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On last week’s FB live I talked about some of the myths around the benefits of the internet for small businesses. This was inspired buy Seth Godin who said

“The internet is a place great for discovery – but it is not a place where you will get discovered”

Seth Godin (2018)

It is very easy to get into the ‘transmit’ mindset – if you put enough stuff out there some of it will land, people will get to know about you, what you do and then buy your stuff, come to your event, download your freebie etc etc. One of the challenges with this approach is that everyone else is out there doing that too, that means there is a lot of noise and, depending on your craft / industry, potentially a very crowded marketplace.

Online marketing does work of course, with the right strategy and usually a fair amount of hard work over a reasonable period of time. The thing is what worked a couple of years ago doesn’t now, not just because social media algorithms change or email deliverability is tougher; people are becoming tired of the hustle, their defences are up – they are looking for the sell and not engaging with your content. You might well be thinking ‘why is she bothering to write this blog if that’s what she believes?’ and it’s a fair question.

People use the internet for three reasons (my opinion not evidence), for entertainment, to buy stuff and for information however they stay online for a fourth very critical purpose – to feel connected. Whether you are watching events unfold on the news, chatting to friends, sending work stuff or playing games connection, or feeling part of something is a key motivator for being online. This connectedness is one of the most strived for human needs. When you look to show up online, when you want to build your ‘community’, when you are sharing your stuff, connection is where you start.

There easiest way to get connected is to listen, to understand and to meet people where they are, then you can build rapport, a relationship and eventually take them on a journey with you. First – unless we are talking commodity or quick fix most people need to feel they are significant, that they belong in your world. This doesn’t matter what you are selling by the way, there are communities and clubs for all sorts of things and each of those have people who belong.

Look at or airbnb for example – you are encouraged to be part of the club, build a profile, talk about your experiences, you can get rated as a customer as well as rating the accommodation – why? It builds connection people become invested in the site.

I was away in a campervan last weekend – and yes, there’s another example of community. Needing to find a campsite late in the evening, out of season, I reached for my phone and the internet. Sure enough, a website exists for the last minute freedom seekers like us; promptly found me a place to park my van for the night about 10 mins from where I was, and to some extent this was the commodity bit ticked I had my immediate problem solved – I was no longer looking at a very windy cliff top or layby. Where the website really won out though, was in its communication. Within a few minutes the campsite owner rang me, asked when we’d be arriving and said she’d look out for us. I felt like we mattered, we arrived got shown to our pitch, had a joke about pop roofs and how windy it was, we felt like we belonged (even though we are complete newbies in the campervan world).

I’ve used the camper van experience because it is a very simple example of how to build your business connection. Although the parts may be complex – lots of campsite owners, undoubtedly differing service standards, but one aim, make finding a place to stay a doodle. People might join the ‘club’ because it solves a problem, they stay in the ‘club’ because it gives them a feeling of being part of something. The first can be delivered solely by the website, the second is on the individual campsite owner and whether they make a connection, this is the bit that validates the website makes people part of the club.

If you are using the internet to deepen your business connection, and you should be, think about how you are using it. Whether it’s social media, blogging or using sales pages you need to connect to engage. Essentially, you need to be able to address one of the reasons people go online in the first place, entertain them, inform them or sell to them. This is the start of their journey with you, and for most of us our first encounter is one of the first two entertain and / or inform, this creates the opportunity for you to do the subsequent, more valuable, community building. Once you start to build connection through interaction, involvement and trust, then you start to form your own ‘club’.

Discovery implies some random lucky act, building a business is not like that – especially if you are building an online presence. Building a business requires you to get connected, possibly hustle less and listen more, and give people a reason to stay part of your business world.

Remember – entertain or inform people, ideally both, and make them feel like they belong in your community.