To create or participate? That is the question.

When it comes to building an online community, there’s no shortage of social platforms to choose from. We all know them and (most of us) already have them:

Facebook pages
G+ pages
LinkedIn groups
Ning groups
Blogs
Forums
Etc.

The rise of free digital media has removed almost every barrier to entry for marketers to build the right stage to shout their gospel. The tools are there and the effort is minimal. A few clicks, a name, a logo and its done, right?

I often wonder though, are we too focused on building our own communities and not enough on participating in others? While the creation of a Facebook, G+, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the other “must have” network profiles is cake, the building and maintenance portion of the program surely is not. It can take months to build an audience from scratch and many of us don’t have that luxury of time. When the message is ready, wouldn’t you rather share it in a room with people already in it?

Sure, there are definite long-term benefits of creating your own community. Content moderation control, for instance. Controlling the dialogue. The guarantee of always being heard. I don’t advocate we step away from building these communities from scratch, but when time and resources are of the essence, why not focus more on the communities in your niche that already exist?

Case in point: I have a client that recently launched a program from scratch. They have a website, a product, and only a few hours per week allocated to market it. A few months into the project, they hadn’t been meeting their lead goals and needed some help. I took a look at their offering… it sounded amazing. So why was no one biting? Then I looked at their marketing: posting daily to Facebook, tweeting 3-5 times per day, and posting daily to their LinkedIn company page. I looked at how many followers they had in each network and found they were reaching an audience of less than 100 people.

And there you have it folks.

With only 5 hours per week to spare, I offered a different approach. Within the first week, I joined over 20 high quality, niche Linkedin groups. More than half of them published my posts and I effectively reached an audience of over 50,000 people. This little effort took about 2 hours. The remaining 3 hours I spent reaching out to industry associations with large membership bases in our target market. Within the first week, I had set up a meeting with a chapter president who was so interested in the program, she promised to forward to her entire association board and chapter membership.

The bottom line: When time and resources are limited, don’t waste them building a community you can’t sustain. Spend your time reaching people who are already sitting in the room waiting to hear what you have to say.

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