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Whether you’re marketing and generating leads from consumers or businesses, you’re finding that buyers are few and far between during the current economic mess.

People still buying these days are carefully evaluating options before choosing.  Even as small business owners are dealing with lost sales, the Web 2.0 world is producing more social media websites daily.  Empowered consumers and businesses have more options than ever to learn about products and services.

In addition to staying connected with friends and family, social media and social networking web sites help customers check out products before buying.  Some social networking and social media sites are where people interact by sharing opinions, preferences and experiences.

Consumers can click over to Yelp San Diego (or other city)  for reviews of local services and restaurants among others. Technology decision makers use ITToolbox for peer opinions about the quality of each vendor’s products/services and even about which company white papers are worth reading.

Wouldn’t you like to host a web site that your prospects and customers trusted for help solving problems?  A website that offers help and assistance when solving problems?  An online gathering place where your best customers rave about your products?  Publicly?  What’s not to love?

I suggest it’s time to rethink your small business marketing.  Here’s my vote–consider building an online community around your products and your services.  And a recap of reasons I believe now is the time to make the leap to community building as a growth strategy.  Especially when customers are making fewer purchases.  Now’s the time to stand out.

8 Reasons To Build An Online Community

1.    Rise above the clutter. Traditional one-way marketing effectiveness is over has been for over sometime. Yep boys and girls, it’s true, the age of the megaphone is over.   Corporate-speak press releases, advertising, trade show exhibits and slick 4-color brochures alone won’t bring in the suspects, prospects and leads.

2.    Two-way conversations are the new marketing. You’ll benefit from providing as many opportunities as possible for getting closer to the ‘3-foot conversation’ with prospects.  The kinds of authentic conversations that where relationships are built and leads are generated.

3.    Encourage word of mouth. The best marketing.  Ever.  Most of us prefer to have a recommendation about a company or product from a trusted person (word of mouth).  Online community websites offer a great place for your best customers to post testimonials about great experiences with you.

4.    Build trust. Be the first one in your industry or area to offer a community web site that provides genuine help.  You’re not selling at an online community.  You’re building trust and credibility by taking the time to offer unbiased help.

5.    Deepen customer loyalty.  In addition to helping you attract new customers, an online community provides value to your existing customers.  You become an ongoing trusted resource for information. Not just wonderful products and services.

6.    Make it easier for prospects to find you.  A second Internet presence.  It’s like having a Starbuck’s store at one end of the mall and a Starbuck’s cart at the other end.  Two opportunities for coffer lovers/customers to find you.

7.    Use of social networking sites by older adults is increasing.  From 2005 to 2008 the percentage of adults with a profile on a social networking increased from 8% to 35%, according to a November–December 2008 Pew Internet & American Life Project survey.

8.   Turn customer support into a competitive advantage.  An online community can differentiate you from the competition and result in savings on customer costs.   Go beyond the everyone-has-one ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ page.  In an online community, or forum, customers can answer each others’ questions.  Sometimes the best answer will come from your customers and not your staff.  Combine customer service and social marketing like Zappos (blog posts about customer service employees) and Freshbooks’ Forum.

These are my reasons.  I’m sure there are more.   Help me out and post your reasons below in comments.

Next post I’ll list examples of how companies have increased leads and sales using online communities.

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Cynthia Trevino

Entrepreneurs with great services often don’t have enough clients because their messaging doesn’t connect. Cynthia Trevino teaches you five simple steps to get marketing clarity so you can attract more clients, make more money, and have more impact. She loves sharing Syrah and burritos with friends.