Ask the Expert: How to build a robust and rabid community with Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades

Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades is a community maven. She founded a grassroots community of women business owners called Power Chicks and shares how she nurtured a thriving presence on Facebook. In early 2011, Lynn will launch Power Chicks International, LLC, allowing her to offer even more connections, resources and inspiration to help women reach their big, bold goals. Lynn is also the founder of Marketing Shebang, a company focused on helping small businesses connect with their female customers.

lynn-baldwin-rhoadesRS: Welcome Lynn! So, give us the dirt: you have more than 2,000 Facebook followers for Power Chicks. How the heck did you get that going and what advice do you have for others who want to build a following on Facebook?

LBR: Building a community on Facebook requires patience. Lots of it! Every one of us starts with a single follower.

I launched the Power Chicks Facebook page over a year ago by inviting my personal friends. Now, granted, they weren’t my ideal peeps, who are women in business, entrepreneurs and professionals looking for community, resources and inspiration. Joining the page were my father-in-law, my sister who’s in school – well, you get the picture. Nonetheless, it gave me a base of around 70 people.

So, my advice would be, start with who you have. Invite friends – but don’t stop there. Talk up your Facebook page everywhere. Put your link in your email signature, on your website, your newsletter, your brochures – anywhere your ideal customers might be. I’m a huge believer in radical visibility. If people don’t know your business or Facebook page exists, how will they know what good stuff you have to offer?

Give your followers a reason to “stop by” every single day. I imagine the Power Chicks as a community gathering place – an actual location. Maybe that’s goofy, but it does have a good, relaxed vibe. On the page, I offer tips and tools for growing businesses, inspirational quotes, and conversational prompts about what works and doesn’t work for folks. These can be quite engaging chats, and it’s cool to see women from allover come together in a collaborative way. I also offer opportunities for Power Chicks to network with one another on Twitter Tuesday and Thursday Facebook Fan Day.

What you post on your page will revolve around your own business, of course. If you’re really stumped for ideas, begin to follow others in your industry. Use their ideas as a jumping off point for your own original thoughts.

Be casual in your posts – and whatever you do, don’t engage in heavy-handed selling! Facebook is a platform to build relationships with others that will, over time, enhance your business’ bottom line. But it’s a slow process and requires lots of TLC. Hardcore marketing message really turn people off on Facebook.

RS: Wise advice. How active is your community in terms of commenting and interacting? What tips do you have for getting more out of your community so your page does not feel like crickets are chirping and everyone is asleep?

LBR: I confess: I’m a stat watcher and I track how many Power Chicks are interacting on Facebook, Twitter, and emailing me about stuff. Why? Because if there’s no conversation, no connecting, no sharing of resources or cheering each other on – there’s no community, right? There’s just a number.

When I do social media consulting, I always say, “Don’t be eager to build up some sort of empire. Better to have a few red-hot fans than a lot of tepid ones.” It’s like this: You want raving followers who wake up each morning and think, “Hey, what’s Red Slice Nation got going today?” rather than a bunch of people who really don’t give a rip.

As far as tips for getting more out of your community, that’s easy. Give more. And if you’re not sure what to give, ask! The beauty of social media platforms is that you really can say, “Hey, what would you like? How can I best help you?” A following, even a small one, can offer fantastic feedback.

RS: I’ve always been a fan of quality over quantity! Do you think that the actual community topic is a factor to interaction? For instance, do you have an advantage in that your community is full of women talking about inspiration and motivation? What advice would you have for those of us with B2B topics or a less vocal community? What gets the most conversation going within your community?

LBR: Well, I think my advantage is less that we talk about inspiration and motivation and more that I understand what truly brings Power Chicks together – a sense of belonging and camaraderie. There’s a “We’re in this together” feeling. Having this advantage isn’t a calculated thing but sort of an intuitive knowing. Anyone else can have that same advantage.

See, what drives our decisions – whether to join a group, hire a web designer, make a purchase – arises from some need inside of us. We might hire a financial planner and think we’re paying for number-crunching but our deeper need is for safety and security. Identifying the deeper need in your community and addressing it, even obliquely, skyrockets your ability to develop a solid community.

For those with less vocal communities, evaluate what you’re doing and see if you can winnow out what’s not working. Again, ask people. Pick five reasonably active people, email or call each separately, and request specific feedback. You might be surprised at what you hear!

To get the most engagement, you also need to play with the days you post, and even the times of the day. Also, did you know posting a picture along with your updates statistically pushes up your response rate? So does posting a video. I love marketing and these little factoids, because I’m just that nerdy – and knowing stuff like this does come in handy.

Bottom line? Facebook is a fantastic venue for people to increase their business’ visibility, gain credibility, gently (did I mention gently?) sell, and more. But it takes time, patience, lots of trial and error. But stick with it! It’s worth it.

RS: Wise words, Lynn. Thanks so much for giving our community such great advice.

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