The future of public relations lies in community building. Consider Americans’ plummeting trust in mass media, plus the skyrocketing popularity of social media as a news source. Add to it that 63 percent of Americans say family and friends are an important way they get their news. We like to depend on our relationships with people for the news and information we want and need to know. News companies are increasingly strapped for cash and manpower, but we no longer need to depend on traditional media to act as our bridge to the public.
The new media landscape provides grand opportunities for us to tell our own compelling stories using social media. But just like the media is struggling to keep the public’s eyes and ears, we have to work to retain attention, too. And the most effective form of audience retention lies in community building.
Community building is relationship building taken one step further. You’re establishing two-way communication and mutually beneficial relationships while also connecting people and opening lines of communication so the members of your community can build relationships with one another and provide value to one another. In a strong community, people know, like and trust you as the leader and they know, like and trust one another as fellow community members. They support you individually and as a group, and they support one another at the same time. Members learn from you, you learn from them and they learn from one another.
PEOPLE > PLATFORMS
Whether it’s Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook or any other social media, the platforms on which all of this happens are tools to aid communication. In an ever-changing social media landscape, those tools are volatile; they’ll come and go. But the people on them don’t have to. Cross-platform community building – or connecting with people across multiple social networks – allows for relationships to outlive the platforms on which they’re built. If you build relationships with people, you can carry them from platform to platform and maintain those relationships as the networks change.
Not only do cross-platform connections ensure that our relationships carry on beyond any single platform; they also help us forge deeper connections. Humans and brands are multi-faceted, and different social networks tend to highlight different sides of our personalities. By connecting and having conversations on multiple platforms, we collect more pieces of the whole personality puzzle.
IMPERFECT IS THE NEW PERFECT
Successful community building depends on successful relationships, and relationships – on and offline – depend on communication.
To build a successful brand community, brands must:
Identify and share their stories (i.e., why their employees get up every morning to do what they do, what impact they’re making, how they fit into current events, etc.)
Substantively know their existing and target audiences (i.e., their day-to-day routines, life demands, values, etc.)
Strategically and creatively use social media to dive in (as in any relationship) – engage and make a genuine effort to get to know both better
In doing this, you can – and should – make mistakes. Imperfect is the new perfect! Trust tends to grow as a result of imperfection and vulnerability.
When a community exists, it’s your safe space – your place to disseminate news and information and know that it’s relevant to the people there. It’s the place where your community members can come and trust the information they receive because it’s coming from a source with which they have a relationship.
Communities allow us to target communications like never before, and they take time, work and patience, as any relationship worth having does.
Kristy Gillentine is the Vice President of Public Engagement for Drive West Communications.