No matter the physical location of your business, when it comes to being interactive — we have options. We can dive into social media and start building our fan pages, attracting our Twitter follows, pinning our boards, etc. We can build a thriving email list that keeps us in front of clients and interested others. We can even join niche communities and we can build our own.
In “How To Differentiate Yourself Using Online Communities” Ivana Taylor identifies private online groups as a way:
“. . .to interact with people who are like-minded and who share an interest in a specific topic.”
These communities are different from social media which can be “too expansive.” The goal of your niche community can simply be to “create a way for customers to talk to each other.”
Ivana says, it gives you customers room to “share ideas, strategies and best practices.” If you’re thinking of creating a niche group, then check out her article for the other 4 ways to use online communities in your business.
If You Decide to Move Forward, You Need A Plan
In “The Power And Pitfalls Of The Niche Online Community” Yvonne DiVita says, “communities exist to bring people together.” But that’s not always the case. If you choose to create a niche community for your customers, vendors and other like minded people to join, then like everything else in your business, it has to be managed.
Yvonne mentions 8 things to help you keep your niche community on track including the creation of documented standards and rules of engagement. She suggests that you:
“Let community members know what’s expected of them. Outline exactly what is not allowed. Tell members what will happen if they abuse or ignore the guidelines.”
Clear and Upfront Standards Save Headaches
If you decide not to follow the niche online community route and stick with social media as we currently know it, then Anita Campbell, Founder of Small Business Trends, lists “9 Easy Ways You Can Use Social Media To Inspire Innovation.” She suggests that you shift your thinking about it” and start paying attention “to ways social media can inspire.” If you choose to listen in on the conversations about your company, competitors and industry as a whole, then “you’ll notice new ideas.”
I think this tip is something that time-strapped business owners can use. Make a point of entering the room (so to speak) at least once a week. If you’re not in that room — participating in social media at least a little — then you can’t overhear the conversations that take place. And if you don’t overhear those conversations, you may miss the spark — the inspiration that comes for engaging.
Social Community Photo via Shutterstock
I absolutely agree that getting online and engaging with your customers is a great way to get new ideas that will bring new value to your customers. I also think that you don’t necessarily need to do this exclusively online. I worked for a bike shop many years ago. The shop would put on bike rides where customers could come together with other bike riders and have a great time. If the owner of the shop went on the ride too, he could literally over hear conversations from his customers.
I have always liked the idea of direct interaction between customers and the company, since it means that better ideas are fed directly to them and the company can make improvements and changes according to what the customers are expecting.