By Neicole Crepeau, Contributing {grow} Columnist
When marketers think about social media, they tend to focus on Facebook and Twitter. But new research — and common sense — suggests there may be better places to engage your social audience.

Like most good social media consultants, I evaluate each client’s needs to determine where they should engage their audience. In most cases, even if I recommend a Facebook page, Twitter account, or creating a LinkedIn group, I recommend engaging in other communities, as well. That’s because the goal is to find your social audience, learn where they live online, understand THEIR goals in those locations, and develop enticing social offers. Based on your business goals and your audience’s goals in different online locations, you can pick the best places to engage them.

Research is suggesting that Facebook and Twitter are often NOT the best places to do that. In Razorfish’s recent Liminal study, consumers rated the popular social networks near the bottom as places to engage with brands — especially if they’re over 45.

Likewise, a study of UK eCommerce retailers showed only 3% of website traffic came from social networks, with search and promotional emails driving greater traffic. This is on top of study after study showing that people “Like” brand and corporate pages mainly to find out about specials, get discounts, updates, and so on. For the most part, consumers aren’t looking to chat with you. They want coupons.

When you create a Facebook page or a Twitter account, you’re asking people to come to you. You’re building a community. That’s a lot of work, and the evidence is showing that in many cases, it’s not worth it. LinkedIn Groups seem to fare a little better. That’s probably because they are (have been, anyway) a little less public and open. Moreover, LinkedIn Groups tend to be created around a topic, not a company or a person. People congregate in them because they are interested in sharing news, information, and participating in discussions about the topic. (Whether LinkedIn’s Groups are really effective for this purpose is a matter of debate.)

This is precisely why, in many cases, it makes more sense to go TO your customers, instead of asking them to come to you. How many existing Facebook pages and LinkedIn Groups are full of your customers? How many of your customers are thriving in existing hashtag communities? 93% of the Inc. 500 companies surveyed reported that bulletin and message boards were the most successful locations for engaging customers. Rather than trying to entice customers to come to you, why not go to them? It’s time for a little old-school marketing. Find out what they like about the communities they are participating in, what they want from being in that community, and then find a way to satisfy your customers there.

There are probably hundreds message boards, forums, chats, blogs, and other communities where your customers can be found. The task is to identify where your customers are in the largest quantities, understand their goals in those communities and the kinds of social offers you can effectively construct in them, and then pick the most beneficial ones for your purpose. If that sounds like a lot of work, it’s likely a lot less work than building a thriving community from scratch. So, forget that Facebook page and building a large Twitter following. Focus on the communities someone else has done the hard work to build!

Neicole Crepeau is a partner in Coherent Interactive, which specializes in web, mobile, and social media design and implementation for small and mid-size businesses.  You can read more of her original material at her blog, Coherent Social Media or on Twitter where she is @neicolec.

Illustration: Disassociated Press

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