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How to Find Your Online Community

I was surfing the Web this weekend and stumbled across XKCD’s updated Map of Online Communities [1] (here’s the TechCrunch writeup [2]). The map takes real numbers and attempts to map out where Web users are hanging out online. The premise behind the map is that we no longer live in actual communities; instead, we call digital communities our home. As a small business owner and someone who spends a fair amount of time online, that concept really hit home with me.

Yesterday we heard that 69 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from a local business [3] if there’s information available about that business on a social network. We’re hearing more and more that users are turning to social networks for recommendations and information. Small business owners need to know which communities and networks their audience relies on. Having this information helps us find “influencers” so that we can connect with them, leverage them and create content specifically for them.

Do you know which communities your customers are a part of and where you need to be? If not, here are some ways to find out.

Where are you getting traffic?

One of the most important data points you need to know is where your traffic comes from.  That means looking behind just Twitter or Google. What other sites or networks drive referrals to your business? If you don’t know, it’s time to get a Google Analytics [4] account and educate yourself.

Once you install Google Analytics, you’ll be able to monitor where you’re getting your traffic from. You may find it’s coming from niche social networks, related blogs, local retailers, niche forums, etc. If you’re having a hard time picking apart the sources, you can set up your analytics to filter out certain sources so that you can really hone in on specific blogs or social communities.

Once you know the sources that are sending you traffic, you can become part of their communities to strengthen the relationship. If these groups are routinely sending you visitors, then it means you have an audience there that you should be aware of.

Who is linking to you?

In business, you’re told to follow the money. On the Web, you have to follow the links. When online users want to share your company with others, they link to you.  Monitoring this data and keeping tabs on who is linking to you, how often and how many visitors they send helps you find your audience and the bloggers/customers you should reach out to. If you’re getting a lot of links from an authoritative blog in your niche, then you know that that’s a community you need to be aware of. Maybe that means engaging in the comments there, writing a guest post or specifically tailoring content pieces for the audience. You should also be watching to see who’s not linking to you but is linking to your competitors. Maybe there’s a way to win them over and create an audience you didn’t have before.

Who is talking about you?

Tracking mention of your brands is another good way to find important online communities. By setting up comprehensive Google Alerts for your brand terms (or your competitors’ brand terms), you can be updated any time your brand is mentioned. Monitoring these searches will help you to find new networks and sites where your audience is hanging out. It can also help you find new opportunities for guest blogging or potential partnerships by identifying up-and-coming sites you may not have been aware of.

Which online communities do customers say they belong to?

Ask them! Your customers know which sites they frequent online. They know where they share content, where they post the most, and what blogs they read daily. Offer incentives for them to share this information with you, whether it be via coupons, giveaways or a poll in your newsletter. The more you can identify where “your people” are hanging out, the better you can create content specifically for them to bring them back into your business.

The updated XKCD map is a good reminder of the communities that exist on the Web and why it’s important that we, as small business owners, know which ones are friendly toward us.  Knowing where your customers are in social media is the first step in being able to market to them.