More than ever, if consumers love your brand, they’re willing to market for you. You just need to feed them the right content, at the right time, in the right format to leverage their enthusiasm.

How to best do just that is answered by three major digital trends: the visual web, social curated discovery and superfan communities. Brands like Sony, Sephora, Harley Davidson, Dell, Legos and many others are leveraging these trends to earn the <3 of customers, boost revenue and reduce marketing costs. So, let’s dive into each of these trends quickly to learn more about why they matter and why collaborative communities are the future of marketing.

The Visual Web

First, the web was text-based. Then came social. Now, we’re adding visual to the mix and we have Pinterest to thank for it. As the fastest growing site ever, its hyper-visual, collaborative format has changed the way we think about websites.

As we move away from text-based webpages to more image-based formats, visual discovery is added into the mix. The most engaging sites are curating information into a “best of” visual format and ensuring that the content is mobile, social and conversational. These communities revolve around shared interests, the thrill of discovery and serendipity. Visual feeds is the current and future mode of e-commerce discovery.

Socially Curated Discovery

online communitySocially curated discovery is basically the next generation of word-of-mouth marketing. As the web becomes more social, we’re becoming inundated with information. There’s too much to sort through, so we’re relying more on recommendations from people within our social circles and interest graphs, which BI Intelligence confirmed in a report on the subject.

In fact, content curators are the new superheroes of the Web, says Steven Rosenblaum, writer for Fast Company. Curators are passionate about finding, contextualizing and organizing information. They reliably provide updates on what’s new and cool in their niche. Their personal “brand” helps provide context for the information they discover and they essentially filter the noise and provide the signal for other interested consumers. Their dedication is essential, because it is a lot of work to do what they do - consistently use listening tools to keep an eye on news streams that matter and then digest and publish the salient data.

A Forrester study from 2012 revealed that 46% of people trust consumer-written reviews, while only 15% trust social media posts from brands.

Social media feeds, consumer-oriented forums, reviews and community sites are the new “curation destinations” – where we drill down through the clutter to discover what’s worth our time and money.  Brands, marketers and causes looking to richly engage their audiences will need to understand the mechanics and deployment of social curation tools to remain in touch with their customers.

Superfan Communities

i hear your brandJust as socially curated discovery is next-gen word-of-mouth, communities are next-gen microsites and Facebook pages. The reason for the shift is due to: 1) the rising importance of curators and superfans to contribute content and market for you; and 2) the realization that brands have been focusing too much on posting most of their content to social networks and are losing out on building trust, authority and community on their own websites.

The shift started with Facebook’s increased pay-to-post model causing an uproar with marketers. Being limited to reaching just 16% of your fans for free, or be faced with fees, is an off-putting prospect for small companies and an expensive one for large brands. Mark Cuban retorted to this change and threatened abandonment of Facebook by the Mavericks. He actually is focused on adding followers via non-Facebook platforms for his 70+ companies.

Some forward-thinking companies are realizing that they gain the most credibility and opportunity from their most engaged fans. “Superfans” are those that are interested enough in your brand to post insightful blogs, help answer questions about products, leave detailed reviews and even give constructive marketing and product feedback. These superfans are your brand’s VIPs.

Brands are being urged to focus on creating spiderable content indexed by search engines. After all, Google doesn’t index Facebook content the same way it indexes blogs and actively maintained websites. No one is advocating that you neglect your audiences on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter, but rather make it your dictate to create meaningful, lasting content that lives on beyond a fleeting news stream. Plus, this straetgy allows you to build individual relationships and actually, get this – collaborate - with customers.

Sephora's VP of interactive media, Bridget Dolan is a big fan of her superfans and has created the Beauty Talk community let customers advocate on behalf of the brand: "We used to have a board called 'unanswered questions,'" says Bridget Dolan, VP of interactive media at Sephora. "We had to switch that because our superfans just took it as a personal challenge to always answer the questions so quickly."

  • You just can't buy that kind of authenticity. You have to rely on your superfans to share your story.

It’s not about your team doing all the work to find what’s interesting to your customers, but rather partnering with and leveraging these human curators – they’ll love the attention and you’ll love the synergistic focus on the best content and insights that match your audience’s interests. Dell, Sephora and Legos are actively using their superfan bases and you can too. It could be one of the best business development decisions you make anytime soon.

How will you take advantage of these trends?

Visual, social and community are key drivers in the next phase of marketing and customer relationship-building. These are trends that we’re hot on the trail of and are literally refining our product in real-time to provide solutions to brands, causes and organizations that want to leverage their superfans, build collaborative communities and establish their brands as digital leaders in this frontier of engagement marketing. 

I'll share more in my next post about social publishing for collaborative communities. Until then, think visual, social and community and how to leverage those trends in 2014 to reach your superfans and build your brand’s digital authority.