It used to be that to sell your product or service you needed to leverage one of the three great avenues to the marketplace: The Media, Marketing Real Estate (Billboards etc) or The Mail. All of these belonged to other people and naturally you had to pay for them. With budget distinctly more scarce for small business than larger enterprise, the cards seemed stacked against the SMB sector. 

But in recent years the playing field has been flattened by the advent of two powerful internet engines: Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). When the two combine they provide SMBs with very accessible channels to market. Key to exploiting these affordable, yet highly effective, dynamics is the construction of audience and community.

Here are five cost-effective ways Small Businesses can do this:

1. BloggingCentral to any plan to leverage both Social and SEO is a regularly updated  blog on your website because this is where the Social and SEO dynamics intersect. Regular blog posts provide content to attract visitors to your site and hopefully capture their email address or their Social subscription; while regular use of the same strategic keywords will assist your SEO strategy and increase your rankings on searches for those keywords.

2. Email Newsletters: It sounds almost old fashioned but usingyour blog content to populate monthly newsletter digests to those whose emails you have collected means you can try and regularly bring people back to your website, and hopefully get them to connect with you in some other way - follow your social accounts for instance. (NB: you must track how you acquired the email address and for what purpose so that you don’t fall foul of the stringent Australian Privacy Rules.) 

3. Social Advertising: All the channels now provide the opportunity to promote your business and these adverts should be geared towards joining your community. These are usually very affordable and based on a pay-per-click basis. Combining these with your Google Adwords strategy ensures consistency across the internet. 

4. Direct EngagementThis is done in different ways on different channels. For instance an effective way to build community on LinkedIn - mainly for business-to-business and in professional spheres - is to form a group (ideally based around a topic rather than your brand) and post weekly content that might entice discussion between your customers and prospects. On occasion you can use these groups to promote your blog content and direct traffic to your web site. On Twitter, you can have standing searches on strategic topics and engage directly with those asking questions about that topic. Finally on Facebook you might run competitions - such as a caption competition - with attractive prizes that might encourage your “fans” to share with their networks.

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5. The Real WorldFinally, while all these tactics are purely digital measures, never forget the physical world. Ensure your social channels are prominently promoted on your physical real estate and properties as well as on all collateral such mail-outs, fliers and brochures.  

No community is built overnight, but as it grows it becomes ever more powerful as an audience to whom you can market your products but also an environment where you can foster customer advocacy, something covered earlier in this Social SMB Series.

It should be said that schemes involving the purchase of followers and fans are not a good way to grow. It is more authentic and effective to grow your community organically. Discipline, commitment and perseverance are essential for this endeavour to succeed. But another fundamental success factor is to remember that the content and messaging you use throughout these efforts is about the customer and not about you. 

While it is a reality that such a program requires a good deal of work, it doesn’t require the sort of dollars the old fashioned forms of marketing used to. As website traffic grows and your audience swells, the true power of a tight community bonded to your brand will manifest its immense power. Such a community is a valuable business asset you can even register on your balance sheet!

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