How To Build a Strong Online Community

by Susan Murphy

shutterstock_66589666We all know that when it comes to building a community online, it’s not about how many friends and followers you have – it’s about the quality of the people in your community. I always say, I’d rather have 100 people who care about the things I’m sharing and discussing online than 10,000 people that won’t give me the time of day. When it comes to networking, building new business, or simply making new friends, it’s really all about WHO you are connecting with, not HOW MANY you’re connecting with.

Getting more followers is easy. Heck, you can even buy them! But building a strong, dedicated, engaged community? That’s tougher. The hard work will pay off though, if you follow a few simple rules.

Understand it will take time.

I grew up in a military family, so I was often the new kid in town. Whenever we’d get posted someplace new, it would take some time for me to make new friends, and fully integrate into the community. At first it was frustrating – I wanted people to like me and include me in things right away! That didn’t always happen, and I spent a lot of time alone at first. But as time went on, and I began to gain confidence, I’d reach out more and eventually I had plenty of friends, and a full social calendar.

Building a community takes time and dedication. You have to work at it, just like you have to work at meeting new friends when you move to a new town. You have to go around and introduce yourself to people and make those connections yourself. Unless you’re a big celebrity, people aren’t going to follow you just for the heck of it. Be patient, and build slowly. It will pay off.

Getting attention by not drawing attention to yourself.

Tools like Twitter and Facebook are very much a “look at me” kind of environment. Everyone is vying for attention in some way or another. If you join in that chorus, by spamming people to get them to follow you or shouting your web site links at the top of your lungs, then you’re just contributing to the noise.

Getting attention is a balance, and in fact, it starts by taking the attention off of yourself. Sure, you can promote your web site in your bio information, tell people about yourself (in fact, I recommend a good, descriptive bio and web site link!). But one of the best ways to start getting attention in a community is to participate. Join a Twitter chat on a topic of interest (if you’re into blogging, I recommend #blogchat as a great place to start!) Or simply look in your social streams. If anyone is asking a question that you might be able to answer, then help them out. Or, if you’re really stuck, ask a question that helps to start a conversation. If you shift the focus off yourself and onto others, people will be more inclined to engage with you. Of course, at a certain point, you can put out links to your latest blog post or sales offer, but it’s a balance. Converse, engage, and have some fun, BEFORE you start hard selling in peoples’ faces.

Reward people for their attention.

One of the best ways to foster a sense of community is to reward people for their attention. This can be as simple as thanking someone for sharing your content, or it can be more than that. For example, each Friday on this blog, we respond to a Question of the Week. We invite readers to submit questions about video, social media, digital marketing or web design and then we endeavour to answer it here. Not only do we answer the question, we also make sure to include a little bio of the person asking the question and a link to their web site and/or social profiles. It’s our way of giving a shout-out to a member of our community, and thanking them for taking the time to submit a question. (By the way, if you have a question, ask it in the comments, we’d be happy to answer it!)

Other things you can do to reward people are sharing their links, or promoting their projects. Be careful with this though, don’t just promote something because you want to reward someone. Do it because you believe in what they are doing or sharing. Authenticity is key! My friend Gini Dietrich has a “Facebook Fan of the Week”  and she also does a “Follow Friday” feature on her blog that promotes a member of her community every week. It’s always a surprise, and everyone gets to know a new person. It’s a wonderful way to reward people for being part of the community, and it works so well – just look at the comments!

Building a great community is one of the best ways to use your time online – not only is it good for your business and career, it’s tonnes of fun too! Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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