Does your blog foster community? Does your Twitter stream grow your tribe? Does your Facebook page create relationships?
Social media has great potential to create a sense of community around your business. And it’s one of the things new (and seasoned) business owners ask about the most.
Before I divulge my 3 pillars of community building, I think it’s important to define this thing we call “community.”
Community in social media goes well beyond blog comments or Twitter followers. It goes beyond “likes” on your Facebook page or open rates on your mailings.
Community is about a sense of shared purpose.
Before you can hope to build community on your blog, you have to consider the purpose and direction that you hope to foster in your readership. You have to identify the sense of belonging your ideal reader – or community member – desires. Your ideal reader is looking for kindred spirits, a touchy feely term for knowing that those around her are like-minded in regards to business, health, spirituality, parenting, or whatever topic your blog is about.
Once you’ve determined the shared purpose you’ll be building your social media presence around, you can set about building the sense of community you desire.
First Pillar: A community needs a leader.
Communities are rarely formed by a band of equal parties. A great community requires a strong leader. It’s the leader’s job to maintain a sense of purpose and a clear direction. It’s also their job to take a clear stance on powerful issues and unpopular ideas.
Do you think of yourself as a leader?
When was the last time you blazed a new trail or shared a strong opinion? When was the last time you lead by example, using a personal story to illustrate a point?
But being a leader means more than just using a strong voice.
You can use social media to project a sense of leadership & authority as well:
- Use Twitter to spread a simple idea.
- Ask questions & engage people about their answers.
- Issue a challenge.
- Use Facebook to solicit photos, links, or opinions.
- Share links from around the web but forget about the usual sources.
- Introduce people to someone they don’t know.
Seeing yourself as a leader can be a daunting task. But projecting that sense of clear direction is a powerful way to attract customers, influence, and opportunities to your brand.
Second Pillar: Use feedback to shape your blog.
There are lots of well-loved brands who receive comments, emails, and tweets and don’t do anything with them. They go about their merry way, never thinking twice about how they use social media.
But that won’t work if you’re looking to build community.
You don’t have to respond to every blog comment or follow all your readers on their social network of choice to create community. You just have to use the feedback you’re given.
If you find your customers struggling with a particular problem, if you get the same question more than once, if blog comments make you rethink your position on an issue or idea, use it to build a better community.
In the past, I’ve reposted blog comments, shared email conversations, and outlined how my thought process was changed through reader interaction. Although it’s a great place to start, small interactions with customers aren’t what ultimately creates a sense of community around your brand.
Customers want to know that they are helping to shape the content & products you provide.
They want to know that you’re thinking about them.
Third Pillar: The best communities require an invitation.
If you move to a new neighborhood, you don’t immediately feel a part of the community you’re now living in. It’s not until the neighbors coming knocking on the door to say “welcome” and tell you about the next community activity that you really feel a part of things.
Do you invite your readers to become a part of the community you’re building on your blog? Do you extend an invitation to your Twitter follows to join the conversation? Do you solicit other opinions & ideas on your Facebook page?
You might do this through responding to comments from new readers. Or creating an autoresponder for new mailing list subscribers. Or asking community members to be on the look out for new faces.
You might invite people in by actively soliciting comments, constantly asking questions, and posing topics for discussion.
You might plan activities: Twitter parties, Ustream broadcasts, or free ecourses.
Or you might create a sense of invitation much more passively by providing links to your most popular articles, letting people know where to find you on Facebook, or asking for reader submissions.
Creating a sense of invitation on your blog can be a powerful tool. It helps readers know they’re welcome and points them to places where the sense of community is already well-established. It helps to create a network of kindred spirits and like minds.
Don’t wait for people to start talking to you or to each other, don’t wait for community to establish itself. Invite people in.
Building a sense of community is a great way to help your blog stand out from the crowd. It helps to make your site more of an experience and less of a bookmark. Once you’ve established a community, you not only have a rewarding blogging experience but a powerful tool of influence for building your business & helping others.
Of course, social media (and its community) are not your business.
So how will you harness the power of community to rock your business? Solicit feedback. Mobilize a sales force. Ask for connections. Request testimonials. Building a community gives your business a strong tool for research, marketing, and sales. Use it.
What techniques have you used to foster a sense of community around your brand? What techniques do you see working around the web?
Tara Gentile is a writer & thinker who wants to empower you to live more creatively at her blog, Scoutie Girl. She’s passionate about mindful spending, building authentic wealth, sharing her voice, and Star Trek.