How to build a community on your social media platform

Social media has become one of the most affordable and effective marketing tools for small business owners. But if your company uses your social media to sell - sell - sell then you're just not using your social media efficiently, effectively or even correctly.

Businesses often fall into the trap of believing they need to use their social media platforms as a way to promote their business - to attract customers. When social media first exploded, there was a lot of chatter about driving traffic to social media sites. Some major brands even contemplated shutting down their websites and just focusing on their social media pages. But Social media as the word suggests is a social form of communication it is not your sales page nor your website. Your social media efforts should ultimately drive people back to your website. Your Social media is great to attract new prospects and to engage with existing customers, and when used correctly it becomes a collection or community of people based on shared interests and values.

How many of you have a family Facebook account? Now imagine every time you liked your uncle's picture of his cat or wrote a comment on your cousin's page to wish her happy birthday you were flooded with a sales pitch to buy your uncle's golf clubs or go to your cousin's hairdressing salon! You probably would stop interacting with their account or maybe you would just unfollow them.

Promote your values not your product

I recently read a story about a school headteacher who explained why her school did not have rules. The reason as she saw it was that a rule is a behavioural descriptor that sits underneath a value. For example, walking quietly on a corridor (the rule) is a subsection of showing respect (the value). At the school teachers were encouraged to actively guide the children to learn the values instead of constantly being told the rules. When the children understood the values behind the rules, they thought harder about how they should behave. It became a natural cause of them wanting to unite in the values with the keeping of the rules as an outcome. The teachers’ job was to facilitate a conversation with their students and to support their thinking in a way that enabled them to make better choices because they believed in the values.

When applied to businesses, your social media can become a great tool to promote your values, this could include having environmentally sustainable products, flexitime for employees, health care for employees, great customer support, innovation etc.

When you take out the selling think about what values you can promote. If you're a clothes retailer instead of a product placement picture how about a story of behind the scenes maybe feature someone who may not get the recognition they deserve.

How well do you know the story of Nike? In early 1971, long before the famous swoosh and Just Do it — a small company called Blue Ribbon Shoes co-founded by an ex-collegiate runner named Phil Knight and his University of Oregon track coach, Bill Bowerman began designing track shoes.

An old waffle iron rusty and broken sits in a protective case, in the middle of Prefontaine Hall at Nike’s World Headquarters, Oregon. And it was Bill Bowerman who used this waffle iron to create the shoe that launched a billion-dollar athletic empire.

Scott Reames, Nike's historian told the story: "In late 1971, Bill and Barbara were sitting in the kitchen together on a Sunday morning. Normally at church on Sundays, Barbara decided to stay home that particular day to help Bill find an answer to this perplexing question. So she started making breakfast on an old waffle iron that was a wedding gift back in 1936, distinctive for its old-fashioned Art Deco design. The epiphany came as Barbara was serving her husband breakfast.

"As one of the waffles came out, he said, 'You know, by turning it upside down – where the waffle part would come in contact with the track – I think that might work,'"

"So he got up from the table and went tearing into his lab and got two cans of whatever it is you pour together to make the urethane and poured them into the waffle iron." However, in his excitement, Bowerman forgot to spray a nonstick substance into the waffle iron. Unable to open the waffle iron back up, Bowerman abandoned it and went into town to fetch new waffle irons for his experiment. Barbara, meanwhile, threw out the now-ruined wedding gift.

Nike's Waffle Trainer debuted in 1974. the shoe worked for every type of surface and the rubber spikes didn't tear up the track.

In 2010 The Bowerman family made an astonishing find, the original waffle iron and gave it to the Nike Archives in exchange for a donation to the high school track program that Bill and Barbara's son Jon coached.

When you put a story on your social media you really don't need to sell. Think about it what better way to say Just Do it than by showing the original co-founder of Nike promoting that very idea in his own creations.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, people came up with ingenious ways to promote themselves through their values. Fitness coaches taught PE lessons to school children stuck indoors, musicians played music to virtual concerts for free, authors read bedtime stories, restaurants created how-to videos of their best dishes. Sales of books went up, people got endorsed by major brands. When you promote your values you are ultimately promoting yourself.

Help solve your customers' problem

Your social media should be a place where your company listens and helps your customers when they have a problem.

A recent question on Twitter was directed to a lipstick manufacturer asking where a certain shade of lipstick could be bought. The story continued with the customer explaining that she had been wearing the colour since she was a teenager but recently could not find it anywhere. The company responded with an apology since the lipstick colour was now discontinued. They asked her to message them her address and sent her the closest shade.

A place to handle negative criticism

Unfortunately, when a customer uses social media to make a complaint too many companies become extremely defensive, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to listen and use it as feedback the company they try and either ignore the customer by deleting the post or worse, argue back. It's not a matter of should you reply to negative feedback the real answer is how you should reply.

During a four-hour flight, Esaí Vélez’s seatback TV gave him nothing but static – while the rest of the passengers had normally functioning screens. Because he was disappointed he tweeted a complaint to JetBlue.

While JetBlue could have made an excuse or even ignored his tweet, they responded by taking his side and empathizing with him.

“Oh no! That’s not what we like to hear! Are all the TVs out on the plane or is it just yours?”

When he confirms that it was just his TV that was out, they reply:

“We always hate it when that happens. Send us a DM with your confirmation code to get you a credit for the non-working TV.”

They managed to defuse the situation from going from frustration to anger by relating to his disappointment and offering him a quick solution. They didn't say they had to speak to the manager they instantly gave him credit.

23 minutes after his complaint, Esai tweets: “One of the fastest and better Customer Service: @JetBlue! Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving”

Imagine how many customers you would lose if you didn't have someone managing your company telephone? When you open a communication channel with your customers you need to be sure you have someone with the right skills and availability to answer those questions as well as making decisions. When a company's social media pages are filled with unanswered questions it sends warning signals to potential customers.

A place for you to interact with your customers.

When used correctly social media is a place where you can concentrate your efforts on listening to your existing customers and create a conversation. It's a place to tell them about upcoming events in their area, special initiatives, workshops, it should be an extension of your public relations. If someone tags your company use it as an opportunity to engage with them.

Make sure you have a sense of humour

When McDonalds came up with the #MCDstories the fast-food chain asked their “fans” to post about their fantastic experiences at their local McDonalds. However, the marketing strategy backfired when angry customers used the hashtag to post their unpleasant experiences. One customer went as far as to say that they would rather eat their own diarrhoea than eat at McDonalds. The company tried to save its reputation by saying that out of the 72,000 daily posts that only 2% of them were negative, however, they still removed the label later that week.