5 Steps to Grow Your Online Community

Most companies don’t invest time in social media because of one of two reasons—they don’t have the time, or they don’t have the money to hire a social media professional. Building an online community is essential in online branding and promotion, though. A strong online community will increase your reach and digital influence—which garnishes more leads and conversions due to brand awareness. In a recent survey done by Forrester Research, 70 percent of consumers trust brand recommendations from friends. Where do consumers spend most of their time asking for recommendations? On social media.

Below are five steps to help you create the foundation of your online community and gain more leads for your business.

Step 1: Perfect your brand image and company mission.

Four words from my advertising professor in college will forever resound in my head when thinking about branding and ad campaigns:

What are the benefits?”

Your brand image and mission should showcase the benefits of your business. Additionally, every piece of media you produce should answer the question “What are the benefits?” for your target audience.

  • While this step seems like a no-brainer, it’s critical to complete before you proceed.
  • Build your online presence based on your company’s mission statement and the benefits of your company or product.

Step 2: Follow influencers in your niche on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and/or Facebook.

You may discover your brand has the most conversations on Twitter, or that a Pinterest account isn’t really necessary. Pick which social media outlets best fit your target audience. Where do they hang out? Where do they get their information? For instance, if you own a jewelry or clothing business, you definitely should be on Pinterest because of its style inspiration and influence.

  • Follow influencers, customers and other companies in your niche or around your geographical area. Start by checking your ‘Who to Follow’ suggestions on Twitter. Other great tools to help you are We Follow and Follower Wonk.
  • Write a concise and cohesive bio for each social media platform you create. Include your business information: website, geographical location and contact information.

Step 3: Start building your community on social media.

  • Send personal messages to some of your friends on Facebook to Like your page or follow you on Twitter. But be careful—few things are worse than getting bombarded by irrelevant marketing efforts. Ask other members of the company do the same with their friends, but don’t attempt to mandate it.
  • Send an email to your existing client list asking them to Like your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter so they can stay current with your company’s happenings and industry news. Again: What is the benefit for them in following you or liking your page? Give them incentives.
  • Another great option to create buzz is to host an event or promotion to gain traffic to your Facebook page. You could partner with other businesses in the area as well: A new caterer in the area may give you a discounted rate to feature their food at your event. Or, you could partner with a foundation to raise money for them at your event. With all of these aspects combined, a local publication would surely want to feature your event!
  • Host a digital event by creating your own hashtag for your company and running a Twitter chat or a Google+ hangout.

Step 4: Post relevant and interesting information on your social media accounts.

If your company has a blog, it’s important to not just regurgitate what’s already on your blog on social media. You’ll need to post other relevant information from other reputable sources.

  • When sharing your company’s blog posts on Twitter, your Facebook page or Google+ account, make sure to use the correct language and tools.
  • It’s okay to share the same content on all your social media platforms, but the way you present it should differ.
  • Post relevant information outside of your own company’s blog content.
  • When constructing your brand image and voice on social media, follow the Rule of Thirds to make sure you’re covering your bases and remaining dynamic:
    • 1/3 of your social sharing should be about your business
    • 1/3 should be about industry topics and trends
    • 1/3 should be about you or other interesting and funny news or events

Step 5: InterACTION with your followers.

People follow you because of who you are. Sure, they’re interested in what you tweet or share, but they want to know you have a personality and are willing and eager to interact and hear from them.

  • Reply to your followers. Retweet them when it’s relevant to your brand and add your own comment in the retweet.
  • Create lists on Twitter for specific niches if you don’t want to follow everyone. You should follow someone who contributes to your knowledgebase and is helpful and insightful. Just because I like to run doesn’t mean I’m going to follow every runner on Twitter, but maybe I’ll put a ton of them into a list that I can quickly check without clogging my news feed.
  • Use humor. Share funny photos, funny news items and funny internal photos. People like to know that you are human, engaging, witty and helpful.
  • Find hashtags around your brand and use them. For instance, if you’re in the travel industry, you could use #TravelTuesday to find new potential community members. Use hashtags to engage in Twitter and Google+ chats that are relevant to your brand.

Follow these five steps and you’ll be well on your way to building an online community on any social media platform you choose. Each step will take some time and research, but in the end, you’ll build a community that interacts with you and cares about what you share with them. Remember that each step will need to be repeated to keep your social community current and organized.

What has been the most difficult step for your business when creating your online community?

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