Why You Need an Online Community

Author: Fundbox Team | October 16, 2014

With recent updates to social media networks and search algorithms, web marketing has shifted towards community building to generate leads and awareness for businesses. There was a time when marketing for the web was all about keywords; using keywords in your title, description and body text, would give you authority and relevance over other search listings. Now, however, search engines and social networks understand ways that users can beat the system and so they continually change ranking criteria – making authority and relevance harder to fake.

What does this mean for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and freelancers who are looking for ways to market their business and build clientele?

Online Community Building…

A Gallup Poll from June 2014 notes: “Companies that engage both their employees and their customers gain a 240% boost in performance-related business outcomes.”

For small businesses with a limited budget for traditional marketing gimmicks, engaging potential clients through social media is one of the least expensive marketing options. To create engagement, small businesses must become part of the online community. Your business should use social media like a person would, not as a form of traditional advertising.

Gallup – Social Media Use on WSJ

In this chart, you can see that people generally use social media as way to connect with others (shocking!). For a small business or freelancer, this is no different.

Think of it this way: when you go to a networking event, you show up with a pack of business cards. Of course, you probably don’t walk up to every person in the room, give them your card, and walk away, right? That’s awkward. Instead, you probably make conversation with people you know, and ask if they’ll introduce you to other people in the room. You expand your network by talking to people – connecting with people. Your network grows organically.

The next day, you get an email from one of the people you met; they are interested in what you can do. Something you said resonated with this person, and all of a sudden they have become an advocate for you (and your brand).

This is the thing that many businesses seem to forget (and many “SEO/Social Media Marketers” as well). To be effective in marketing, you have to build a relationship with your target audience. You have to somehow inspire advocacy and trust. And how do you do that?

Get in the conversation
Once you’ve chosen the social network that will  work best for your business, become a part of the conversation. To do this, the Gallup Poll says you’ll need to be authentic, responsive, and compelling.You’ll need to show the community that you’re not just a business (that there’s a person to connect with behind the business persona), you believe in conversation, and you have something important that you can share.

Look for ways to offer value within the online community. For example, you could ask or answer questions, share news articles, and collaborate with others in conversations and content. You may even try to give tips to current clients over social media, take part in industry “chats” or social media forums. This doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your product, but don’t spend all your time on self-promotion. Be creative in how you communicate using social media and your return on investment will be much higher.

Online community building is an important marketing tool for any business – small or large. Taking the time to build community advocacy around your business is especially important for businesses who lack the budgets for traditional marketing. Getting your clients talking (to you) will help build trust, and they will remember that when it comes time to hire for that project they need done.

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