Community Building for Small Business Owners

How can we be mindful, in our everyday business practices?  “What does that even mean?” you may ask.   Well, for one, remember to breathe, look around, and enjoy the moment: whether you’re driving to work, walking to lunch, or interacting with clients online.
At the end of the proverbial day, I patronize businesses that are able to sell me more than just a burrito; they’re selling me name and face recognition, they know my favorite mocha, they understand what I do for a living.
How can we bring that name-face recognition to the online social media sphere?  Here are a few suggestions on community building for small business owners and techniques I’ve seen work for me and for those community members around me.

 Community Building for Small Business: 3 Effective Tips!


#1:  Don’t Sell a Product; Sell a Community

One local company totally gets all aspects of community building for small business and that does this really well in Boise, has been The Record Exchange.
They recently managed to tap into the community’s shared grief about both David Bowie and Prince passing away in 2016, in short succession, by hosting impromptu cover shows of work by each of the artists, respectively, bringing the local music community together through fellowship and artistic expression.
Not only did they offer local musicians a platform for showcasing their talents; but they also provided an outlet for assuaging the grief of losing such great legends so soon by offering special packages and promotions on albums and other merchandise—such books and artwork portraying Bowie and Prince.
Another brand I always bring up when I think of the idea of community building for small business and selling a community or a philosophy is Patagonia.
I recently watched a documentary called “180 Degrees South” that chronicles Jeff Johnson’s journey from Ventura, California, to Patagonia, Chile, during which he reenacts Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins’ 1968 backpacking trip.
It documents the gradual depletion of Chilean natural resources at the hands of multinational corporations in Chile.  I came away from it inspired to get involved with the effort to conserve the land there for the people who live there and maintain it.
Chile is home to many miles of beautiful, lush rain forest, tundra, and miles of once-pristine beaches that are now overrun by U.S companies hoping to make a quick profit from the natural resources there.
The founders of Patagonia wanted to create surf gear and sportswear designed to complement the lifestyle of the surfers who live on the beach from morning till nightfall, paddling toward the crest of each next wave, hoping the next one will be the big one they get to ride into shore.
For me, at least, Patagonia represents not just a brand but a lifestyle: its philosophy endorses the conservation and preservation of our natural resources for many years to come.  Now that’s something to be celebrated.

#2:  Think of Social Media as an Extension of Your Own Social Networking

Due to the infiltration of social media networking replacing much of our interactions ‘in real life,’ it’s becoming and more difficult to make genuine, real-time connections with people.
Because of the unlikely nature of genuine connection, online, it’s of vital importance that business owners and entrepreneurs utilize social media platforms for genuine interactions with others.
Yes, you need social media for marketing purposes, but try to think of marketing as more than mere salesmanship.

Marketing, ideally, should entail growing your business.  How do you do that? 
By growing your community: the people who patronize your business and services are the people who have the potential to bring others into the fold.  How best to make them feel welcome, at home, as if they belong?  Those are the questions you should be asking.
Different social networking sites provide different advantages.  I’ve never known anyone who has landed a job via LinkedIn, for example, but it can serve as an excellent resource for folks looking to connect with people in a particular company, industry, or area.
For some reason, however—according to new research conducted by the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business
There are a number of explanations for this, but one possibility is they don’t think that certain platforms have much sway.  In actuality, some platforms have grown exponentially in popularity and following.  For example, 44% of women in the United States use Pinterest—one social media network often overlooked by marketing teams.  Because of this reality, it would benefit your business to utilize Pinterest’s popularity in driving Internet traffic to your site.
Another great networking site is Instagram, which many small business owners have begun to utilize as an extension of their personal networks and communities to reach local connections via photos of their products or services.
Try snapping a quick photo of your business as you relocate or open new digs, or snap a photo of your lunch at your place of work, showing the time you’re putting into building relationships with your clients, one email or post at a time.
Your customers will appreciate your honesty and your ability to capture a candid moment without the use of professional photographers or overly suave marketing techniques.
In fact, sometimes the use of those professional design services at the exclusion of more candid, personal sharing can backfire.  You want your customers to be able to relate to you, rather than seeing you as merely another business trying to capture their attention.

#3 Don’t Take Customers For Granted: Listen to Feedback & Respond

This one is a hard one, but it’s do-able: listen to your customers and respond to their feedback in real time.  I know what you’re thinking: but that’s scary!
What if I encounter a troll who wants to yell at me, so to speak, over social media?  Well, I’ll do my best to answer that question.  So what?  The majority of the feedback you’ll get, if you’re lucky, will probably come in the form of positive and constructive criticism.
If it’s not, it’s always possible to either delete the comment from your Facebook page or to respond to it in a calm, positive manner.  Remember, you are representing your company online, so it’s crucial to conduct yourself in a professional and adult manner, at all times—regardless of the fact that you’re communicating via Facebook comments or messages.
Chrissy Symeonakis, the owner of “Creative Little Soul,” a digital and creative agency based out of Sydney, Australia, recently spoke of the importance of interacting with our customers in real time, online:

Always respond to complaints in real time! Don’t cower and hide behind your computer. Be receptive to feedback and suggestions (don’t get defensive or rude). While you’ll encounter the odd troll or keyboard warrior, take the time to look and listen at everything people say. We’re not all perfect and if someone is offering free advice (whether you use it or not) take it and thank them.

This is a new era of social media connections: we live in a time where anyone with an Internet connection can hop onto Facebook and look up your business page, regardless of whether they ‘like’ your business or not.
Therefore, it’s of the utmost importance to treat others the way we would like to be treated, and to refuse to stoop to the level of Internet trolls and conduct ourselves rudely or unprofessionally.
Our customers should be more than just customers: ideally, they should be friends, family, and community members.  Think of your business connections as extensions of your network, and you’ll begin to realize that we’re all human.
If you can place yourself in another person’s shoes, as the result of an online interaction, survey form, customer service feedback page, etc., you’ll come a few steps closer to creating a community, rather than just a business.
This is a guest post written by a Featured Contributor to the Small Business Sense Blog!
Daphne Stanford writes poetry & nonfiction, and she believes in the power of art, education, and community radio to change the world. Since 2012, she’s been the host of “The Poetry Show!” Sundays  at 5 p.m.  on Radio Boise.  Follow her on Twitter @daphne_stanford.

Adam Hansen

Adam is a part time journalist, entrepreneur, investor and father.