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September 16, 2013

How to Build an Industry Community on Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn

Since the advent of the Internet, discussion groups have appeared in various forms, blossoming around a variety of subjects. Nowadays, discussion groups are an even more important component of the Internet than ever before – and there are ways you can use them to stay current with your industry, promote your business and learn a thing or two, all at the same time.

LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ all include support for community-wide discussion groups. Through these groups you can do many things like help consumers with issues that may arise, or garner attention thanks to word-of-mouth advertising. They are great for small businesses too, because you can provide advice and make suggestions to consumers based on questions they pose.

So, how do you go about setting up and using these discussion groups for your business? Each one is a little different, so we’ll talk about them individually.

LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn is already a business-centric social network of sorts, because most people are focused on building their network to boost their professional career. It’s safe to say then that LinkedIn is a great place to build relationships with folks from other businesses. It never hurts to have a strong network of people plugged into the business world. They can generally offer sound advice, lend a hand or two where it’s needed, or even help you grow a consumer base.

Of course, there are a couple of other benefits to using LinkedIn Groups. For starters, you can send direct messages with others through a group. You can also connect with anyone in a group, thus adding them to your professional network. Generally, you are not able to do these things with private users. In some cases, it actually allows you to bypass the requirement for a premium account.

If you actually own the group, you can e-mail any or all of your members (or at least those who have opted into e-mail communications). In addition, you can configure an automatic welcome e-mail, which is sent as soon as someone joins the group. This is a great way to keep your members active, because you can send out newsletters or e-mail updates on a regular basis.

Of course, if you want anyone to read your e-mails and group content you’ll have to entice them to do so. Try promoting your business by hosting giveaways and contests with your own products or services.

One of the best things about owning your own group is you can showcase it on your public profile. It’s prominently displayed in the ‘featured groups’ section of your professional profile, where any new visitors can check it out.

Facebook Groups

Believe it or not, Facebook Groups can be used for a lot more than sharing memes or wasting time. Facebook is the largest social network currently in operation, if you didn’t already know that. The audience is quite vast and ranges from soccer moms to preteens.

One of the best features of creating a Facebook Group for your business is that you can link all of your profiles. In the “employment” section under your personal profile you can offer a direct link to your business page.

Of course, Facebook Groups offer much more support than just that. As the group, when you post a status, everyone who has ‘liked’ your page will be able to see said updates. This allows you to broadcast to a wide audience at any time, provided you have generated enough interest in your business or industry group.

The way Facebook Groups work, there’s almost no need to send out newsletters or frequent updates to consumers and associates. You can do it right through your Facebook Group, instead.

I would recommend creating a Facebook page for your business, in addition to a group. If you have a Facebook page you will be able to interact with customers using your business account instead of your personal one. Otherwise, you’re wasting a valuable marketing opportunity.

Google+ Communities

Google+ Communities is actually one of the newest platforms to be made available. Even though it may be in its infancy, relatively speaking, the network can do quite a bit for the business world when used properly.

With Google+ communities you can participate using both your business and personal accounts. That means you can interact directly with customers regarding particular topics. If someone asks for cooking advice, and you happen to sell the best pans around, get in there.

This is pretty much a simple form of advertising too — anyone who visits the topic will see the responses from your business and how you interacted with the community. Providing sound and helpful advice to consumers is an excellent form of social marketing.

Unfortunately, if you post links or URLs they will need to be moderated by the group owner which means they can be a hit or miss. It will depend on if the group owner finds the link useful.  If you’re the owner of a page, however, you can accept the links yourself.

When you create a community page for your business, it’s automatically linked to your business profile and it’s also displayed at the top of your community page for all members to see. You can also provide links to your business or related sites in the ‘about’ tab of your community page. Since this is pretty much the first thing anyone sees after visiting a group page or joining the community, it will likely encourage some visitors to check out your business page.

Groups 101: How to Interact

With any of the communities or groups mentioned above, your best bet is to create engaging content that encourages interaction from members. Don’t just spend all of your time advertising your business on the community page. The more engaging and interesting content you post, the more likely you will see an influx of visitors to the community and your linked business pages.

Don’t be afraid to launch events or contests. In addition, you can make slightly unrelated posts here and there, like an appealing photo you came across or even discuss a topic related to the group itself but not your business.

The idea is to produce useful content, because that’s exactly why members and visitors join communities like this. They want something out of the experience too, instead of just being subjected to advertisements all the time. Reward them, by offering whatever you can: advice, news, or anything else you can think of.

Do you run your own social community? What kinds of content do you post, or what kinds of discussions do you kick off? Share in the comments below.

Adrienne Erin is a social media marketing writer and blogger who always looks for new social marketing techniques with an eye on how they can help any business, from a rehab center to Mosquito Magnet. Follow her on Twitter for more: @adrienneerin.