Today\u2019s startups and SMBs have a distinct advantage over those of 20-30 years ago. Never before has there been such efficient ways to create unique communities of customers. Given the likes of social media and other forms of online marketing, businesses are able to put a personal touch on their messaging and reach vast numbers of consumers. In fact, a study by Smart Insights is predicting significant increases in social media budgets across the board in upcoming years.\n Smart Insights \nThat being said, the competition to stand out is stiffer than ever. By nature, social media is an arena meant for building online communities. Although there are no laws written in stone that guarantee success, there are several key concepts to help put your business on the right path to gaining a loyal following. Let\u2019s discuss.\n1. Focus on helping, not selling\nIn general, social media users don\u2019t log on to their platform of choice in search of sales pitches. They go on to catch up on news, interact with friends, and see what\u2019s going on with their favorite entities across the web. Audiences (especially millennials) want authenticity in their dealings with brands.\nTherefore, the focus of your messaging should not be to throw coupons or shiny advertisements at your audience. Way back in 2007, the New York Times reported that the average American is exposed to around 5,000 ads every day. That would have significantly increased now. Contributing to that number is not going to do much for you in terms of creating a close community. Instead, your social content should be aimed at providing valuable insights and establishing yourself as a thought leader.\nWhole Foods does a fantastic job of this. On their Facebook page, they\u2019re known for providing innovative recipes and encouraging follower engagement. Here is one of their recent posts:\n Whole Foods \nThey don\u2019t just sell healthy products; they sell ways in which people can better their lives. As most people know, Whole Foods boasts one of the most tight-knit, niche communities in the entire food industry.\nA good philosophy to live by is you are not selling products or services; you\u2019re selling solutions to common problems.\n2. Know your circles\nOne of the critical aspects of social media is appealing to the right people at the right time. Look at Harley Davidson, they know their audience down to a tee \u2013 and shows on social media.\n Harley Davidson \nAs a result of the superior ability to speak directly to their circles, they have built more than just a community, they\u2019ve created a lifestyle.This by no means a simple task. In fact, it might be one of the most difficult parts of your entire marketing mix. Luckily, there are excellent resources available to simplify the process. NocNock for instance, is a profiling tool that allows you get to know your contacts on an incredibly personal level.\n Dipti Parmar\nUsing intuitive surveys, your marketing team can gain all kinds of information in regards to consumer opinions and what motivates them. With this in-depth knowledge, you can create an extremely accurate brand persona to promote your messaging and relate to the audience.Often times, the classic saying: \u201cIt\u2019s not always what you say, it\u2019s how you say it,\u201d applies directly to social media. Your ability to speak on the same level of your audience will do wonders to build trust and cement a loyal following.\n3. Don\u2019t hide behind your brand\nSocial media marketing is all about creating a humanized presence in which people can draw real-life connections to. It goes beyond simply promoting a business. The focus is to show the world there are actual people behind the scenes running the show.\nThe key is to make yourself accessible and responsive. Brandon Stanton, founder of the renowned social media account Humans of New York, has built his career around this concept. Apart from the famous brand, he makes his personal presence visible and exhibits his passion for making the world a better place. In turn, Stanton\u2019s name and face is automatically associated with the profound HONY community of over 18 million followers.\nConsider using tools and apps like Laleoo to help form deeper, personal connections with friends and followers. This app harnesses the power of user-generated content and allows you connect with pictures and videos. You can create segmented content for certain groups and allow recipients to respond on the same platform.\n Dipti Parmar\nLet\u2019s say you are working to create a social media community of savvy travelers. Using this app, you could easily share your favorite experiences to a designated group while the members can chime in with their own \u2013 creating one big, continuous \u201cmoment.\u201d\nInteracting with the community on this level shows your brand is created for the people, by the people. Remember, humans don\u2019t relate to brands, they relate to other humans.\nParting words\nRome wasn\u2019t built in a day. Chances are, your social media community won\u2019t be either. Like many other things in life, success requires a great deal of consistency and determination. Make it a point to distribute your messaging on a healthy schedule.\nEven though it may not seem like it these days, social media was created to bring people together. To do this, your sights should always be set on providing an authentic sense of belonging in which people can\u2019t get anywhere else.