Dan Willis on building communities and engaging customers – MAF208

In this show, I chat with Dan Willis about building communities of customers and producing engaging content.

It’s all about understanding who your customer is, finding out where they hang out, and then listening and talking to them. Can customers become an audience?

Welcome to episode 208 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

Dan Willis on building communities and engaging customers - MAF208

What you’ll hear about in this episode

  • How to help clients get over the need for an approval process
  • Why you need to understand your audience first
  • The importance of having conversations
  • The process Dan goes through with his clients
  • How to build your community
  • Why you need to interact with people on your own platforms

Who is Dan Willis?

Dan started in business systems analytics and how they apply in different departments, helping companies to refine what they had. After that, spent some time learning about marketing and brand awareness.

Realising that social media was taking off and businesses needed to understand it, he began teaching them how to use it as a digital billboard. Five years ago, he noticed a gap between the relationship-building opportunities the internet provides and how businesses used it.

Now, he helps companies to develop better relationships with their customers and communities by using social media platforms to engage with them and market to them.

Summary of our chat

Many companies feel they need an approval process for online communications. Dan’s answer is to ask how employees answer a customer’s questions face to face. They’re equipped with all the right information and trusted to provide it in a professional way without being monitored. Social media works the same way.

Companies are often keen to jump straight into creating social media content, but Dan encourages them to identify their community and the conversations they’re having, first. Knowing who they want to serve and what to talk to those people about helps businesses understand better how social media can be used.

Dan says that not having dialogues with visitors to your social media does a disservice to them and everyone else who could benefit from your knowledge. Too many brands don’t listen to or engage with their audience, so they miss seeing people they could help. Your community should dictate your content calendar.

Dan asks clients who their audience is, and then who they are. He asks them about their brand, message, voice and passions. He says that when brands don’t know who to engage with, the problem is with them. Being clear on the digital persona helps them relate to their audiences.

Building a community uses both social media and real-world interactions. Brands need to take a digital interaction and turn it into an offline relationship. The key is to identify where these conversations happen online to successfully transition them offline. Brands don’t all need to use the same tools and content as each other.

Dan says businesses should avoid being reliant on a social media platform to engage with your clients or community. He recommends building relationships in multiple places, and to publish content on your own website first. Transition people away from social and into places where you can have one-to-one conversations.

One thing Dan would like listeners to take away

Dan says that relationships can be scary, and this is as true in the digital space as it is in the real world. People are afraid to enter into new relationships because they’re unfamiliar. They’re not sure what will happen.

As brands and businesses, we need to understand that any downsides of the internet (trolls and toxicity) can be solved with a click of a button. The rewards that come from making relationships with your community far outweigh anything negative that could happen.

If you’re hesitating about making time to build an online community, know that it’s worth doing. The effort is lasting, beneficial and will translate into a stronger business in the real world as well, because if you can make strong online relationships, you can make them offline too.

An example of simple marketing

In North America, Burger King went back five or 10 years through various social feeds and targeted major key influencers across Twitter. They started to comment on posts that were a decade old, and the influencers picked up on it.

The reason for this was because Burger King were re-releasing a product they’d first sold 10 years ago, so they built exposure for themselves through the tweet strategy and drove advertising to the product.

They didn’t pay the influencers for their time and attention, they simply looked through the feeds for relevant posts to leave a single comment on. This led to millions of dollars’ worth of exposure to the influencers’ followers.

An example of marketing madness

Dan says that the fashion industry is making things needlessly complicated, and seem to be trying to increase awareness of brands through negative attention. They’re creating racially-charged or stereotype-heavy adverts for products.

For example, a company has created clothes for monkeys, put it on an African-American child, which caused a huge backlash. Several other clothing companies have done something similar in this year alone.

Dan thinks that this was done either deliberately or accidentally at first, and when everyone else noticed how much attention and increased sales it brought the brand, they all decided to do the same.
Dan says it’s a complicated, twisted and unethical approach to marketing because companies are saying, ‘We’re going to be offensive simply because it creates awareness of our brand, and hope that the awareness outweighs the detrimental backlash of what we’ve done.”


He sends a video reply to everyone who contacts him, to acknowledge them and show his appreciation.

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