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Your Small Business Is Approaching Social Media Wrong

Many small businesses have been using social media wrong. Very wrong.

Small businesses and many non-profit organizations have been trying to build audiences on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and likely several others. Growing the number of fans, followers, and subscribers is a mission because it is an easy metric to measure. Small businesses see audience building as a way to increase customers or leads. Increasing engagement on social media brings about more leads, so naturally a business will want to engage as large of an audience as possible.

And it’s here where you’ve been getting it all wrong.

Audience ≠ Customers. Community = Customers.

There is a major difference between an audience and a community. Your business communicates to an audience. In reality, your business communicates with a community. When your business becomes part of a community, those friends and neighbors can quickly turn into brand ambassadors or even referral engines.

What’s the Difference Between an Audience and a Community?

Everybody loves to have an audience. You’re on stage, the lights are on, you’re holding everyone’s attention—that’s the problem. The communication is one way. While you’re on stage, any speaker believes the audience is hanging on every word. You imagine them waiting for your next statement with focused enthusiasm.

The lights are preventing you from seeing people slip out the back. Your audience is on their phones, replying to emails, Facebooking, and going on with life. An audience may be present but likely isn’t engaged to the level you believe they are.

Thought Comparison of Community versus Audience

How can your business approach a community versus an audience?


  • Seeks to create a following
  • Uses social media as a “soap box”
  • Focuses on message over members
  • Believes the conversation is centered on the brand and attempts to seize a leadership role
  • Focuses on brand content only
  • Seeks to be rewarded with business


  • Identifies existing communities
  • Participates in discussions
  • Recognizes new members of the community
  • Identifies and supports community leaders (the community determines thought leaders)
  • Supports user generated content (UGC) and curates/shares articles from a variety of community sources
  • Seeks to build credibility and trust with community


Your business is part of a community. Your customers, your competitors, and everyone associated with your industry form this community connected by their interest. An interest community, if you will. They want to talk about your industry, be an active part of your industry, and share their expertise with your industry. Being talked at isn’t nearly as important as talking with them.

How can your small business be a part of the community? Engage with them. Hear them. Respect their inputs and opinions. Ultimately, be recognized as the experts.

What Is Small Business Social Media Management?

5 Tips To Do Small Business Social Media Right

Here are a few tips to get your business started down the social media path. Don’t be afraid to dip your toe in before trying a cannonball into the social media waters.

Pick Your Platforms

While many small businesses will go from zero social media presence to attempting to blanket all social media platforms at once, fight the temptation. Take a bit of time to research which of the social media platforms is most active within your community. By researching and exploring each of your social media platforms, you’ll be able to determine which ones have the most active community.

For example, we worked with one small manufacturer who was interested in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and about three others. The accounts were setup by their VP of Sales and Marketing in one night. The next day he called me: “Now what?”

We had a conversation about generating impactful content for each platform. We discussed cross-promoting the different platforms and the methodology of delivering them all back to the website. “That’s a ton of work!” he exclaimed. Yes. It is.

We finally settled on evaluating each and what his goals were for a social media program as a whole. The list was whittled down to two. Both have proven successful but still require focused planning.

Listen More Than You Speak

My late Grandfather once told me, “We have two ears and only one mouth—listen twice as much as you speak.” For a small business on social media, I believe this to be critical. Stay on top of community discussions. Learn what is important to them. Find out who the community leaders are and get to know them. Discover the community dynamic and join in.

When it comes to interacting with your industry or interest community, listening is more than just reading tweets or catching up on a couple LinkedIn posts. Listening is an active strategy that involves exploring conversations, reading blog posts by thought leaders, and staying in touch with the community. When the time comes to participate…

Be Helpful. Always.

We all know “that guy.” The one who is always in it for himself (funny how it is almost always guys) and always looking for something in return. His quid pro quo attitude makes him next to impossible to be around. Don’t be that guy. You can see this on social media. Someone has a question and the salesman-like reply immediately comes out – a solution for a price.

Be a good community neighbor. Be a help. Answer questions. Don’t give up proprietary secrets, obviously, but help those in your community. They will someday help you. Stop, I know your argument. Why give away intellectual property or knowledge for free? There is a cost to that knowledge.

Two things will happen when you share that knowledge. The people who will try it themselves will try it. They would try it either way. And the people who don’t try it themselves will see your expertise first hand. They’ll call for help when they’re ready. How do I know this? How many DIY plumbing videos are on YouTube? Yet plumbers still get calls. A lot of calls. Ask those plumbers how many of their services calls came from people who watched their YouTube videos. Hint: a lot.

Be Real. Find Your Voice. Stick To It.

Small businesses can easily forget a simple idea: social media is social. Not corporate. Brands, just like people, have a personality. Embrace it. Authenticity carries enormous weight with communities. Staying true to your brand’s personality and voice will mean visualizing a specific “spokesperson” or maybe even the way the office behaves.

If the office tends to be quirky—be quirky on social media. If everyone is pretty geeked out about engineering, be geeked out on social media. The “true to yourself” approach will make writing content much easier and will ring true with your community. Examples abound from companies like Oreo and Taco Bell.

This personality should also shine through in conversations with neighbors/members of the community. Treat your community as if they were standing in your office entrance. If they’re coming to you with concerns, offer to connect with them off line. If they’re coming to you with ideas, encourage them. Be aware of what’s going on within the community and be a part of it. Even if it’s silly (within reason, of course).

Geek Out. On Occasion.

Your industry or interest community is a place where your neighbors/members are all relatively familiar with the terminology or jargon. While you don’t want to intimidate those new to the community, it is okay to dive into detail on industry topics. That blog discussion on tolerances of thermoformed plastics might serve an important role.

Discussing an in-depth topic on your blog or social media account can showcase that you know your stuff. The no-fluff discussion allows your business to flaunt experience and expertise in topics that can separate you from your competitors. Expressing opinions and backing them up with your facts can impress the educated buyer and educate the newer community members.

In depth content is where it can also benefit businesses internally by documenting institutional or tribal knowledge from within your ranks. Your 20-year veteran construction project manager can offer insights in a blog entry that can be wildly useful for the fresh-from-school project coordinator. Now memorialized in your blog, it can also be a training tool for future employees or team members as well as insightful for other community members.

Almost every small business or non-profit organization can recognize and engage with their online community. With the right attitude and right approach, online communities can quickly become online brand ambassadors and referral engines. It all comes down to treating them as a community and not just an audience.

Does it seem like a lot to handle? It can be. Good news, you’ve got a partner in Signalfire. Our team can assist in consulting or completely handling your social media needs. From designing profile images to developing a complete content-included social media management program, Signalfire’s team can help your small business get the most from social media. Drop us a line, and we’ll set-up a free consultation.