We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.”
Your relationships and network are important to your small business marketing. Where would your small business be without the support of your family, friends, mentors, and customers? A network is a marketplace of ideas where you can turn for help and problem solving, and can be a source of increased sales through referrals.
But how can you build an online network when you’re busy running your small business? The same way you’re marketing your business–online! Social media is an effective way to build a community of online supporters.
Building a community online is as simple as following these 3 steps:
1–Find your niche, 2–Engage with industry professionals, and 3–Give back what you get.
Your niche made up of the people in your industry with whom you can connect to discuss your business. This community includes small and large business owners, thought leaders who write or speak about your industry at events or conventions, and customers who purchase goods or services in the industry. Your niche can be found online through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and perhaps LinkedIn.
For example, catering businesses can connect with other catering professionals for tips and trends in the industry, food bloggers who write about new and interesting food news, and local businesses or organizations who may be putting on events. Engaging with a local civic organization may lead to your next big order! Health Clubs can connect with fitness trainers, health food companies, and industry events. Tweeting to a celebrity trainer might ensure you meet them at the next health and fitness expo in your area! Photographers can connect with other photographers for advice on new camera parts, fashion bloggers looking for photography tips, and local groups. Want to get into newborn photography? That new prenatal yoga class is full of potential customers!
Facebook groups connect people with common interests both locally and throughout the country. You can find these groups through the search function in Facebook. Search Twitter by hashtags specific to your small business (#catering #ChicagoFitness #newbornphotography) to find users tweeting about your industry. Twitter also suggests people to follow based on who you’re already following which can help expand your network.
After you’ve found people and businesses to follow, the next step is engagement. Comment on Facebook posts and respond to questions on Twitter even if the communication wasn’t directed at you. Social media is a conversation online between multiple people with common interests. It might be scary to chime in with your 2 cents, but relationships weren’t built in a day. Every user had to take the first step of engaging.
Find something to talk about. Comment on an article from an industry leader, telling them how you put their idea to use for your business.
Did you cater a party with the newest recipe from a prominent food blogger? Send them a tweet with a picture and say how much your customers loved the recipe! Did your health club trainers use the advice from a popular fitness website? Take a video of the workout and post it to your Facebook or Twitter page! Did you get a new camera after another photographer posted a tip about a new lens? Showcase a great picture you took to thank them!
Just like you, Twitter users are looking to engage with people and businesses in their industry to grow their online community as well. By engaging with others, you can easily grow your social media following and attract potential customers.
The best part about being involved in an online community is the support you get from it. Like anything in life, what we get out of something depends on what we put into it. You can learn a lot on social media merely by being an observer, but you’re not going to fully benefit unless you actively engage by re-tweeting, responding, and referring.
In addition to commenting on posts or tweets or asking to people a question, re-tweeting or re-posting industry information is a productive way to give back. Did you read a great article about training for a marathon in cold weather? Re-tweet or post it to your followers who may also benefit from the information. You can build an online community by providing interesting and useful information that others will want to read instead of just promoting your own content. That fitness video that you posted in the example above may be re-tweeted by other fitness professionals who may, in turn follow and engage with you. The more buzz your small business gets, the better!
It is also important to respond to tweets that are directed at you. Always thank people for the help, advice, or compliments they give. Responding to customer questions in a prompt and friendly way will show potential customers how much you value customer service. Thank customers by name for the reviews that they post to your social media sites. If a new customer has a strong local following and tweets about your company, offering a discount code or a free service to thank them could bring in more customers.
One of the most lucrative parts of an online community is having a network for resources and referrals. By growing and maintaining an online community, you have the opportunity to connect with people who can help you in a time of need and vice versa and connect you to new leads. Catering a wedding out of town and need an ice sculpture for the raw bar? Your community can point you in the right direction in no time! A potential customer needs a florist? Refer them to someone in your events network and you can be sure the florist will return the favor someday.
Connecting with others online provides small businesses the opportunity to help other small businesses who can, in turn, help you along the way. Through finding your niche, engaging, and giving back, social media is an efficient way to build your online network and grow your business.