5 Tips For Engaging Gen Y In Interest-Based Social Communities

Are any of your girlfriends planning a destination wedding? If so, chances are they’re connecting with other brides-to-be on BestDestinationWedding. How about that 18-year-old collegiate who is obsessed with the latest nail polish color? She’s probably on MakeUpTalk most days. Or a 22-year-old DJ who’s debating the merits of the latest headphones to get that perfect balance of sound quality and style? He’s definitely on Head-Fi.

We all know that almost everyone is on Facebook, but when it comes time to really dig into one of your passions, you want to connect with other people who are as into it as you are - and that’s where interest-based social communities come in. People use social networks to catch up with friends and people they know, whereas interest communities are where people geek out about what they love. These enthusiasts gather to discuss the latest and greatest trends, ask and answer questions, share their thoughts via product reviews and articles, and generally share their expertise with one another as well as with the social web at-large.

What’s exciting about these communities for marketers is that they represent a much more contextually relevant opportunity for brand interaction - you can’t talk about golfing without talking about golf clubs, cooking without referring to ingredients, or parenting without discussing foods and other products.

As a result, people often arrive on interest communities when they are actively researching products, so there is a high correlation between site visits and eventual purchase choices.  For this reason, there’s an enormous opportunity for brand advertisers to capture the attention of Gen Y enthusiasts on interest-based social communities – when they are farther down the marketing funnel – and to help influence their buying behaviors.

Brands have tried to participate in online social communities for a long time, but have run into two major stumbling blocks:

1. Impatience can lead to inauthenticity - brands rush to offer their pitch. You wouldn’t go to a dinner party where you know no one and start talking just about yourself, would you?

2. In many cases, brands have tried to participate in online social communities in a clandestine way. When they get sniffed out (which they often do), it really undermines trust and can harm the brand’s reputation.
On the other hand, when participation is authentic and valuable, brands can build relationships with influential experts, increase awareness among a highly targeted audience and help shape the perception of their brand in the market. In addition, many one-on-one conversations quickly become one-to-many conversations since other members of the community read the conversations, and casual Internet browsers find them via search engines for years to come.

With that in mind, here are five strategies for brands to successfully engage Gen Y enthusiasts in interest-based social communities:

1. Watch for relevant conversations.
Subscribe to forums, brands and products relevant to your brand or product line. This will help you to sort through the endless amount of forum activity and quickly view the topics that you desire.

2. Be real.
Introduce yourself. Say hello. Be human. You are there to participate in the community and hopefully influence potential customers. This is particularly important for the Gen Y community – they’ll smell a fake in a heartbeat. Joining in is like jumping rope: watch the rhythm of the conversation before you jump in.

3. Act as a resource
Reply directly to questions within threads relating to your product or similar products. Aim to educate by posting links that others will find interesting and informative, like an exclusive report or interview. Send private messages to members looking for feedback and recommend products based on actual experience.

4. Don’t be overbearing.
The fastest way to have a community revolt against your presence is to spam it. Move away from the mindset that you need to hit people over the head multiple times in order for them to “get it”, and don’t excessively post the same information across multiple forums. Save promotions for any ‘Sponsor Forums’ in the community, and make sure the promotions are beneficial in nature, such as discounts, conventions, reviews, and giveaways.

5. Stay positive and honest.
Finally, be a mensch.  Don’t reply to threads that are unrelated to your products announcing sales or promotions. Stay away from negative comments about your competitors. Stick to the facts. And whatever you do, don’t create alternate usernames and pretend to be satisfied customers of your brand. The Gen Y audience and the broader community will see right through it.

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