This post is by Hello Social Co. blog contributor Alexandria Mansfield, an Indiana University of Pennsylvania Student.
The last thing any community needs is another business that pops up overnight but offers nothing specific to the community. While a business with a good product is an addition to any community, a business with a community-oriented model is a blessing. However, there are a few steps to take in order to make it from “good” to “great.”
Defining your brand is an essential part of your business. How will you differentiate your brand from others so that potential community members will be drawn to your company? What are you offering them that’s engaging enough to capture their attention? What do you stand for that nobody else does?
Focusing on what your business is and what it means to the community in which you’ve chosen to set up shop can be difficult. There are so many other businesses competing for the same or similar audiences’ attention that it can be overwhelming to block out the white noise from the rest and hone in on what your company’s purpose is.
Before any further steps can be taken or goals can be accomplished, it is necessary to identify how you will fit in a community not only to understand your target audience but also to bolster your engagement and find the fit that will serve both entities.
Bigger-name brands are often proficient at creating online communities with membership forums and social media pages. Smaller businesses, however, can borrow these same tactics and apply them for their own goals. Creating blogs, YouTube channels and social media accounts will help you connect with both local and distant audiences and build community. The key here is to create content that’s engaging and not just advertising.
Today, the online and offline worlds are both crucial to being active in a community. Efforts need to be concentrated in both areas. When you start thinking about community-building, you will begin to notice capacities in which your community can be improved and how you can contribute to those. Think of your business not simply as products and services but as an integral part of your community.
Encourage your readers and followers to submit their own content, such as comments and photos. Conduct polls to learn more about your customers. Answer comments and questions on your social media pages to encourage engagement. You won’t be involved if you don’t create an avenue for conversation.
When someone leaves a comment on your site, you have two choices: respond or don’t.
While some may swear by the notion of “never reading the comments section,” community growth and engagement becomes much more successful when this courtesy is extended to people who have taken time out of their busy schedules to let you know their thoughts.
Some people respond to every comment no matter what, which will become increasingly difficult to manage as your brand grows; however, trying to engage with the majority of patrons and critics will not only improve your image of engagement but will also give you feedback and critiques to improve your brand free of cost.
Social media is such an important part of the engagement process nowadays. It’s easy to cut yourself off from your community when you’re hiding behind a screen, and consumers will find themselves asking whether you’re a robot or actually a person. Remember, these are real people sharing their lives and opinions with you. If you consistently don’t reply to commenters, they will eventually just stop commenting on your content. They are looking to connect with you; don’t cut them off.
Responding takes time, but it also takes time to read your blog posts each day and leave insightful thoughts. Of course, there are limitations to how long and how much one person can sit and respond to questions or comments, but blocking out a little bit of time during the day makes your business approachable, friendly, and people-focused – and that’s something you just can’t phone in.
Local businesses can strengthen their position and build community by partnering with each other – even competitors. For example, if you own a fitness center, complementary businesses might include those that sell sneakers or health food stores. If you own a restaurant, you might get together with other restaurants and put together a food-tasting event.
You may be surprised by how many other businesses are looking for a way to interact with their community more. Whether you’re competitors or complementary of one another, there is bound to be an arrangement which can benefit all parties and improve consumer outlooks. When businesses get along, community members don’t feel the need to pick a side and choose one organization over another due to “bad blood” between them.
What works for your community will evolve over time. Pay particular attention to the negative feedback you receive and use it to shape your community’s structure and engagement.
PS – If you’re a Bellefonte business owner (where Hello Social Co. is based), we’ve created a community just to connect all of the town’s small business owners. Join the group here.
Consistency is huge. How often are you posting? Do you disappear for weeks or forget to post and then offer only a “Sorry I haven’t posted!” update? It’s perfectly fine to go on vacation, but why not give a heads-up so people aren’t questioning why you’re missing and if – or when – you’re coming back? In traditional media – TV, radio, print – there are timelines and agendas. New media types are simply evolving from this model. Consistency never goes out of style.
One tip for remaining consistent in a busy life is to always have something in your back pocket. In a perfect world, you would always have time to create and post on a set schedule. But, the world isn’t perfect, and it can often be so hectic that you find yourself scrambling at the last minute to come up with something you can share for the audiences who are patiently waiting for your daily post. If you have a handful of timeless projects that you can share in a pinch, you’ll find yourself stressing much less about how you’re going to meet your daily outreach goals when unexpected circumstances arise. There is plenty of content that can be created without a time crunch. You don’t want to run out of it.
Having a set schedule will not only help you stay organized but also make you a reliable part of the community. If people know when you will be posting, they are more likely to engage with you than if they have to check up on your business every now and then and maybe not see anything new. People may come for the content initially, but they will stay for the steadiness you can bring to the community.
It all starts with the content – content that isn’t about what you can do but about how you can contribute to what’s already there. Content that is informative, inspirational or otherwise interesting will never go out of style and will appeal to different audiences. By adding your own spin to those sought-after areas, you will be making yourself part of a bigger picture in the community.
As with most things in life, building a community around your business involves time, effort and balance. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Each part of will build on itself and build the community you need to integrate your business into your area. Don’t just be another company; be part of something bigger.