Creating online customer communities for your small business

A “craze” is something that takes popular culture by storm. A “fad” is a craze that doesn’t last. Social media is currently a craze, but it’s not a fad. And the question is not whether this craze will last, but rather, what will it look like over time and why should a small business care? Consequently, let’s establish a few “social media” points.

Strictly speaking, “social media” is the technology that makes online community building possible, not the community itself. It allows for the creation of and service to online communities, where dialogue and interaction among community founders and members are possible. Ultimately, the term “social media” in a business application should become the more accurate term, “online customer communities.”

In defining community, Webster uses words like association, fellowship, like-mindedness and shared interests. When building online customer communities, we should remember these words. Every small business should create online customer communities, of which there are two primary examples:

1. A company’s profile pages on sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Your company leverages these companies’ platforms. These sites are free but have limited flexibility.

2. Communities founded and hosted by your company, oriented around relationships with customers and prospects. An online community is established when customers subscribe to one or more of your channel offerings in order to receive your information.

A channel is a syndication tool or method of content delivery and service to a community. For example, real simple syndication (RSS), a blog, an email newsletter (ezine), a text blast and Twitter are channel tool examples, through which businesses and their communities exchange information.

Merely having a website isn’t practicing community building any more than owning a piano makes you a musician. But a website can become a platform from which you launch and serve online communities.

There is one critically important thing for a founding company to understand about both of the online customer community types: the company cannot control community behavior. Members – customers and prospects – control the community. A founding company can only create the community and influence it by establishing community values, then serving it via the channels and information it offers, which are requested by members.

Always remember: Customers control online communities, not companies. Soon I’ll post my thoughts on defining, establishing and being true to your community values.

Recently, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I talked about some of these social media points. Take a few minutes to listen, and be sure to leave your thoughts.

One Response to “Creating online customer communities for your small business”

  1. 2
    Kids Bedding Says:

    Search social media promotion and SEM marketing has become inextricably intertwined and will only get more integrated going forward. Social media for business is a bit scattered. Social marketing can somewhat feel like in intrusion on the space of social networking sites such as facebook and twitter.

  2. 1
    Find social media value by creating community values | Small Business Radio Blog Says:

    [...] find and stay connected to customers as the marketplace continues to evolve in the 21st century. In the precious post, I talked about creating online communities as a way for small businesses to find relevance with [...]

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