Sometimes an online community can get overly focused on internal processes such as moderation, content development, member acquisition and engagement, and lose sight of the vast virtual world outside their domain name boundaries. Looking outward and sharing small samples of activities and content via social channels can give a wider audience a taste of the community's thought leadership and tone, fueling additional chatter, traffic and audience awareness for direct and indirect business benefit.
"Serious" community builders may dismiss the social snack as so much "junk content" -- too lightweight to have any value. After all, how could a mere 140 characters represent the mission or the wealth of information riches contained in a true, in-depth online community? Well, just like an appetizer before a meal, the social snack stimulates hunger for more. These bite-size info-bits whet the appetite and raise anticipation of a more substantive meal to come on your community site.
Consider an online community dedicated to serving a cause. This kind of community provides content, resources and connections to an audience which supports the mission. The core membership may be very engaged and passionate, participating in the community with verve and energy. Each time that community publishes a new piece of content or launches an especially vibrant and engaging discussion topic, it is an opportunity to share tidbits of that content or interaction across popular social media applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and many more. A well-phrased tweet about a hot forum topic with a link back to the discussion will go a long way towards driving new visitors, raising overall awareness of the community and showcasing the unique personalities of the membership.
Cause marketers have been perfecting the practice of social snacking for some time. These organizations -- and their supporters -- have a passion-driven perspective. Many in their audience are highly engaged and driven to spread the word, so social amplification occurs naturally. Charity Water is a prime example of how social snacking works. This not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing access to clean water to communities in the developing world has done the majority of its fundraising via social media. Using some traditional marketing efforts in combination with social media, they have created an online community where members who support the mission create their own sub-communities of supporters, building an every-growing cadre of people who connect with each other and contribute to the cause.
Another example of effective social snacking practices can be seen in this simple twitter search.
This good stuff doesn't happen through magic, however. The key to using social snacks effectively is getting them in front of the snack-ees. For example, if your Twitter account only follows friends of the firm or a limited number of people, the chances that someone seeing your tweets will be new to your community is low. Instead, put in the time to find and follow people who might be interested in the topics and issues your community serves. When they follow you back, they will be much more likely to see your tweets, and even re-tweet to other people they know who share similar interests.
In the same way, some percentage of your current community members have social media accounts. Help them support your community by adding them to your circle of "friends" -- make it easy for them to help share the information you are sending out. Encourage and invite them to support the community by sharing these social snacks with others. After all, your members should be involved in the subject matter at hand, and if they are, they will tell two friends, and those friends will tell two friends ... and scale happens.
Two things to remember when evaluating this strategy: your community's objectives and reach.
- If your community's mission or objectives includes private or secure communications, carefully consider what kind of snacks can be shared, and what kind of experience a non-member will have when they visit your site. Creating a public "annex" might be a necessary step for your community so member privacy is not compromised.
- While your community can be everywhere on the 'net, you may still need to go where the people are and let them know what you have to offer. For niche communities, using digital chatter and social leverage greatly increases your visibility as compared to the "build it and they will find it" approach. Use your community's depth of knowledge and active membership to attract and retain those interested parties who are likely to visit, join and remain members.