Mark Zuckerberg, books and the club everyone wants to join

2015 has been declared the “Year of Books” by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has set up a book club with a quarter of a million likes and counting. Amy Wilson asks how content marketing can help your business create a club everyone wants to join.

Books are hot – Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has set himself the challenge of reading at least one mind-expanding tome a fortnight this year, and participating in discussions about them with followers of the corresponding Facebook page called A Year of Books.

(Surprisingly, paper books may be hottest of all, with Waterstones reporting that sales of Kindle e-readers “disappeared to all intents and purposes” this Christmas, while sales of traditional paper books rose 5pc.)

What else is hot? Belonging to an exclusive club, or at least feeling like you’re part of one, as Zuckerberg’s book club shows. Perhaps the greatest appeal of social media is its ability to make the 50 million people who follow the singer Taylor Swift feel like they know her because she shares details about her life with them “directly”. Sites such as Facebook and Instagram are now as much a mass-market medium as television but they don’t feel that way because timelines and newsfeeds are curated according to an individual’s friends, contacts, interests and likes.

So how can your brand or business use its own website and social media channels to create a community? Most likely you don’t have the online clout of Mark Zuckerberg but the equivalent of a book club, with a common goal and regular, insightful feedback from your company, can be a very effective way to win new customers and keep the loyalty of existing ones.

Good examples are cycling and triathlon kit website Wiggle’s social hub, which compiles all mentions on social media and reviews of products by staff and customers. If you have a bike/triathlon nut in your life you will know they view Wiggle not as a shop but as a public service provider.

The community receives contributions via Twitter (where it has 58,500 followers) and Facebook from customers and professional cyclists sponsored by Wiggle. It also includes blogs from professional trainers, physiotherapists and nutritionists answering customers and followers’ questions about training regimes and injuries.

WeightWatchers also offers its members the chance to join groups with the same goals, set up diet and exercise challenges which they can ask other members to join, swap recipes and post their achievements on a “celebration board”. The most popular challenges in the community section of WeightWatchers site, such as “lose 7lb in January”, have several hundred participants each, and its Twitter account has 43,200 followers.

WeightWatchers has its background in weekly meetings, and has now harnessed online the power of doing something as a group and the motivations of impressing/keeping up with/not feeling ashamed in front of, fellow dieters. No need to trek down to the local Scout hut and be weighed in public these days, members can get the encouragement they need from the online community.

Love it or hate it, one of the largest and most influential online communities is Mumsnet. With 65 million page views a month and a network of ardent commenters on everything from potty training to pensions, Mumsnet now commands interviews with prime ministers and would-be PMs. Product reviews and advertising make it work commercially. On the front page of the site recently, for example, was a story on booking a family holiday – how to save money, top family destinations, Mumsnetter reviews. If your product gets the seal of approval from this crowd, you’re sure to see further bookings/sales as a result.

In this branch of content creation, your business is working partly as a facilitator to bring together like-minded customers. But it’s not all altruism – Tesco has been having a lot of trouble on multiple fronts but its Clubcard loyalty scheme was the first to realise the value of gathering data from customers and using it to offer them more of what they want to buy. Setting up appealing and useful online communities gives you the chance to do the same thing in a modern, relevant way.

Thinking like a publisher, your online community will also give you ideas and news to create content for the rest of your website, social media updates and traditional PR. This could be trends, bestsellers, or sudden and surprising surges of interest in particular products.

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