someone they already trust, they are more likely to convert.
Make sure that their audience is a good fit for your community, and start small (be wary of spending lots of money until you know that you’ll get a return).
Partnerships with existing organisations
Partnering with another organization in your sector opens up your community to a broader reach, doubles your resources, and removes a competitor for your audience’s attention. There are lots of ways to structure a partnership (it might be 50/50, or perhaps one business has a sub-forum within the wider community), but make sure that you document things carefully and have a clear exit strategy should you need it (including details of content ownership etc).
This is a fairly low quality option, but in some cases it may be beneficial. In the same way that affiliate links work, you can incentivise people share your site or refer users. Some platforms have affiliate referral management built in (or as a plugin). Here is vBulletin’s version. Be careful to only offer the opportunity to already trusted and engaged community members – you don’t want to pay people to bring spammers or fluff posters on board.