7 essentials for building a community around a small biz Facebook page

I recently took part in the Baltimore Running Festival relay, where four of us each ran a portion of the full 26.2-mile marathon course. When the run was over, I found myself sad. It wasn’t just because I knew I had lost my main motivation to push myself as a runner, but also because I was going to miss the Baltimore Running Festival’s Facebook page.

For several months leading up to the run, I was obtaining valuable updates, information, expert advice, humor and encouragement from the site. I also began to realize how truly big the Baltimore Running Festival was because the page picked up a number of new fans each day.

“We’ve reached 1.95 million facebook posts over the course of a 30-day period. We want to thank you guys for building such an amazing online community to support and inspire one another,” said a post Oct. 19. “We had 300 facebook followers in June of 2010, so we never could have imagined reaching this level. The thing we value most is the 2-way interaction. And I think it’s safe to say we’ve had some fun along the way.” On Oct. 26, the site had 7,052 followers.

The page can serve as a model for other Facebook pages because it built a clear sense of community, of shared value and benefit.

Here is how:

  1. The voice of the Baltimore Running Festival’s posts had a personality. He (never did get a name) pointed out that people shouldn’t keep asking about parking, an annual concern, after he posted the information link a few times, and he told people he wouldn’t be replying to their posts at times because he was busy with site prep. That’s real.
  2. The posts didn’t sell. They provided information and expertise, help and humor.
  3. The posts were unpredictable. Nothing is worse than knowing exactly what is coming. I can admit that much of the intrigue of what might be coming in another post from the site was what kept me reading them.
  4. The posts and forum encouraged others to comment. People shared tips, tricks, secrets, fears, joys, etc. It was a community of people all interested in running, and all of us, as I learned, have many of the same issues.
  5. Humor was evident, both in posts and in comments. The voice (called “Facebook boy,” by some posters) could make fun of himself, some people in general, but never anyone specifically. He opened the door to others having fun, sharing a bit of themselves, and because of it we all learned that we weren’t that different from all the others.
  6. The volume of posts from the organization fit the need. As race day drew nearer, the volume and amount of useful information provided on the page rose. I found the posts the best and most up-to-date resource for race information. Perhaps the information was elsewhere, but it didn’t matter because I learned what I needed – and some more, which made the run more enjoyable – from the Facebook page.
  7. The page’s development was organic. The voice didn’t try to create a community, but rather provided a forum where it was safe to share or spy (the kids call it creeping). The voice’s consistency in tone and approach drew interest and attention, and it offered a welcoming environment for people with a common goal: completing the race.

In this age of social media and Internet isolation, a strong sense of community is what many seek – even if they don’t realize it. Finding that common interest, and giving people an opportunity to share how a business has helped them and the experiences many of them share only serves to increase a business’ value to its customers.

As a small business marketing consultant, I must note that accomplishing these goals isn’t as easy as these hints make it seem. It takes writing skills, people skills and the ability to change up on the fly. Working with a professional marketing person who understands Facebook and works with it regularly also can help.

When it works, it does what the Baltimore Running Festival’s Facebook page did to me. It got into my head, made me take notice and look for the latest posts and comments. To think that in six weeks I would come to miss it shows how much of a part it played in a busy life. That’s the goal of any marketing campaign. To get into people’s heads. To be memorable. Using the hints above, small business owners have a much better chance of accomplishing that goal, if they attempt it.

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