This guest blog is written by Charles Thiede, CEO & Co-Founder of Zapnito, a partner in the Silverchair Universe program.

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For all knowledge industries, social media has become unfeasible as a means to engage audiences and cultivate loyalty. Social channels have reached saturation point, and quality expertise is being lost in an ocean of content. Even reaching one’s own followers has become a paid privilege. Publishers need a more sustainable means of engaging their audiences. How can organizations in 2021 cut through the noise and create a destination for trusted expertise?

Niche networks

The aforementioned saturation of social media is driving users away in search of more specialized online spaces. Niche communities such as Letterboxd have exploded in popularity, with their focus on a specific field of interest making it easier to find relevant discussions as opposed to broader platforms. These types of communities might not pull as many members as sites like Twitter and Facebook, but the more specific function they provide means there is already an audience out there looking for them.

Information providers can learn from this shift in our online behavior. As social media begins to decline as a major marketing channel, it is becoming increasingly clear that niche online communities lead the way in terms of trust and engagement with audiences. Trust in traditional news and information sources has decreased in recent years, with Gen Z now trusting online communities almost as much as mainstream media.

Increasingly we want to spend our time online well, as people feel they are wasting around 2 hours and 45 minutes per week viewing low-quality content. 34% would be willing to pay for exclusive content or services on a niche community platform - a considerable proportion when you take into account the fact that social media is entirely free to use.

Channel consolidation

With so many different marketing channels to navigate, consolidating brand presence into one knowledge hub strengthens a publisher as a destination for expertise. While some organizations have hundreds or even thousands of online points of presence, the inconsistency in messaging across various platforms can cause these messages to become diluted. Channel consolidation makes it easy to strike a consistent tone and eliminate confusion.

This approach also provides a more direct user  journey, who no longer need to traverse multiple websites in order to access the information they are interested in. Audiences have one place to access and interact with content, as well as engage with like-minded peers. For knowledge industries, the benefits are even greater: an entire library of content can be stored in one location, making the decision to join the community a no-brainer for audiences.

Building a knowledge hub like this draws in other experts and enthusiasts in similar fields, which over time allows for the development of a specialized community. This proximity to industry experts provides legitimacy which will in turn attract members in greater numbers.

It’s all about networked knowledge

Creating noise around a brand or product is effective for raising awareness. But when the hype dies down, those that continue to thrive provide knowledge and insight to their audiences. The community marketing approach can take a while to yield significant results, but being prepared to build a reputation over time by establishing expertise is always better than wasting money on multiple marketing channels which dilute a brand’s message.

Knowledge providers thrive when their focus is retaining existing customers, as opposed to acquiring new ones. If there is already an audience in place who enjoy the content produced by a certain publisher, it makes far more sense to continue cultivating relationships with these people rather than neglecting them in pursuit of new business. The aim of an online community should not be to provide something to everybody; rather, it should look to provide everything to somebody. In practice, what this means is identifying the core audience and doing everything possible to win their approval.

With customers demanding so much more from brands and trust waning in social media platforms for a multitude of reasons, it is the ideal time for publishers to take control of their content and messaging by creating a centralized destination for their brand. Personalized experiences and easy access are the way forward for marketers, and online communities are the best way to achieve both.

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