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How to build a powerful online community for the benefit of your business.

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First, of all I would like to note that there is a really big difference between audience and community. An audience is one-way. Not interactive. Not social.

An audience passively watches or reads. An audience doesn’t participate. Or share with others.

On the other hand, a community is a two-way conversation. A living, breathing thing. Extremely interactive. Social. Sure, some people just watch or read, but many also participate and share with their friends.

Building online communities is one of the hot topics in Social Media marketing but there are no hard and fast rules in developing social networks – every company and community is different.

These days, the Internet is our Town Hall. That means, for entrepreneurs, it’s now as important to build a solid community and good reputation online as it once was to foster excellent small-town relations when businesses were more likely to have Main Street storefronts and returning locals as customers.

A vibrant community helps you attract new users, keep current users engaged, and provide valuable feedback to help improve your product. At the beginning, getting any re-tweet or share will be a victory. If done right, however, you’ll find yourself quickly and exponentially growing past those initial milestones.

Being on social media is so much more than having fans or followers. It’s about people connecting, establishing and maintaining relationships, adding value to each others’ lives and building engaged online communities.

Social media is social and, it’s important to focus on your audience. What do they want to know about? Are they having any challenges? Think about how you can support them on their journey. What value can you provide?

Really get to know your audience and develop a strategy that’s specifically targeted to them. Don’t just post marketing message after marketing message and hope for the best, it won’t work.

I see social media profiles all the time that have lots of fans and followers but there’s no interaction or personal communication. It’s simply all about their business and what they’re trying to sell. This tells me straight away that the person or brand isn’t really interested in me.

They don’t care, and this isn’t what community is about. I’ve un-followed and un-liked people and brands when there’s been little two-way communication and the focus has been just on them.
If you don’t care about your community, they won’t care about
you.
Content (blogging, videos, text, photos) is an absolute marketing weapon for entrepreneurs when done correctly. The cost to create, publish and promote is low with the benefits being huge. The opportunity and tools are there. But this isn’t a case of build it and they will come.

To gain a deeper insight into this topic, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Peter Crocker, a partner of Flying Solo. Flying Solo is an online community that provides support and resources to over 63,000 solo and micro businesses across the country through content, newsletters, meet-ups and discussion forums.

Crocker suggests, “Building a genuine community is much like forming a group of friends, it takes time, commitment, sincerity and is a two-way relationship that requires effort from both sides to make it work.“

Below he shares some of the key aspects entrepreneurs need to consider when designing a community within their own business:

  1. Go to where the people are. ‘Build it and they will come’ is a mistake that many people make when starting communities. Rather than waiting for people to come to you, start by getting genuinely involved in other communities populated by the kind of folk you’re trying to attract to get a good understanding of your tribe.
  2. Focus on giving. With so many other options online, people need a tangible reason to spend their time within your community. You need to define and create a genuinely valuable benefit for members – usually this needs to be free and unavailable elsewhere.
  3. Find a defined niche that you are passionate about. To have a chance of attracting like-minded people you need to ensure your members have something in common beyond just being in your target market. Real relationships typically start on common ground.
  4. Be consistent. Good friends are reliable and always there for you. Over time this builds up trust, respect and ultimately love – the foundations of great brands. At Flying Solo we involve our community in our decisions and always meet publishing deadlines. Equally, it’s important to have a clear set of guidelines that evolve with community consultation so that everyone understands how to behave. It’s also critical to respond to concerns or conflicts swiftly and openly.
  5. Be patient. Think long-term. Despite it’s current hype, building a community is not an advertising campaign to launch or promote a product. To really work it needs to be considered as part a long-term business and communications strategy.
  6. Businesses are built on relationships and there are so many benefits to having an active and engaged online community surrounding your business. How do you nurture your online community?

(Image source: Bigstock)

Alex Pirouz is an Entrepreneur, Author and Business Mentor who assists companies successfully start, grow and exit their business. Connect with Alex on LinkedIn.

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