At WSI, many of our clients are new start-ups. We love working with entrepreneurs who see the value of digital marketing and online community building (which has become one of our most popular services over the past six months).

Resources are usually scarce and not every new start-up can afford to hire a dedicated community manager, so I’ve set up some tips on how to create an online community for your small business:

  • Don’t be all over the place

Unless you’ve got the time to regularly post on each and every social media website, we suggest limiting your presence to one or two sites to start off with. Take stock of who is already talking about your product or industry – if people are chatting on Twitter, set up a Twitter account.

  • Start engaging

You’ll quickly notice that some users are much more vocal (or involved in) an industry than others. Follow these people and start a conversation with them. Don’t only try to punt your products or brand – be an interested, conversational figure on your social media platforms of choice and get to know the people who can help you build your online community.

  • Use your existing platforms and friends

Your friends can help give momentum to your online community. Ask them to Like your Facebook page and re-tweet a Twitter update – this will immediately get your content shared to all of their followers, friends and acquaintances.

If you send out a newsletter, ask your existing contacts to follow you on Twitter. Also make sure your content is easy to share and pass along to friends.

  • You need brand advocates – not just “fans and followers”

While it’s important to spend a bit of time following the right people and making sure all your contacts know you’re networking on social media platforms, you need to think in terms of brand advocates and not just numbers. This Nielson study shows that people trust peer recommendations much more than online ads, so you need to focus on the quality of followers (not just the number of people you can convince to follow your brand online).

  • Rome wasn’t built in a day

Don’t expect to build your online community within a month – it takes time. In the beginning, it will feel like you’re forcing conversations and getting nowhere, but this will pass. The key to building a sustainable online community (where people share content and engage with one another) is being consistent and involved in the community. Create relevant content and take the time to re-tweet interesting content every day to help your community gain momentum.

Need help with your online community? Contact WSI to find out how we can help you.