When it comes to creating community around your small business, there are lots of different routes to take. We’ve talked about creating community with offline efforts, in-kind donations, and rewards programs. Today we’re going to talk about creating a literal community using established social media tools.

There are three major providers of social media communities: Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Because we are talking about communities with a business and marketing focus, we’re going to exclude Facebook for today, since you have to join or create a group from a personal profile instead of business page on this platform.

LinkedIn and Google+ are both great options that can be used in somewhat different ways by small businesses. If your goal is to grow your network, seek advice, establish yourself as a thought leader on a certain topic, or listen in on the conversation among your peers, LinkedIn is a great choice. For more audience-focused goals, like getting exposure for your brand, driving website traffic, and learning about your audience, Google+ might be the best choice. What these two options have in common is that business owners can join and create communities on their chosen topic as their business, not as themselves.

LinkedIn has been established as a place for professionals to come together. And many of the people you’ll find there have their business hats on, and many may be entrepreneurs like yourself. This means that you’ll have great opportunities to partner, cross promote, seek advice, share content, collaborate, and more. LinkedIn community groups also integrate nicely with your LinkedIn Company Page. There’s also a great communication feature available that allows you to send a mass message to the group, in addition to one-on-one interactions. This can also be a great resource for scouting talent if you’re looking to expand your business.

Google+ can certainly be used in the same way if networking, collaboration, and advice are what you seek. But if you’re looking to help your marketing efforts around community building, Google+ wins as a place to find consumers. Because this platform is geared less toward professionals, more of your target audience can probably be found here. For a fantastic step-by-step look at the process of creating a Google+ community, check out this post by Social Media Examiner.

If you’re having trouble envisioning how running a social media community might help with your marketing efforts, imagine the following scenario:

You are a local florist who has been open for about a year, and you finally have a great new website up and running. Your goals are to build awareness of your brand as an option, drive traffic to your website, and increase your bookings. With those goals in mind, you create a Google+ community around wedding planning. You start the group as your business so that your brand shows up in every interaction and your logo is always present. You begin sharing content from articles to videos to images that would be helpful to someone planning a wedding.

Then, people in need of wedding advice search the internet (most likely on Google) for terms you have included in your content strategy, and voila, they find your Google+ community. They are exposed to your brand, and engage with you through the content you have provided for them. And when they’re finally ready to book a florist for their wedding, guess whose name, website, and logo will come to mind first.

Are you a member of any social media communities or groups? Have you ever administered one? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

About the Author: Sarah Matista is the Online Content Specialist and resident blogger at Webs. Loves branding, marketing, whales. Get more from Sarah on Webs’ Blog and Google+.

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