Engage the community! This phrase has almost become a rote and tiresome construct in social and content marketing. The concept is simple for anyone even outside of the business to understand: to truly energize the community, you must become one with the community.

In addition to having a zen logic to it, the message is very clear. If your KPI goals are to drive traffic to a particular blog, infographic or digital content, you need to understand first-hand both the audience and the platform you’re marketing to. It seems like common sense right? However this can often be easier said than done, especially for start-ups that don’t already have a decent social presence.

For those who lack an internal community, the next option is to penetrate an already established community. Again the logic is clear – your content is so fresh/awesome/cool/rad that once you get a few eyeballs on it, you’ll be on your way to viral heaven. The problem, is that you’re not alone. Many other marketers and content creators are just as eager as you to get their product through the same means and platforms. Only those who truly understand their niche and penetrate a community will be able to successfully break through the social noise. Here are some things to keep in mind when reaching out to established online networks.

Pick a Strategy, Not a Platform

One of the most common mistakes marketers make is getting themselves worked up on certain social platforms before mapping a sound strategy. Instead of forming a strategy around Reddit or Facebook, decide first whether those channels are appropriate for people you want to reach and the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Ask yourself a few outlining questions: What type of audience do I truly want to engage with my content? Is my endgame simply page views and social shares? How does my content benefit and grow my own organic community?

Knowing what types of people you’d like to reach and then choosing the social community that best suits that niche is ultimately the best way to go about finding your audience. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper within certain platforms to find your niche. For example, a certain subreddit might be more inclined to serve Critics and Conversationalists on the Social Technographics Ladder, but may have smaller overall audience.

shutterstock_125574977Absorb the Culture

Once you’ve mapped out your strategy and picked your channels of communication, the next step is to begin curating relationships. However, before you type up that first post, take some time to lurk the forums and get a feel for how the community operates. Just as it would be awkward for a marketer to immediately approach a group at a café or restaurant, the same social rules of etiquette apply to online conversations.

Every community has its own quirks. For instance, some forums may require users to join in on threads for a bit before creating their own topics. They might also be prone to turn their noses up at certain types of content. Be sure to get a feel for how a niche collectively feels about certain topics before you try to engage them. You wouldn’t want to make waves by making a bad first impression. Absorb the culture and be respectful of the community’s space.

Continue the Relationship

Now that you’ve infiltrated the community and become accepted among your peers, it’s time to implement your content strategy. Be honest. Let members know that you’re involved in some cool content creation and get them excited about it.

By sharing cool content with your community first, you make them feel like they’re tangentially involved with the project, growing passion organically from within. For instance, let’s say your goal is to promote a podcast you’re working on. Maybe in one of the episodes you give a shout out to a popular member or reference a community inside joke. If you’ve played your cards right, the audience should be more susceptible to share among their own social networks and fight for your product. Successfully energizing a fan-base is the sweet spot in content marketing.

Organically getting involved with a community isn’t rocket science. However, it does take some patience, people skills and a little finesse to successfully energize your niche. By forming a strategy, studying the community and keeping up with your relationships, you should have everything you need to build up a social presence from the ground up. Content is king, but community relationships are the kingdom.