How Can Participating in an Online community Help Social Networking for a Small Business?

Online communities are all the rage today and social networking is the force that often gets the credit for their popularity. From MySpace and Facebook to LinkedIn and Twitter, users definitely have their fair share of social playgrounds to choose from for connecting with like minded people. These sites make great sources for fun and recreation, but they also come offering real business opportunities as well. Having a successful run with social networking is all about knowing how to mingle in your online community.

Types of Online Communities

The online community comes in an array of flavors, but all mainly fall under three categories: self-managed, consumer-oriented, and business-focused. Let’s go over each category and explain how they can help your social networking efforts.

1. Self-managed – These types of communities are comprised of and managed by a group of people. Some run on social networking sites, but they are often focused on niche areas such as open source or proprietary software. What the self-managed variety offers is a sort of loose central control that allows the group as a whole to dictate the direction the community takes.

2. Consumer-orientated – Popular sites such as Flickr, MyYearBook, and YouTube represent the consumer-orientated online community. Though managed by a single organization, they do give users a great deal of control by providing access to features that allow them publish, share and converse. Consumer-orientated communities generally do not outright cater to brands, but they do have business-friendly capabilities. Whether it is a Facebook fan page, MySpace blog or YouTube channel, they tend to offer a plethora of features businesses can put to good use.

3. Business-focused – These online communities have a strong business focus, often attracting organizations, entrepreneurs and other professionals. Perfect examples are LinkedIn, and the host of Enterprise 2.0. platforms managed internally by organizations. These types are ideal for acquiring leads, networking and collaborating on team projects. A business-focused community tends to thrive when it provides tools needed for brands and users to efficiently manage relationships.

Making the Most of Online Communities

There is certainly no shortage of online communities to try your luck at. However, if you want to get the most from your social networking efforts, you should keep the following factors in mind:

  • Determine your objective – If you are running an email marketing campaign, your strategy to an online community should not be executed the same as it would if you were using it as a customer service aid. The difference in this approach is critical to the tools and technologies needed to accomplish your goal. Determining your objective is important as it helps to define everything required to make your run a success.
  • Identify your audience – Many businesses indulge in social networking to connect with their audience. Whether your goal is to connect with a new or existing audience will play a large role in determining what type of online community is right for you. For instance, you may find that Twitter is ideal for connecting with existing customers, and Facebook works for both current clients and prospects.
  • Know what to measure – One of the most exciting aspects of social networking is all the data that shuffles through these communities. Measuring the activity can be difficult, but it is possible when making use of the right tools and metrics that are the most relevant to your business.

About the Author
Fletcher is a best practices activist and advocate for a leading Web and permission-based email marketing solutions. His specialty is on the importance of using opt in email marketing

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