Have you already launched a website for your new business? If you haven’t done so yet, please contact a web developer or website designer right away, before you continue reading, as you are missing out on a lot of economic opportunity. If your new website has already gone live, congratulations. Now it is time to ask yourself: Do I have an online community to promote and support my business?
If there is one thing that the advent of Internet social media has clearly demonstrated, is that business entities can either be made or broken by online communities. This is particularly true of businesses that operate within the tech industry. Once a new company decides to start doing business on the Internet, it must take advantage of all the positive aspects of keeping an online presence. These advantages go far beyond merely having a website or a Facebook account that serves as a placeholder for contact information. A new business can truly shine by building an online community that is committed to support it.
Building a significant online community around a new business can be relatively easy, but only if it is done organically. This means that potential members of the community must be attracted and engaged for the right reasons. This is not a marketing effort to entice clients to look at products or evaluate services. Growing a community involves taking assertive action that will benefit all members, not just the business or some of the patrons.
Entrepreneurs who choose to build communities around their business should be aware that by doing so they are placing themselves at the mercy of the court of public opinion. Online communities tend to be egalitarian, meaning that any underhanded actions willfully performed by the business will be dealt with accordingly by community members.
The following ten tips can help a new business owner to begin fostering an environment for a community to develop:
1. Seek Potential
Are there any existing online communities talking about your product or service? A new auto paint and body shop, for example, can look into message boards, Facebook Groups, Google+ Circles, Twitter lists, and other online gathering places where car enthusiasts are sharing discourse about matters pertaining their car exteriors. In this example, there are probably multiple communities, and thus it is recommended that business owners focus on one at a time. The business must be tactfully introduced to the members, and this is when a marketing item, such as a special offer or coupon, can be used.
2. Lower the Barrier to Entry
It may be tempting to begin collecting data from prospects right after the step above. Directing potential community members to a sign-up page where they must fill out a form with personal information is not a sensible step in community-building. Make it as simple as possible, such as a “Like” on Facebook, a +1 on Google+, or a follow on Twitter. Once the community grows and becomes vibrant, the members will easily volunteer their information.
3. Become a Follower
The new members of your community are interested in seeing what the business, or the business owner, is interested in, who they follow, and how they interact with others. A neighborhood cafe owner, for example, should follow coffee farms, interesting people, and even major rival businesses such as Starbucks. It pays to show that you are dedicated to your business and in tune with your chosen industry.
4. Engage the Community
The ideal community is one that shares items of interest, not just a list of goods and services and their respective practices. Business owners are in charge of giving the community content they can enjoy and share among their own social networks. The content should always be related to the business; for example, a family law firm can link to a major new Supreme Court decision that affects their practice, along with commentary. Multimedia items such as photos and videos are always interesting items to share.
5. Be Patient
New businesses are typically goal-oriented, and thus, it’s easy to set community-building goals. This isn’t always realistic in the world of online social networking, where an influential new member can bring in his entire social network of thousands of followers overnight, only to be followed by days of veritable radio silence. Communities do not spring up overnight, they may take some time to nurture due to the peer recommendation aspect.