Published in Entrepreneur Magazine, April 2013
Are you tired of pouring a massive portion of your capital into advertising costs but don’t see an alternative? You can’t really afford not to tell people what your company has to offer, especially if you’re just starting out. That being said, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Why not get your customers to do the work for you – for free?
Build an online community to spread your message
Creating a virtual community is actually a highly cost-effective way to market your business. In fact, you don’t have to pay a cent to set up a Twitter account or LinkedIn profile for your company. It’s also an excellent way to build a loyal customer base and attract new customers through word of mouth.
But where do you start the process of building an online community? Firstly, you need to:
- Find out where the conversation is happening – Take the time to search the big social media sites for mention of your company and see if anyone is already talking about you. For example, if people on Twitter have acknowledged what you do, you’ve already got the foundations for your community right there. It would be unwise to try and force the conversation to start on another platform. Of course this doesn’t mean that you can’t expand your community to include other sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook, it’ll just take more time to get going.
- Treat your users like the individuals they are – Once you’ve got your social profiles going, it’s time to start talking to people. This is where most companies fall down as they simply broadcast their message to anyone and everyone. Instead, you should be talking to individuals, one at a time, and showing that there is a real person behind the company profile. This way, you’ll gain people’s trust as an authority in your industry, which encourages them to interact with you on a regular basis.
- Get your community excited – Virtual word of mouth is one of the most successful ways to bring new members to your community and keep them there. However, if you want people to talk about your business, you have to give them something that will get them talking. Essentially, you need to supply your users with thought-provoking content on a regular basis.
Remember, while building and maintaining a thriving online community is definitely an affordable marketing option, it does take time and effort. There is no quick fix that will get you 1 000 interested users over night. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll be able to reap the rewards for years to come.