What is a community and why do we need them?
What is a community and why do we need them?

Why should we build communities for our businesses? What is a community and what value do they have? 

I’m part of a long standing online community. Although I’ve been a part of it for 10 years or more I still feel like a newbie. The community was built around a common interest in a British comedian.

It started as a mailing list in tandem with an online forum. The forum died, the mailing list still exists althugh is less active now as we have brought our friendships onto Facebook.

Members of this community meet in real life and have built friendships and relationships. I’ve been on holiday with members of the group, some have stayed in my home, I’ve stayed in their homes. Whenever I travel in the UK I look up any fellow community members and meet them for a coffee, a pint, a chat.

We rarely talk about the comedian who brought us together but you will find us at every gig or event he runs. We bring our friends with us and talk about the gigs online.

Being in a community makes you feel like you are part of something bigger. It makes you feel like you have a special connection to the people and the common interest that the community is built around.

Imagine having a community like this centred on your business.

Are We Getting It All Wrong With Community Building? – Watch Below

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Community?

The word ‘community’ has been misrepresented.

Many regard their community as their social media followers but it needs to be more than this. I see followers as communites in waiting it’s our job to activate them.

I’ve looked up the definition of the word ‘community’ on several online dictionaries. Some describe it as:

  • A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  • A particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants.

In some ways I can see how this term has been extended to refer to a group of followers, but is it really accurate? What commonality do your followers have other than being connected to you?

The community I described is based around a central character, a celebrity but it’s active because members communicate with each other, not the central character.

To have a community people have to feel like they are members. That they are valued. They will want to get to know other community members to feel reassured that they are part of a group of like-minded people.

Communities In Waiting

Page Likers on Facebook have a simple relationship with you. You broadcast messages to them, they respond, you respond to their responses. It is rare that conversation breaks out from that format, it’s rare for your page likers to strike up conversations with each other.

The same is true on Twitter, the odd multi-player conversation may erupt but in most cases your relationship with your followers is one to one.

If you can activate your communities in waiting you can push the activity around your business beyond the walls of your social media.

Your followers will begin to feel like they belong to something, a club, a community. They will become more comfortable sharing with others in the group. Some will even break out and start forming friendships and sub-communities outside of your social channels. When this happens two things occur:

1. You begin to lose control of the message

You have little control beyond your own base. Your community members get to write the script when they talk to people outside of your community. You just have to ensure you have given them the right facts and the right content to share.

2. They become advocates for your business

The good news is that although the message gets diluted your community members  will start to talk about you outside your social media channels. They will talk about you to their friends online and in and the offline world. They will become your best sales people, your own army of word of mouth marketers.

How To Activate Your Community

Use a space that fosters conversation

It’s difficult to build community on a Facebook page or in the comments section of your blog post. You need to find a space that nurtures conversation.

One of the reasons the community I talked about works so well is that it’s all been conversation based. We conversed in the email threads, on the forum and in real life. If you want your community to be active you nee to look beyond your Facebook page and Twitter handle.

Facebook groups are the ideal space for this. I love Amanda Brown’s Celebration Project group. Even though I’m a passive member most of the time, I feel like I am celebrating her successes along with the group.

She asks for input for new projects meaning I’m more likely to buy them when they are launched.

Twitter chats

Twitter chats are still a clunky way of having mass conversations but those that persist will feel the community spirit. Although chats are usually hosted by a specific Twitter account threaded conversations go on way after the scheduled conversations have ended.

I’m not a regular contributor to chats but I have been known to join #BufferChat #BizChats from Mashable amonst others. I always meet new people when I join in.

Inspire conversations

Once you’ve found a home, or homes for your communities your job is to encourage conversation. Assist your members as they get to know each other.

Being a Facebook group or Twitter chat admin is a bit like being the host at a dinner party. Plan conversations that will ignite conversations. Think of topics that will get responses. Run polls, ask questions and encourage others to do the same.

Solicit feedback

Your community is a great forum for feedback. Ask them for advice, for suggestions for input. When you implement their suggestions they’ll feel valued and they’ll happily share your content and updated products, blog posts or content with their audiences.

Offline Meetups

If you have an active community online look at ways to take this offline. Can you host a meetup? When people meet in real life it helps cement their online relationships.

A real community takes time and work but the value is huge. Having a group of active community members who feel part of your business can help build business that will last for years.

Your Turn

Are you part of any online communities? What value do you get from them? Who does community well? I’d love to hear about your Facebook groups, Twitter chats and offline communities, tell me about them below.


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What is a community and why do we need them?
What is a community and why do we need them?
We Can All Learn From These Three Eccentric Londoners On Twitter
We Can All Learn From These Three Eccentric Londoners On Twitter

According to popular myth English people are eccentric. I’m English myself and may be prone to eccentricity from time to time.

But this eccentricity can add to a warm and entertaining social media presence.

I’m just back from a trip to London so I thought I’d share some of the eccentric Twitter accounts I found there and look at how they relate to small business marketing.

Watch below to hear about eccentric London on Twitter

The Oval Underground Station

My airbnb was near the Oval tube station. The Oval is known for its cricket ground, the heart of a very English sport.

But it wasn’t the cricket that caught my eye. As I stepped off the train and into the station I found a bookshelf full of random second-hand books. This wasn’t a bookshop but a place where I could pick up a book for reading or leave one for others to enjoy.

How quaint.

But that wasn’t it, next to the bookshelf was a notice board. Instead of displaying service announcements or rules there was a thought of the day.

If a tube station could have a personality this one did. I imagined the thought that went into this by the staff and wondered if they took pride in the quirkiness of their station.

There’s a Twitter account too. @Oval_station shares the daily thoughts and is hugely popular. They also share community news and information.

eccentric twitter accounts, Oval station
The Oval, Thought of the day.

They have around 12k followers but it’s not the followers that are remarkable it’s the interaction. Posts get up to 200 retweets and lots of comments.

What’s interesting is the station doesn’t get into conversations directly with people but people get into conversations with each other in the Twitter stream. It’s got real community spirit. This happens because the Oval retweet comments from others sparking the conversation


As small businesses we should be sharing content that will make our audience want to respond. We need to be entertaining and we need to embrace the local community.

We should, like the Oval, look for opportunities to spark conversations amongst our followers.

Big Ben Clock

I’m cheating a bit here. @Big_Ben_Clock is not a new discovery for me. I’ve been following them for years. This is definitely eccentric. On the hour every hour Big Ben Clock tweets the bongs. Yes, that’s right at 1pm it tweets ‘BONG’ at 2pm ‘BONG BONG’ and so on.

That’s all it does, all day, every day. That’s all it’s ever done. But people seem to like it. Each tweet gets between 20 & 40 retweets and some people even respond.

Why do I follow? It amuses me that someone, somewhere came up with this idea. It’s also a handy reminder that I’ve been looking at Twitter for too long.

eccentric twitter accounts, big ben clock
Big Ben Clock, humour? eccentricity?


I always say Twitter is about interaction and conversation but it doesn’t have to be. Humour goes a long way and people will remember you for it and be delighted to tell people about you.


I joked that Clapham Common tube station knew I, a cat lover, was coming. For two weeks the stations advertising had been taken over by posters of cats. I went there specifically to photograph the event. I wasn’t the only one at the station that day. I was delighted and so were others, you can view photos from visitors by following the #catsnotads tag on Twitter and Instagram.


The easiest way to get people to create content for or about your business is give them something worth sharing. You don’t need to go to the expense of buying ad space. Do you have a photogenic spot in your business? A quirky prop or something that will delight your visitors? Encourage people to share a photo and give them a hashtag to use when they do.

Over to you

Do you follow any eccentric or quirky Twitter accounts? Which ones make you smile? Let me know in the comments below.

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We Can All Learn From These Three Eccentric Londoners On Twitter
We Can All Learn From These Three Eccentric Londoners On Twitter
Are you making this mistake in your customer communications
Are you making this mistake in your customer communications?

When you communicate with your customers are you making a big mistake? It’s a mistake I’ve made time and time again and I’m sure you have too.

Luckily someone enlightened me and I’ve put a stop to the habit.

Watch below to find out what that bad customer communication habit was:


The mistake I’ve made is to start my emails, my social media posts with:

“We are delighted to announce”

If you haven’t actually sent an email like this I’m sure you’ve received one.

What’s so wrong with this phrase?

Let’s look at it, what does it tell us?

It tells us that the person sending the email is excited. Do we care? Perhaps if it’s someone we have a real personal connection to but in most cases no we don’t.

The ideal way to open your communications, even when you are delighted or excited is to let them know what is in it for them.

Forget about your own emotion and think about what the benefit of your announcement is for your customer. Are you launching something that is going to help them solve a problem? Will you make their lives better in some way? Will they learn from the information you have to share?

So rip up that first draft of your email and start again. Stand in the shoes of your customer and look at your new innovation, service from their point of view. How can you make them excited about it? How can you make them think that it was worthwhile opening the email?

Now you know the secret you will see ‘We are delighted to announce’ everywhere. In emails you receive, in Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts. And now you can smile, comfortable in the knowledge that this is a habit you’ve kicked.


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Are you making this mistake when communicating with customers
Are you making this mistake when communicating with customers
small business owners learning
Are you always upgrading your skills? Do you spend time learning and staying up to date?

As small business owners it’s hard to find the time to keep learning, but it should be an essential part of what we do. Do you make room for learning and developing personal skills in your year?

This time of year is conference season for me. As regular business slows down a bit for the summer holidays I use this time to pack in the knowledge.

In my business, you can’t afford to stand still, everything changes at a breakneck pace. Your industry might not change as fast as mine but I’m sure every business needs to keep up with changes.

Watch  below to find out how I keep up to date:

How 5 ways I ensure that I keep learning:

1. Online

I spend at least an hour a day reading posts and news relating to social media and small business. It’s an integral part of my day and although it tends to put stress on my to-do list I’m aware I just have to do it to stay up to date. I rely heavily on Feedly to subscribe to the blogs and newspapers I enjoy and Google Alerts to see what’s hot.

2. Offline Networking

Events and conferences aren’t always full of good knowledge but you’ll always pick up a few gems, you’ll also make valuable connections that are often more relevant than those you make at broader networking events. And you’ll learn loads from those connections too.

3. Training

A big part of my job is training. I sometimes think I learn almost as much from the people I train and the challenges I experience as they learn from me!

4. Books

I’m reading at least one business book a month at the moment and I’ve started a book club for others who want to join me (more on this soon). You can subscribe to my newsletter to find out more about my book of the month.

5. Evaluation

This is probably the most important one but the one that we tend to ignore. What were you doing a year ago? What were the results of your last project? Evaluating old and historic projects will help you become better. You need to do more than just know a project was successful or not successful you need to know why. So measure, assess and look at how you can make it even more successful next time.
Many professions require that you top up your knowledge every year with CPD (Continuous professional development) and I think this is a good model for small business owners. I think it’s a good idea to set aside a certain number of days a year to dedicate to your own CPD, is there an online course you can do or a conference you can attend?

How do you keep learning? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.


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 Small Business Owners, Are You Still Learning?
How do you stay educated and on top of your industry?
what your customer wants
Are you asking the right questions?

Do you really know what your customer wants? Have you asked them? Did you ask them the right questions? This month’s book club pick helps you find out.

I got a series of emails from a company recently. They had a product that they wanted to sell me and they were offering me a demo. This product wasn’t relevant to my business so I ignored the first email. They had me in some sort of automation system so I kept getting emails, each one becoming a little more insistent.

After ignoring all the emails I eventually got one asking if I was the right person in the company to talk to. I responded to this one telling them that they were barking up the wrong tree and, at last, the emails stopped.

Perhaps setting up this system was time and cost effective for them but it’s annoying for me. How many people got these emails and marked them as spam? How many went through the demo process just to make them go away?

The Problem

As small businesses, it is crucial that we are targeting the right people both with our sales and our inbound marketing.

In fact with inbound marketing, we are wasting even more time and resources if we aren’t creating the right content for our audience. Each blog post we write, each video we shoot, each image we create takes valuable time. Making sure that it is properly targeted ensures that this isn’t time wasted.

This is why I’m a big fan of the ‘Customer Persona’. A fantasy customer that we build content for. A customer whose needs and problems we understand. Someone who we know needs what we offer.

I covered customer personas in a recent podcast episode but I knew there was more to creating a persona than guessing who they were.

The Book

I decided that to get to know my customers and readers better I’d need to survey them. Enter Ryan Levesque and his book ‘Ask’*. I can’t remember which podcast I was listening to that recommended this book but it coincided with my decision to run a survey and I decided I’d read it before creating it. I’m glad I did.

The first half of this book is about Ryan, how he got where he is now, what motivated him and how he developed his system. Although he says you could skip this section it’s an enjoyable read and it’s convincing. He really wanted to create something that would work.

The second section is the system itself. It’s a workbook taking you step by step through the process and how to implement it. There’s nothing too techy here. If you can use simple survey software like SurveyMonkey and know your way around the basics of Excel you can follow the first steps. You may need a bit of help for the next stage, creating landing pages and videos, but there are tools out there that can make this easier too.

The key to finding out what your customers really want is asking ‘What is your biggest challenge’ and this question is at the beginning of and the heart of the Ask system.

The Verdict

I can see exactly how I can implement this book in my business. I know that I will be able to create better personas and this means I’ll be producing better content as a result.

I don’t need the full system. Although I can see how it will work for marketers the bit I really need is the ‘Deep dive survey’. The cost of the book is worth it for that alone.

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was the introduction. If it hadn’t been recommended I’d have been put off by the ‘Get rich quick’ language. It seems that every business book has to persuade you with the promise of dollars or euros to read on. It’s a shame really because the rest of the book is well grounded.

If you are serious about creating better customer personas this is the book for you. If you are committed to taking your online business further the whole book will be a valuable workbook.

*Affiliate link – I get a small cut of sales if you buy after clicking this link

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ryan levesque ask
How To Find Out Exactly What Your Customers Need
Will Sharing Your Expertise Lose You Customers?
Will Sharing Your Expertise Lose You Customers?

Are you scared of sharing your expertise online? What happens if people don’t buy from you but go and make their own stuff? What if they take your tutorials, follow them and decide they don’t need to hire you?

As a blogger, I’ve always shared everything I know and everything I learn online. There is no secret sauce for me, it’s all available on my blog and on my social media channels but could this be losing me customers?

I don’t think so. People come to me because they have read my blog and figure I know my stuff. They come to me because they’ve watched my tutorials and decided it’s too hard to do themselves.

Of course, there are others who don’t come to me, who might find a tip on how to do something on my blog and just do it themselves. But these people aren’t my customers, or they aren’t just yet.

When I started Spiderworking I was broke. I was running a small gift company and the recession had just hit Ireland. My biggest customers were no longer buying corporate gifts.

After a brainstorming session with family, I came up with the idea of Spiderworking.

I met friends, sought advice and with €20 launched the business.

That budget bought me a domain name, a month’s hosting with Blacklight and a Skype in number. I was set for a month but I needed to make enough money to fund the next month.

I must have done something right because I’m still here 7 years on and thankfully I have more than €20 in the bank.

Buying Loyalty

Small businesses are often strapped for cash and in the early days I tried to do everything for free or for pennies but now I know that some things are worth paying for. Some of the freemium services (where there is a free version of the software but they encourage you to upgrade) I subscribed to now are the one’s I still use and am happy to pay for.

Every month I see a list of subscriptions come out of my bank account, it’s not just my web hosting anymore, it’s monitoring tools, scheduling tools and a bundle of other services that make my life easier. I’m loyal to the services I subscribe to, it would take me a lot to move to one of their competitors. Most of them have been a part of my business since those early days when I had no money.

If all the services I subscribed to hid behind paid subscriptions I wouldn’t be using them now, in fact, I’d have found it hard to go into business at all. Those tools have helped me succeed and now I’m happy to pay and I’m loyal to them.

So before you are too guarded about your methods, before you hide your expertise away think about how you can use this as content that will attract and nurture future customers and advocates.


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Will Sharing Your Expertise Lose You Customers?

Do you know what to say?
Do you know how to easily answer customer queries?

I’m just about to take on a virtual assistant. For those of you who haven’t come across the term before, a VA (virtual assistant) is someone who takes on some of the duties of a personal assistant but works remotely. They often have more than one client they look after.

I can’t wait until she starts. In preparation I’ve started putting together some information for her, she’ll be answering calls for me so I need to make sure she knows what to say and how to handle common queries.

Last week I went to vote in the Irish election and the importance of this preparation became clear.

Find out why by watching the video below:

It’s not just staff or virtual assistants you should be preparing this information for. You should also be writing it down for yourself.

You can save a whole heap of time in your working day by preparing form emails that address specific commonly asked questions. You’ll still need to edit these each time you use them but having the basics in place will mean you are communicating effectively even when you are under time pressure.

It’s also a good idea to write templates for other common tasks. For example, I’ve been teaching LinkedIn workshops for the last four weeks and one of the tasks I get delegates to complete is a connection script.

This script acts as an introduction to those we connect with on LinkedIn and when edited effectively is likely to ensure that your connection is accepted.

Your Turn

Do you have systems in place to make sure you and your staff are addressing common queries clearly? Do you have any timesaving tips or processes? I’d love to hear about them so let me know in the comment section below.


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social selling
Are you forgetting something?

I met a business owner at a conference I was speaking at recently. He was confused. He’d done everything right, spent time and money building a good relevant audience on social media, posted great content. He’d even had great feedback from people who read what he wrote. But he’d seen very few sales.

‘What am I doing wrong’ he asked me.

In the heat of the moment I couldn’t think of an answer, but his comments stayed with me. It was in the car on the way home that it dawned on me.

Watch below to find out more

How to get sales from social media?

If you aren’t getting sales from your social media efforts you need to start constructing a strategy. Here are 4 simple ways you can get started:

1. Start to build an opt-in email list and send out newsletters

There are lots of ways to do this but at the very least create a sign-up page on your website that you can drive people to subscribe from.

Look at the example below from GIY Ireland

create an ezine sign up page
Create a sign up page on your website for your newsletter to attract potential customers

Once you have built your list send them regular updates including news, offers, products and services.

2. Mix sales posts into your content marketing

It’s true what they say. You shouldn’t always be thinking of hard sales on social media. You need to spend time attracting potential customers to your business and you should provide content to keep them interested. Don’t scare them off with blanket wall to wall sales posts, but don’t forget to tell them what you do and entice them to buy.

In the example below from Curious Wines they’ve posted their newsletter as a Facebook post. A great way to get more from a single piece of content.

curious wines sales post on Facebook
Repurpose newsletters as Facebook and Twitter content

3. Add a call to action to your blog posts

You’ve enticed someone onto your site and delighted them with your content. Make sure readers know what to do next and how you can help them. Adding a simple text call to action at the bottom of your posts could be enough to get someone to pick up the phone.

See the example from Chill Insurance below.

call to action chill insurance blog
Chill insurance reel you in with their content then offer a solution with a call to action.

4. Use LinkedIn to warm up sales leads

Although it would be a mistake to go straight in with a sales pitch with new LinkedIn connections don’t be afraid to push for a call or a meeting after you have gotten to know them better.

Your Turn

Do you have a strategy for driving sales from social media? What tips do you have to share?


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goal setting mistakes for your blog
Are you making these goal setting mistakes for your Blog?

For years I was making all the goal setting mistakes. I got measurement wrong, I focussed on the wrong stats, spent too long looking at them and chased the wrong goals. I know I’m not alone. I see bloggers obsessing about traffic without looking deeper all the time.

It’s an easy mistake to make and it’s one that is easily fixed. If you spend time setting real goals you’ll be surprised how easy it can be to achieve them.

2016 is just around the corner. Why not make a pledge to start working towards solid, measurable goals in the new year.

In this weeks episode I give you tips on setting those goals. I discuss which goals could be valuable and offer my experience on putting a measurement plan in place.

Listen below to find out more about the goal setting mistakes I made:

Goal Setting Blog Challenges

This week’s challenges are:

  1. Set three blogging goals for the first six months of 2016
  2. Write them down
  3. Set up a measurement chart so you can track your way to success.

If you enjoy this podcast please do me a massive favour and give me a review on iTunes, Stitcher or leave me a comment on this post. I’d love to hear your blogging stories and how you are getting on with my blogging challenges.


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Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Customer?
Are You Speaking The Same Language As Your Customer?

Are you using the right language to communicate with your customer?

Have you been to a party full of people from a different walk of life to your own? Maybe you were gatecrashing a tech event and felt out of your depth in the techie conversations. Perhaps you accompanied a friend to a college or school reunion and couldn’t join in the nostalgic conversation.

In both of these situations you’ll feel uncomfortable, you’ll be polite and smile sweetly but you’ll find it difficult to become part of the closed knit groups you have invaded.

As small business owners, it’s important we don’t make our customers feel that way. The easiest way to make our audience feel comfortable with us is to speak a language they use and understand.

Last week I joined a Blab hosted by Joel Comm. The topic was Disney and it was brilliant. Two terribly excited grown-ups shared their love of Disneyland and the Disney experience.

The Blab was fantastic, but I had a problem with the language. Watch the video below to find out why.

How To Get Your Language Right

There was nothing wrong with the language Joel and co were using in the Blab. It was perfectly fitting for their mostly US and UK audience. But are we using the right language when we communicate with our customers? Could we inadvertently be using words that don’t mean the same thing to them as they do to us?

There is no easy way to avoid these language faux pas, but we can follow a few rules to ensure we are speaking a language our customer is comfortable with. One that makes them feel like a welcome addition to the conversation.

1. Are you using the same language as your customer?

I don’t mean are you speaking French to a French man or German to a German. I’m talking about the actual words you use.

What colloquialisms do your customers use? How casual are your telephone or face to face conversations? Identifying a tone of voice and style that replicates these conversations both on and offline will put your customers at ease.

2. Avoid jargon

Jargon has a place. When we speak to other industry professionals it’s useful shorthand, it makes us feel part of the club.

Unless your target market are people within your industry or people familiar with the terminology you must avoid jargon.

I know terms that have become a regular part of my vocabulary such as ‘SEO’, ‘URL’ and ‘B2B’ cause confusion with delegates on my workshops. I’ve modified the way I use these terms now and always expand on them.

When you use Jargon in your social media posts it’s essential that you explain the terms you are using.

3. Be aware of cultural differences in language

This was at the heart of the story in my video. When you are speaking to people who live in a different culture, whether it’s the US, the UK, Australia or even Ireland make sure you aren’t pumping your posts full of colloquialisms. This will only distract or confuse your audience. If you are recording video or audio and have a strong accent speak a little slower and be more concise with your pronunciation.

4. Don’t fake it

There’s a British TV comedy series called ‘Allo Allo’. It’s set in France during the second world war. There is a character in it who is referred to as ‘That idiot British Officer who thinks he can speak French’.

Every time he appears he stumbles over words in a ridiculous French accent. It’s embarrassing to watch, even the other characters in the series are embarrassed.

Don’t be that British officer. if you are going to speak the language of your customer be authentic. Don’t use words you feel uncomfortable with just to fit in. Instead, find a tone of voice and a style of speech that works for you and relates to your target market.

P.S. If your curious on what Mickey means in Ireland find out here.


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