Definition: Communities are networks of social media users which connect like-minded individuals around common interests. These communities are formed by users' interaction histories, whom they follow, what they like and other online behavior.

Social media communities are effectively a new form of word-of-mouth marketing. Communities bring people together around interests, providing businesses with a promotional opportunity to find relevant groups and get their brand or products talked about.

How communities help grow online businesses

Successfully communicating your brand message to a community is one of the fastest ways to generate new customers and broaden engagement.

For example, imagine that a video game retailer has a new title its customers are able to pre-order earlier than other stores. While such an announcement might not make waves if it's spread to all social media users, it can have a big impact among specific communities of video game enthusiasts or fans of that particular game series. Members of these communities will want to let their fellow members know that it's making this title available for pre-order, and by simply notifying the right group, their members will effectively market your products and generate pre-release buzz.

Capitalizing on communities

Before you ever create a strategy for marketing to communities, you need to set some goals. What are you hoping to get out of your social media usage? Do you want to build engagement with existing customers or create new ones? Alternatively, are you looking to kickstart a new marketing campaign or brand? This will help determine your strategy going forward.

Find the right communities. Ideally, they will be ones that are interested in your particular industry. If you're a book retailer, for instance, you might want to target communities that are talking about a particular book or fans of a particular author. Twitter can be particularly useful for this because you can look up hashtags and quickly identify these communities.

Identify which type of community suits your marketing efforts. The Pew Research Center identified six different kinds, such as tight crowds, which are comprised of interconnected people with few outsiders, or community clusters, or many smaller groups that have their own conversations, audience and information sources. There is a variety of freesoftware available that you can use to map out these networks and identify key users.

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