The Best Way To Plug Your Product Into Online Communities

If you’re an early-stage startup founder, chances are you’ll need to reach your first customers without a real marketing budget. This makes online communities related to your offering an obvious choice for your marketing efforts.

Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be the only startup in the world trying to grow to success through growth hacks by embedding their offer and content in relevant Facebook groups or subreddits. This has caused online communities to develop a very strong immune response to self-promotion.

In most groups, explicit self-promotion is forbidden, and the moderators would be happy to remove or even ban your posts to protect the community from a flood of promotional content and outright spam.

Even if you get past the first line of defense, explicit promotional content is likely to be crowded out by community members – people will not interact, or they will use negative interaction mechanisms (report, reject, etc.) whenever possible, which would result in less people would see your offer.

The inconvenient truth is that there is no easy solution to this problem. Regardless of your approach, you need to provide real value to the community in order to achieve the desired effect – interested eyes on your offering.

In general, there are two approaches to the problem.

1. Become a valuable member of the community

The simple approach is to become a member of the community and provide non-commercial value on a regular basis. If you get involved, provide information and opinions, reach out to people, and try to be useful, there’s a good chance you’ll be remembered by the more active people in the community.

Once they do, they’re much more likely to respond positively to your efforts to share your offer – you’d be seen as an insider, which makes a big difference.

Of course, this is a very expensive approach and you need to consider carefully whether it makes sense. Wasting your time dealing with a community for months just so you can post about your project once is a waste.

This approach only makes sense if the community is very close to your target market. If that’s the case, the engagement would bring other benefits – you would be closer to your customers, which would help you understand them better. Additionally, you would be up to date with the latest trends, which would help you refine not only your offering but also your marketing strategy.

2. Make self-promotion a second-order effect

If joining the community isn’t a good idea based on a cost-benefit analysis, that means you need to be creative with the way you promote yourself.

Since blatant self-promotion triggers all the defenses, your general strategy, regardless of your creative approach, would be to create publications where people’s interest in your project is the secondary effect of your message rather than the primary reason for your post.

A typical example is sharing informational content from your blog. The topic of the content should add value to your audience (and the communities you plan to post it to). You can include references to your own projects and professional experience in the content, but they should not be the focus of your contribution. Even if the community doesn’t allow you to post a link to your blog, but instead has to paste the text, that way, readers would become aware of you and what you have to offer.

Finally, if you want to use online communities to boost your startup product, don’t spam. Instead, get involved in ways that add value to the community and consider your self-promotion as a side benefit.

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