What is your Community of Interest & how can you use social media tools to help tend it?

A core element of successfully leveraging social media to build your business or personal brand is to identify and target your Community of Interest.

This simple starting point is too often overlooked when people begin to incorporate social media tools into their marketing.

What is your Community of Interest? It is a group of people who intersect with you around your personal or business brand. These are people who you know and interact with. They are enthusiasts, influencers, stakeholders and potential customers. They are people who you network with and who you have an interest in.

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Our Community of Interest is made up of people drawn from four groups:

Peers: In your professional life, you have a group of peers who you are friendly with and who are part of a cooperative network that can have a tangible impact on your business success. These peers may be suppliers that you work with in order to complete jobs. They may be other providers of the same services or products who are in a different market, or even in your same market. They may be people who are in the media that serves your business. The thing that binds you together with your peers is common interest and shared experiences. Your peers are a valuable part of your Community of Interest because they are spending a high percentage of their time focused on an activity that is closely related to what you do from day to day.

Friends: Our friends make up a strong cohort within our Community of Interest. They are people who we share important social connections with, and with whom we typically have explored the practice of reciprocal interest and support.

Past Customers: In our group of past customers, there are individuals who have a strong affinity for our products or services, and with whom we’ve developed relationship that are not just transaction-based, but that are built on mutual appreciation and interest.

Prospective Customers: This is the most nuanced component of a well-structured Community of Interest. This does not include anyone who is a prospect, or anyone who has connected with you as a result of your broad marketing activity. These are people who have established relationship with you that demonstrate a high degree of interest in your product or service, and with whom you’ve established a level of personal rapport beyond the standard back-and-forth of a sales process.

Traditionally our Community of Interest has been a loosely organized group: a group of names that show up frequently in our e-mail lists, or on our phone speed dial. Some large number of the interactions are in-person and occasional. You’d be hard-pressed to mobilize everyone on the group at one time around one idea, activity or question.

Social media tools make our Community of Interest a powerful and organized force.

Imagine, however, that you were connected with your Community of Interest in such a way that each person could see that other, and that each person could follow your dialogue with another member of the group, and participate if they were so inclined. Within this dynamic set of connections, the power of your Community of Interest would increase as its combined and common knowledge grew.

Here are a few simple steps to create that power.

First, sit down with a blank sheet of paper split into four quadrants.

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In each quadrant, quickly write down first names that come to mind. These people are the foundation of your Community of Interest.

There is no right or wrong number. Each of us have different social make-ups. We relate to people differently.

Then, go back and look at the names in each quadrant. Ask yourself, Who else do I know that takes an interest in what I am doing? Who else do I know that I’m interested in? Who have I helped out recently? Who has helped me out?

Each name that comes to mind should go onto the list.

When you’ve completed this process for all the quadrants, you have identified your Community of Interest.

The next step is to connect with these individuals online. For your Community to have the most power, you’d like to connect with them in such a way that they are able to connect with each other, if they are so inclined. For this reason, social networks are a very effective, and Facebook, with its large reach, gives you the best odds of finding the people in your Community. Log on to Facebook and upload the e-mail addresses of each of the people on your list. If they appear, send a Friend Request. If they don’t, use Facebook’s tool to send a note to them inviting them to become your Friend. (Some of your friends may not use the e-mail address you have on record for their social identities.)

A third step is to explore in what ways your Community of Interest is active using social media tools. You can do this by searching for them on Google, using not only their name but their e-mail address. You’ll find out who is blogging, where they have different social identities, whether they are active on other networks. In each instance, reach out and say hello: leave a comment on their blog, connect with them on different networks.

The final step is to Share and Interact.

Screen shot 2009-12-22 at 11.23.10 AM.jpgHow? Think about what you do when you network in your day-to-day life. Networking is about building familiarity and comfort with other people. while making apparent that you are interested in finding ways that you can practice Reciprocity, so that you can help them and they can help you.

Digital networking is the same as your day-to-day networking.

Because you are communicating with your Community of Interest, there is already a shared understanding of what you do and who you are. You can use the power of social media tools to share things that you find interesting and that you want your larger Community to know about. They might be related to your family, your hobby, your experience or your work.

The more you share, the more you will find other members of your Community sharing back. Over time, conversations will start, engage and tail off.

But what you can be confident about is that you will stay top of mind with your Community of Interest, just as each member in the Community will stay top of mind with you. This heightened awareness can lead to tangible development in your professional life.

Whatever your orientation to Internet marketing and social media, you should at the very least be using digital networking to enhance your relationship with your Community of Interest. It is easy and it is effective.