Last year I had a baby. And like most first-time parents, we did not leave the hospital with an instruction manual.
I did, however, leave with a post-it note listing good parenting accounts to follow on Instagram. Uh, what?!?
A few weeks later, while visiting with family – my husband’s cousin also gave me a list of good accounts to follow on Instagram.
Even as someone who works in social media, I was taken aback. Is this what we do now? Parent by social media?
The answer is a resounding YES! And it’s wonderful!
So we all know the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child – but the stark reality is that very few of us actually have that village to lean on. Plus, there is no social support system in the United States to help new parents navigate – well, frankly, anything.
Couple that with no paid parental leave. Expensive childcare. Few jobs that pay a livable wage. And inflation. Parenting is hard.
Knowing what to do when parenting a new human, how to do it, and how to survive it no longer comes from the village that surrounds us. Instead, it comes from social media.
Now I say this with the caveat that you can’t trust everything you see on the internet. I know that. You know that. And granted, social media is a bunch of internet strangers. But some of these internet strangers have built a living, supplying parents with helpful and evidence-based information and products to support their journey.
My daughter was born during the formula shortage of 2022. So breastfeeding, already a challenging endeavor in the best of circumstances became much more urgent and anxiety-provoking. Although I had excellent breastfeeding support in the hospital, I was clueless when I came home and had to do it on my own and figure out my non-hospital-grade pump. Not to mention, now a new little person is relying on me solely for food because infant formula is nowhere to be found. Stress much?
On Reddit, I found a breastfeeding subreddit overflowing with helpful information. My insurance-issued breast pump wasn’t working properly anymore, and I was renting a $75/month hospital pump to feed my daughter. After scrolling through Reddit’s breastfeeding community, I found out something that no one had told me – not the hospital, not my lactation consultant, not even my pump manufacturer after I went through the warranty process. Apparently, breast pumps aren’t ready to use out of the box. You gotta customize them a little bit and add on some additional parts. After learning this, I bought a $17 piece of plastic from Amazon, and voila, my pump was working just fine. Social media saved my breastfeeding journey.
In the months since my daughter was born, I have had many stories like this – situations where I found a helpful solution through social media. And as I became more confident and knowledgeable about my own parenting journey, I was able to offer some of that support back to other parents looking for answers and solutions online.
It hasn’t all been rainbows and puppy dog tails. I’ve seen some lousy information online too. Read and followed some bad advice. And I even got canceled on one social media platform. But overall, the good outweighed the bad.
When most businesses and organizations come to us about social media management, we often ask what their goals are for being on social. Some common goals include building brand awareness, identifying leads, or getting customer insights. However, these goals are more easily accomplished by creating and managing an engaged online community. There are a number of parenting-focused accounts on the various platforms that do this really well. Here are some commonalities that I found.
How To Build An Engaged Online Community: Be Helpful.
I mean, like, really helpful! You want to post information your ideal client/audience doesn’t even know it’s looking for — that kind of helpful.
When your intended audience comes across this information, they will be like, “Wow – that’s so helpful – I wonder what else this account provides.” Boom. You’ve got a like. Maybe a follow. Now keep providing that helpful information. Folks will tell their friends about you, and that’s one way to grow your account. No, for real. That’s how it works.
Over time, your authority and trustworthiness increase as people begin to see you as helpful. Then, when that individual looks to buy a product or a service, your organization will be top of mind because they have come to respect you and trust the information that you provide. Sweet deal, huh?
How To Build An Engaged Online Community: Help Your Audience Help Each Other.
This is probably one of the more brilliant approaches I’ve seen online, and it goes far beyond the usual tactics of how to get your audience to engage. Instead, it’s finding ways for your audience to help other people in your audience. Your role as the account is to act like the facilitator and ask a question or offer a solution that gets people commenting on a particular topic. One account that I’ve seen do this really well is Legendairy Milk.
View this post on Instagram
Every month or two, they ask their followers if they have a breast pump that they need or are willing to donate. Folks chime in every time with pumps they are willing to sell or give away, and someone who needs a pump or a different type of breast pump can then chime in and share what they are looking for. Effectively, Legendairy Milk is facilitating a marketplace for people to exchange breast pumps. But they aren’t actively involved in it. They just asked the question. Brilliant, right?
This approach does a few things. First, it generates a ton of engagement as lots of people chime in on their needs or what they have to offer.
Secondly, the account gets street cred for sustainability – helping to keep working breast pumps circulating among the folks who need them rather than sitting in someone’s home or going into the trash.
Last, this gives the account a consistent piece of content to use. I’ve seen this post go up every few months, which is great. Why reinvent the wheel when you have something that works?!?
How To Build An Engaged Online Community: Listen To Everyone, Even the Trolls.
I know – we’ve talked about haters before – here and here. And when we talk to our clients about trolls, we usually advise them to ignore them. But I’ve seen a few accounts take a different approach. They listen to their trolls and make that fodder for content.
Take Hope & Plum – a ring sling company. They recently received a comment from someone complaining that the price of their baby carriers was “ridiculous.”
Instead of just burying or ignoring that comment, they made a reel talking about why their carriers cost more than others.
View this post on Instagram
On another account I follow, someone mentioned in the comments the account’s pronoun usage wasn’t inclusive of all parents. The account responded, acknowledged its failure to be inclusive, and publicly stated it would make some changes.
Yes, haters gonna hate. But sometimes, just sometimes, there’s real value (or potential content!) in listening to what the haters have to say. The best online communities are supportive and inclusive and provide followers with an enjoyable experience.
The time I got canceled (another post, for another time) – I learned that the community wasn’t inclusive at all. This particular group only wanted people in that community with a specific mindset, and I upset the order by asking questions. Although I was upset that they canceled me, in the end, I learned it was a toxic online community.
Now compare that to another online community I’m in on the same platform, and when someone shares a struggle or a victory, others chime in with love, support, and encouragement. Both communities are full of internet strangers. Just different accounts. Which type of community would you want to lead?
Building a thriving online community should be part of your social media strategy, whether you are a nonprofit organization or a small business. Consider ways you can support your ideal client – think about things they are struggling with or may not know about and use that as part of your social media content. How can you be helpful? How can you be of service?
Still not sure? Consider setting up a social media strategy session with us. We help nonprofit organizations and small businesses with online marketing, including social media ads, google ads, content marketing, SEO, and social media management. Contact us today to help build your online community and take your social media presence to the next level.