Back in 2007, there were very few online options out there for small business owners looking for [free] help to run their business. And it’s unlikely they’re an expert in all facets of starting and managing their business. To minimize costs, they, more often than not, need to wear multiple hats, especially if they’re just starting out. Creating a marketing plan might come easy, but be completely lost when it comes to cash management or tax considerations for example.
As a company who offers products and services to small business owners, Bank of America heard this time and time again within their banking centers and through their own market research. Bank of America saw an opportunity.
They wanted to partner with these small business owners, help them achieve their dreams of owning and operating a successful business, and allow them to exchange ideas and information, and benefit from the experience of others.
So how do you bring people with common interest and goals together that span geographical locations and multiple time zones? With an online community of course!
This led to the launching of their Small Business Online Community; a place for small business owners to learn, share, and connect on small business challenges.
You’re probably saying “Big deal, everybody has a branded community these days.”
And you know what? You’re right. But think about it.
1) Almost ten years ago; a time when branded online communities were scarce or companies were just figuring out that they needed a community strategy.
2) Under a financial services company; one of the most heavily regulated industries. And;
3) A huge risk.
Can you imagine inviting members onto a Bank of America digital property that’s free to open discussion?
I mean, if you just Google “Bank of America reviews,” there’s endless results and websites dedicated to enraged customer experiences. So, yes, this actually was a big deal.
They did a lot of things right to set themselves up for success too. Like having a dedicated kick-ass community manager, an engagement strategy, and content plan. (See also Growing Your Online Community - 6 Starting Points). One thing in particular they did well was integrate community with their overall small business SEO strategy.
Integrating with an SEO Strategy
Online communities are perfectly built to help improve organic search performance, especially for long tail keywords (See also How Creating an Online Community Can Help Boost Your Rankings and Increase Visibility). But Bank of America took it a step further. They looked at their analytics (organic traffic and internal site search to be exact) and identified common small business themes. They then categorized those themes and packaged them into Events.
Bank of America has a large corporate network spanning every industry. Some of the most well-known companies use Bank of America for all their banking needs and have strong established relationships with them. The Small Business Online Community team tapped into this network and identified experts in the topics small business owners were facing;
- Experion for business credit,
- GoDaddy for website hosting and ecommerce,
- LinkedIn for social strategies,
- Aetna for offering healthcare benefits,
- Google for business productivity apps,
- eBay for proven selling techniques, and countless others, but you get the idea.
Here’s How These Events Work
Think of these Events as a Reddit AMA. Post a topic in your community letting members know in advance that a subject matter expert will be online, let’s say for an hour, to answer ANY and all questions they may have for him.
Your initial post should contain some basic, yet critical, information:
1. A compelling title of the Event
2. The value of attending the Event to drive interest
3. A quick bio of the expert and the company they represent to establish street cred
4. Potential questions the expert is capable of answering to set expectations.
5. And of course the date and time of the Event
What unfolds is a deep, rich, and organic conversation that touches on every aspect of the topic relevant to your community. Bank of America reaped the benefits by improving their organic search performance from page 3 and 4, to a continuous first page result. And by keeping a regular schedule of Event programming, the Small Business Online Community had the added bonus of demonstrating an active and engaged community.