Create your real-world community. Then move it online.

I’ve just had an epiphany.

That may be too strong a description but there was a moment when I suddenly realised how social media works. Yeah, I know you’re probably now questioning my credentials as everyone knows how it works, right?

Well, if everyone knows how it works, how come so many SMEs are questioning the value of their social media accounts?

Let’s start in the days leading up to my ‘Eureka’ moment.

My young son was in the final weeks of his first-ever cricket season. We felt really welcomed by his cricket club. I wanted to help them in return and offered to set up the club’s Facebook page. When it was ready, I let the club president know and he sent out an email to his friends and colleagues. What happened next was wonderful.

Within hours there were dozens of likes. In the first two days, the page gained more than 100 likes. Within its first week, it had a total reach of more than 1,600.  Those figures would make many small business owners weep. And all these followers are real. No bought followers, no incentives.

Why was it so successful, so fast?

It’s obvious (now).

There was a strong and faithful community around the club long before we launched its Facebook page.

This is a valuable lesson for other organisations wanting to develop a strong social media following: develop your offline community first.

For some businesses, it is easier to build a loyal ‘real world’ following. For example, café owners have daily personal contact with their customers and often know many by name. It is the face-to-face contact that creates the community around your business.

Some businesses use a competition to attract followers. In reality, they are just buying fans with the chance of winning a prize. Once the competition is over, will those followers still be engaged with what you have to say?

Other businesses believe that getting their friends and family on board as followers is a good way to make their page look popular. Unless those friends and relatives are also your clients – or potential clients – how worthwhile are they as followers?

You need to attract people who are part of your organisation’s community (as opposed to your personal community). Your business’ community consists of your clients, suppliers, business acquaintances, business neighbours and potential customers.

How do you create your offline business community?

Network, network, network. Get out into the community. Visit existing clients. Catch-up with business acquaintances. Attend local events or host your own events.

Then let them know you are online:

  • Ensure your business cards highlight your social media accounts
  • Include links to your social media accounts in your email signature blocks
  • Let people know you’re on social media when you talk with them
  • Finally, ensure you always make your existing social media fans feel special. Monitor your posts to see what they do and don’t like. Speak with them via social media, not to them. Answer their questions, respond to their comments. In other words, communicate with them in the same way you would if they were standing next to you.

Turning a virtual network into face-to-face supporters

Once your offline community is online and they engage with you on social media, hopefully, the viral nature of the internet will kick in. Subsequently, more people start taking notice of you and become interested in what you have to say.

Therefore, social media works by providing an alternative avenue in which to communicate with your existing community. In turn, you have the potential to further build that community online. The challenge then is transforming your social media network into new customers and supporters. 

Thank you to the Murgheboluc Cricket Club for giving me the opportunity to learn this valuable lesson.