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Five steps to creating a social community for your business...

According to recent research by Constant Contact, 81% of small businesses see online communities as essential for their success. However, many think they just need a Facebook page and a bunch of likes to have an online community, but this rarely engages significant number of people, nor does it ensure that your customers and potential customers are kept up to date with relevant and accurate news. Below are five vital steps that I believe serve to create and maintain a loyal online community that will lead to increased sales:

Step one– Choose a social platform for your website

For any business, talking to customers is key – so don’t build a website with a mere link to Facebook or Twitter, incorporate all elements of your online presence in one place. Create a website with social at the heart that allows product information to stand alongside Twitter posts, videos and blogs from your staff. This will give your community one place to visit and interact with you and your business.

Step two – Build a strong identity

The internet is effectively a digital high street and your site is your shop window. It needs to stand out and encourage people to come in and have a look around. One of the main drawbacks of relying solely on larger social networks is that your business, large or small, successful or not, looks exactly the same as everyone else’s. I believe strongly that a business’s site is their creative space – you should have as much freedom as possible to change the look and feel, and adapt its functionality to your business needs – after all, you know what your customers want and it’s important to be true to your brand. It can be tempting to get involved with every social network that’s going, but work out what is right for you and your business.

Step three – Spread the word

Start with your existing database and spread the word about your social media sites, tell them what to expect from the site, for example regular updates from the factory, notices when new stock will come in , video demonstrations of new products. Advertise the URL for your new social networks in the office and at company events.

The community is also an opportunity to interact with other likeminded communities. If you start a blog, write posts that engage with other prominent bloggers. It’s also a good idea to post links of those you share interest with, for example suppliers, and they will most likely return the favour. Don’t forget to make it easy for visitors to share your work, put sharing icons at the bottom of all your posts and get people spreading the word via their own social networks.

Step four – Create dialogue

Keep blog posts, photos, tweets and comments regular. Whether that is once a day, week or month make sure you always deliver on time. There are fewer things more irritating to a viewer than an abandoned blog– they will stop visiting the site and worse still, it will give the wrong impression about you and your business. You need to give your customers a reason to return – make sure you continue conversations and respond to any questions posed, to rebuke any inaccuracies stated and give your opinion whenever appropriate.

Step five – Sustain activity, keep people coming back

As the site grows it may become impossible to respond to every single query and comment made by customers but if there are common issues that customers are mentioning then reply via a blog post instead of individually. Make sure you continue to get involved in interesting conversations every now and again – it’s bold to show your passion and knowledge for your business. Ultimately, you should be prepared to invest a good amount of time into your site, to nuture it like a child and watch it grow!