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Building a community online – are you missing the hidden opportunities?

Finding your online audience and engaging with them can be incredibly rewarding for your brand – but it’s by no means an easy task. It requires creative thinking and broad-mindedness. It’s not enough to simply use Facebook, Twitter or Flickr as an output for your latest products, news and offers – social networking is about seeing opportunities for connecting with others that might not be immediately obvious.

If you are using social media to build your network and extend your reach, here are three key questions to ask yourself:

1.      Am I using the right channel for my brand?

This might be something that’s instantly obvious – or it may require some trial and error. As a rule of thumb Facebook users are characterised as notoriously sales-shy and more interested in content that’s relevant to them on a personal level. A large chunk of Facebook fans are aged between 21 and 24 – so, for example, if you’re a high-end luxury property company is this going to be the best channel for you?

Twitter users, on the other hand, readily engage in a bit of reciprocal networking, and many brands are even starting to use Twitter as an arm of their customer services – allowing them to deal with common queries publicly and in real time. It’s important to realise the same people’s expectations can vary widely from network to network.

2.      Am I engaging my audience?

Think about your audience – who are they and what will pique their interest outside the realm of your brand? Scour the internet for content that will grab their attention from blogs, images and forums to articles and events that relate, even sometimes tenuously, to these interests. Don’t be afraid of asking questions and inviting people to interact with you on their terms. This might involve subject matter that you regard as not wholly relevant but engagement is the key to raising your profile. Going back to our luxury property company – there could be a whole host of topics to connect with people about – from blogs offering mortgage advice to breaking financial news and even articles on interior design and furnishings. Look for interesting ways of linking with the people and organisations that offer these services and building relationships with them by commenting on their content and asking questions. Most of all, try to stay relevant and find things that are topical so that your page is kept up to date. This is vital – a lively Facebook page, full on visually and conversationally engaging content projects a vibrant image for your brand.

Screenshot: CitySocialising/Facebook

3.      Am I connecting with others wherever possible?

This is perhaps the most important question of all, particularly if you’re building a following from scratch. Get out there and make connections – be seen and heard, make comments, ask questions, Retweet ideas that grab you. Join relevant conversations that are taking place away from your page to raise your profile and build relationships. You never know who might respond and this is a great way of pushing traffic back to your page. Always consider whether you’ve made the most of every opportunity to connect with others, when you’re posting, making sure to tag publications you’ve referenced or even individual journalists and bloggers. Lastly, make sure your profile represents you in the best way possible – contains a clear representation of your brand and is a professional and tidy ambassador of your online identity.