10 Tips for Building an Online Community

build online community Small business owners more and more are finding that the online community is a very powerful and engaging community that continues to grow.  Being able to reach out to current customers and even potential customers at their fingertips has fueled and for some peaked their interest that being found online is more than targeting core keyword phrases and writing great content.  These are extremely important but there is another part of being online that supports this and builds upon it to ultimately drive more traffic.

Building an online community as we know is not as easy as creating a mass amount of profiles and waiting for people to click on them and be so enamored with the profile that they are compelled to visit your site.  Creating and promoting a blog is a part of building and sustaining an online community but this only works if you support the community as well and talk with them.  Simply posting your blog or updates on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other niche platforms and never reaching out is a one way communication similar to traditional advertising.  The building of your presence within the community by understanding why you are there and what you hope to accomplish, besides the obvious traffic and sales and how you go about executing is what makes builds your presence in an online community.

10 Tips for Building an Online Community

1. Identify Why You are There. Why are you there? Online communities within the social media tools grow daily as new groups pop up on the various platforms with new members joining in. This provides a means of incredible reach within your target market but if your first reason for being there is sales you want to rethink that and consider:

  • What are you trying to accomplish with this form of marketing? Think of this in stages: awareness, sales and loyalty.
  • How does the online community behave?  Is this the right place to reach out to them?
  • How and where do you fit in? What differentiates you?
  • Who are you looking to engage with?
  • What can you do for them?
  • Why should they listen and accept you?

2. Research and Identify Platforms. The big names are what we hear about – Twittter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  These are great and have garnered much success for businesses however what about more niche platforms?  Each industry has their own forums and groups that are exclusive to that industry.  Search for them and see if they are a good fit for you and your business.  How much are the members around? How does information get shared, how easy is entry and ability to engage? One of my favorites is American Express Open Forum.  This platform is for the small business owner to gain access to articles written by industry leaders, ask questions via discussions and also to connect with other small businesses.  It is not as conversational as a Twitter however it is a great resource and it is free for cardholders and also now welcomes LinkedIn users.  Another favorite of mine is MarketingProfs.  The webinars alone on this site are clearly worth the paid membership.

3. What is Your Commitment? Be very clear on how much time per day or week you have to spend with the online community.  When starting we dedicate so much time as it is new and starting to talk with people makes it easier to be around however committing to being around regularly is not so easy.  Determine realistically what your schedule allows for.  People will not seek you out if you are not around. They will forget about you.

4. What Goals Have You Set? Setting goals for your social media engagement creates a clear path of what you want to accomplish.  Be reasonable and not say I want to have 10,000 twitter followers in 90 days or create my own group in a week and have 5000 members. It is great to think that way but start slow and with goals that are more attainable.  If you are new to the entire online community or new to a new platform, start with:

  • Maintaining commitment
  • Increasing connections
  • Increasing mentions
  • Building quality not quantity in relationships

5.  Develop An Execution Plan. Everyone creates the marketing and strategy but the portion of the plan that identifies exactly how you will even being entering the online communities seems to be overlooked a bit. Who will build your profile? What will content will be created and who will design? Use business name or your name? Will you be the exclusive name behind the company or will an employee? Have you learned how to use the tools?  Have you identified industry leaders, influencers and up and comers?  How will you speak to the community (ie what do you bring to the table to share that is not about you?)

6. How Will You Measure? What metrics will you use to measure success and ROI?  As this is not in dollars, the measurement is in how you were effectively able to enter the community and become a part of the community bases upon the goals and why you are there.

7. Brand Management and Monitoring. Brand management and reputation monitoring should not be overlooked as setting up alerts and checking to see who is mentioning your brand is a means of connecting with new people and growing your community.  However, it is also a watchdog of what is really going on behind your back – until you of course monitor it.  We get so wrapped up in how we will engage that we forget that there are tools available that will play that role of watchdog so that you know what people are saying about you and why.

8. Marketing Hub.  Your online community exists on rented space.  Twitter can go gone in a month as can any of the platforms so it is important to build relationships but to also bring them to your marketing hub – YOUR site.  You pay to host, you more than likely paid to design and develop the site with a close eye on search engine optimization for organic rankings so why not bring the community there?   Engaging on platforms as well as with your blog is a way to show that you know your stuff and that earns trust by providing useful conversation and content.  Reach them where they hang out but bring them where you live.

9. Campaign Cross Promotion. Your advertising should have a main focus to the ad (ie 50% off today on all kid clothes) the but also how they can reach you across your profile platforms.  Encourage readers to participate in your community on your profiles.  Let them know you are there and show them how you engage the online community.

10. Maintain and Repeat. Maintaining relationships while repeating the above to grow your community is only as good as finding the balance to interact with new people while not forgetting how you got started.  As you start meeting goals and gaining some popularity, more and more people respond and are receptive to your message. This only increases your time in responding to  “old” connections as you try and build new ones.  Create a goal that focuses on the balance of time with established community vs growing your community.

Building a community and remaining active keeps the social in social media marketing. It is still marketing though so as you create your overall marketing strategy, be sure to keep this in mind.  We are all online to gain exposure to our offering and increase our sales.  Be realistic in your goals and how you will achieve them.  Once people get to know you there is an expectation that you will be around and responsive.

How have you built your online community?  What goals and measurement metrics have you identified?

photo credit: A.M. Photo!