Building online communities

As opposed to the once-off, opportunistic, product-centric approach when contacting prospective customers, the five step plan to developing influence and trust works completely differently. This new approach enables you to connect with a prospect and engage in continued dialogue over a prolonged period of time. This process of continued interaction, whilst sharing value-adding content at the same time, helps you build credibility with your prospects and fosters trust.

Using the five step plan to developing influence and trust, your initial interaction with a prospect contains a promise. Your promise to the prospect is that you will add value to their lives without asking for anything in return. This is radically different to a cold call or unsolicited email, promoting your company, products and services. It is also refreshingly different to what your competition is doing and you will make an impression with your prospects. Continued communication with your prospects will also ensure you stay “top-of-mind”.

The approach described above lays the foundation for a long, mutually beneficial relationship with your prospective customer. Adopt the approach of “What you put out is what you get back” by adding value and enriching other people’s lives without expecting anything in return. And be patient! Long term relationships based on trust do not happen overnight. Trust has to be earned. The beauty behind this is that once trust HAS been earned, you have developed a sustainable relationship. The important thing is to be genuine and sincere. If you try to fake it, you will get caught out eventually. Once a person is trusted, people will confide in them and support them. You will also be remembered.

Your value proposition, the type of individuals you hope to connect with and personal preference will determine how and where you will connect with your prospective clients. Connection activities will consist of “pull” and “push” approaches. To optimise access to your target market, you will be required to connect and interact with them across multiple platforms. As such, you will need to build communities on each of the platforms.

1. Website and blog

To attract visitors to your website, you may want to consider using the services of a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) specialist who will optimise your content so that it ranks high when people search using key words that relate to your company, products and services. You can also use Search Engine Marketing (SEM) to place adverts on the search engines when they potential visitors use keywords to search. You can also place adverts on websites and social media platforms frequented by your target market.

You should have a PROMINENT and compelling “call-to-action” on your website and/or blog, encouraging people to subscribe to email, subscribe to your blog, follow you on Twitter and connect with you on LinkedIn and Facebook. People read from top to bottom and from left to right so you can guess the best place to place your call to action. Do not place it “below the fold” on your website or blog (i.e. people have to scroll down in order to see the call to action).

You could also include other platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest or YouTube, however this depends on the value-adding content you will be sharing.

When wording your “call-to-actions” do not use phrases such as:

  • “Subscribe to our email”
  • “Subscribe to our blog”
  • “Follow us on Twitter”
  • “Connect on LinkedIn”
  • “Like us on Facebook”

Provide a compelling reason WHY they should connect with you. Here is an example for a company which sells carpets:

“Click here to receive weekly tips and advice on how to care for and prolong the life of your carpet”

And a professional services company:

“Subscribe to our weekly email where we share value-adding articles developed by our industry and subject matter experts”

When developing the content for your website and/or blog consider using AIDA principles:

  • ATTENTION: Capture the attention of visitors with a relevant and punchy headline
  • INTEREST: Through video, you can gain the interest of your visitor
  • DESIRE: Desire may be created through features and benefits that appeal to the needs of your visitor
  • ACTION: A strong call-to-action completes the story at the point where your visitor has been convinced to connect, follow or subscribe.

2. Using email to invite prospects to connect

Email is a very powerful way to invite prospective customers to connect with you, however this must be done very carefully. You need to plan meticulously in terms of who you are inviting, how you word the subject line and content of the email, the email address you use, the platform you use to send the email and conformance with local email communication legislation.


As mentioned in an earlier section, be very selective when choosing the prospects with whom you hope to connect. Your value proposition needs to resonate with their demographic, the industry within which their company resides and their role within their company. The closest the match, the more they will be inclined to accept your invitation to connect.

Source your email contacts from reputable organisations who have been granted permission to share contact information. Many corporate websites provide email contact information for senior decision makers. There are also numerous networking platforms where you are able to access email contact details, once you are connected with individuals.

Email subject line

There are a number of hurdles you need to cross to encourage a prospect to react to an email. Besides being blocked by the company’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) or the company’s firewall or ending up in the recipients junk folder, you need to write a compelling email subject line that will grab their attention and encourage them to open your email. Ensure that your email subject line relates to the content in your email. If you attempt to fool people into opening your email, you will upset them. Use a subject line that promises something of value, for example:

  • Invitation to subscribe to our “trusting relationships” newsletter
  • How to build trusting relationships
  • 5 steps to develop sustainable relationships
  • Advice on building long-term business relationships

There is no silver bullet when it comes to subject lines, so it is worth testing different subject lines with small groups to gauge which is most effective.

Email content

If your subject line has prompted the recipient to open your email, the next step is to present the recipient with content that is interesting and compelling, which encourages the recipient to click on your call to action. Keep the content short, to the point and punchy. Make sure you include the following:

  • A salutation using the person’s first name, spelled correctly, starting with uppercase and followed by lowercase
  • A short opening paragraph setting the scene. You should include a problem statement which resonates with the recipient
  • Your second paragraph should introduce a new approach to address the problem statement with a few business benefits

The third paragraph will contain your “call to action” inviting the person to subscribe to your newsletter and/or blog where you promise to share value-adding content on a regular basis, relating to the problem statement mentioned in your first paragraph. Remember that people have personal preferences in terms of communication platforms of choice so include an invitation to connect on other platforms too (e.g. connect/follow on LinkedIn, follow on Twitter, Like on Facebook, etc.)

Email address

The email address you use carries a load of credibility and may influence the recipient’s assessment of your credit worthiness. People working for well-known and iconic brands have the luxury of having the companies name on their email address. In many cases, this guarantees a “foot in the door”. For those who own small unknown businesses, you need to think carefully about your email address. A Gmail or Yahoo email address is an absolute no-no. Consider using a domain which carries your brand promise (eg a company who “buys cars” could use”). Keep your email address simple and easy to remember.

Email platform

Bear in mind when sending emails that the source of your email can determine whether you are blocked by a firewall or not. If you are using a reputable email service provider, they are generally “white-listed” by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and your email will be accepted and relayed to its intended destination. The reason why certain email service providers are whitelisted is that they make a promise to the ISPs that their clients are trustworthy. See the word “trust” coming up again! When you upload email contact lists to your email service provider, you are asked if the email contacts in detail have provided permission for you to contact them. By clicking on the “ACCEPT” button, you comply with the email service providers terms and conditions. If you are reported for sending spam, your email address and domain can be black listed.

Conforming with legislation

To cut down of the billions of spam emails sent every year and to protect privacy rights of consumers and business email accounts, governments have enforced legislation. Legislation differs from one jurisdiction to the next, so it is worth your while understanding prevailing legislation.

The legislation relating to subscription to email lists differs as follows:

In some countries you are only permitted to send someone an email if they have “opted-in” first (i.e. they have to subscribe to receive email from your BEFORE you send them an email. A double “opt-in” means the person subscribes first. They are then sent an email where they have to click on a link to “opt-in” again. Once the person unsubscribes you are not permitted to contact them again.

In other countries you are permitted to send emails to a person until such time that they unsubscribe. Again, you are not permitted to contact them again once unsubscribed.

In terms of protection of personal information (POPI), legislation in some countries state that you have to receive permission from an individual first before you can retain their personal contact details.

Penalties vary from country-to-country so make a point of understanding what you may or may not do. Harsh penalties are enforced in some countries which include fines in the millions and imprisonment.

3. Telephone

Using the telephone to invite prospects to subscribe to your online communication is still a very good option. The will not work for consumer goods companies who have to reach millions of consumers, however it will work very well for companies who are targeting smaller groups of decision makers. Unlike cold-calling, all you are doing is inviting a prospect to connect, so there is less pressure all round. Here is some advice when using the telephone:

Go through the PA

Most senior decision maker’s email and telephone correspondence is vetted by personal assistants or secretaries. These individuals have “heard all the stories” so you must be well prepared when you speak to them. In some cases THEY will make the decision whether to subscribe or not.

Do not sell

Whether speaking to the PA or prospect, remember that this is not a cold-call, attempting to get a meeting or sell a product or service. It is the start of a long-term engagement.

Be short and to the point

Senior decision makers are busy so get to the point quickly. Thank them for taking your call, explain your intention clearly. Use the advice mentioned in the email section above (i.e. Start with a problem statement which resonates with the recipient. Let them know that you share value-adding content on a regular basis which relates to the problem statement and invite them to connect.

Provide an opt out option

If the decision maker is amenable to connecting with you or if they start objecting, let them know that they can easily unsubscribe from your communication if it does not add value and you have a strict do not contact after unsubscribed policy.

4. Social media

Social media is a great place to connect with prospects, social media influencers and people from the media where you can invite them to subscribe to some of your more “intimate” channels such as your email subscription list, where you are able to “nurture” prospects until the exhibit buying behaviour or request a meeting or proposal. Here is some advice to connect on LinkedIn and Twitter:

LinkedIn connection request

When using the LinkedIn connection request feature, the golden rule is to NEVER use the LinkedIn prepopulated connection request text. People will connect with you if you are perceived to add value! Before connecting with anyone on LinkedIn, make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and articulates your brand promise. When updating your LinkedIn profile, remember to focus lees on your products and services but rather on your target markets pain points, business challenges and problems, how these may be addressed and benefits

LinkedIn introductions

Once your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, connect with people who work with, current and past employers, current and past business partners and current and past customers. LinkedIn provides a feature where you may ask existing connections to introduce you to individuals with whom they may already be connected. Remember to provide a compelling reason for the person to connect with you.

LinkedIn message

Once a person has connected with you, thank them for connecting with you and send them a LinkedIn message, inviting them to subscribe to your “intimate” channels (e.g. email or blog) where you may nurture them with regular value-adding content. If they choose not to subscribe you will still be able to share content, using other LinkedIn features we will cover below.

LinkedIn Inmail

For prospects with whom you are not able to connect through the LinkedIn connection request or introductions, LinkedIn provides the Inmail feature. Inmail enables you to send messages to persons with whom you are not connected. Bear in mind that depending on your LinkedIn membership, you are limited to the number of Inmails you may send on a monthly basis.

LinkedIn post

If you are connected with an individual and they chose not to react to your initial request to subscribe to your email and/or blog, the person will still have visibility of the posts you publish. Publishing of posts on LinkedIn is discussed in more detail in another section. The important thing to note is that the value-adding posts you publish on LinkedIn should contain your “call to action” to subscribe and all your connections are notified every time you publish a post.

LinkedIn update

The LinkedIn update feature enables you to post short updates with links to content from your profile. This is a good place to post a “call to action” from time-to-time to subscribe to your email channel and/or blog. Be sure not to overdo it.

Links to your website, blog, Twitter account

When you update your LinkedIn profile, you are able to include links to your website, blog and Twitter account. Be sure to include these links as they may be used by your Linkedin connections where they will have visibility of your “call to action” on your website, blog and Twitter.

LinkedIn advert and promoted post

Linkedin provides a service which you have to pay for where you may place adverts and promote posts. As part of the service you may target these at specific LinkedIn members through filtering by country, industry, company size, seniority level, etc.

LinkedIn promoted Inmail

LinkedIn also provides a paid for service where you may send an Inmail to LinkedIn members which you may also filter using the criteria mentioned above. This is not cheap, so if you consider using this approach, be very selective. LinkedIn will send the Inmail which will remain at the top of the recipients LinkedIn inbox for a specified time.

Connecting on Twitter

Before following anyone on Twitter, you must decide who you would like to connect and interact with on the platform. Focus on prospects, social media influencers, like-minded people as yourself, journalists and editors from publications that your prospects would read. Remember that Twitter works well if you focus on quality, not quantity. Aim for high quality followers/following and high quality conversations.

Here are 11 ways to find people to follow on Twitter:

Twitter People Search – Twitter’s built in people search isn’t the greatest way to find people on Twitter, but it’s probably where you should start. Twitter searches the “real names” people enter in their bio fields, but because there isn’t much accompanying bio information and because Twitter doesn’t have any sort of requirement to use your actual name, that can make it a bit difficult to find people, especially those with common names. It also makes it hard to verify that the people you find are actually who you’re looking for. Still, it’s a good place to begin your search.

Tweepz – Because the biographical information Twitter collects is minimal, no Twitter people search engine can improve on Twitter’s that much. Third-party site Tweepz does an admirable job, though. Tweepz lets you limit searches to specific parts of Twitter’s user information (like name, bio, and location), filter results by follower/following numbers, location, and other extracted terms, and greatly improves on the layout of the search results.

TweepSearch – TweepSearch lets you search by Twitter name or location, or search a specific username to get a list of all friends and followers. However, if the “indexing” number listed on their main page is accurate, they’re crawling about 600,000 less Twitter user profiles than Tweepz.

TwitDir – TwitDir is another search engine, but if the crawling stats are accurate, it’s well behind the curve, searching about 3 million fewer users than Tweepz. Still, it’s not a bad people search engine, and has some helpful “top” lists if you’re concerned with who the most popular or prolific people on Twitter are (then again, they’re also not that up-to-date — the site doesn’t seem to know who @aplusk is, for example).

Twellow – Your best bet for finding like-minded Twitter users might be to use a directory, and Twellow is certainly one of the most complete. Nearly 6 million Twitter user profiles are indexed in Twellow and placed into a huge number of categories. You can search the entire lot of profiles, or confine searches to a single category. Twellow also operates a local directory called the “Twellowhood.”

WeFollow – Created by Digg founder Kevin Rose, WeFollow is a Twitter user directory that organizes people by hashtags. WeFollow is user-generated and anyone can add themselves by tweeting @wefollow with three #hashtags that describe them.

Just Tweet It – Just Tweet It is another user created Twitter directory. It’s not quite as well organized or easy-to-use as Twellow or WeFollow, but it is certainly large enough that you should give it a browse when trying to locate people in your interest areas to follow.

Twubble – Twubble recommends people to follow by spidering the people you’re already following and recommending users that they’re following. The idea is that the people you’re following are interesting to you, so if more than one of them are also following another person, that person might also be interesting. Of course, that means that Twubble can’t be your first stop when finding people to follow — you already need to be following some people for the service to work.

Twitterel – Twitterel attempts to find people you might be interested in following by doing keyword searches of tweets. The service can update you by email, direct message, or @reply when it finds new people it thinks you might be interested in following. It’s kind of like Google Alerts for Twitter follow recommendations.

Who Should i Follow? – Enter you Twitter username into Who Should i Follow? and the service finds users who are similar to those you’re already following. The site doesn’t disclose information about how it works, but in my experience it is pretty accurate at finding users whose tweets are similar in content to your followers. The results can be filtered by how popular the people are, and how close they are to a specific location.

Mr. Tweet – Mr. Tweet is a very popular Twitter app that lets you give and receive recommendations about Twitter users. The app also provides more helpful statistics about users, such as tweets per day or the percentage of tweets containing links. To get the most out of Mr. Tweet, consider installing the Firefox plugin, which gives you access to statistics and user recommendations while you’re browsing Twitter.

Twitter Direct Message

Once someone is following you and you are following them on Twitter, you are able to use the Twitter Direct Message (DM) function. Many people use a tool which sends an automatic DM, which I do not recommend. Twitter users know that the message id sent from a “bot” so it lacks credibility. You should rather research the person first. Read their Twitter profile, click on links to their website, read some of the tweets and conversations, then send a message. When sending a DM, you are not restricted to the 140 characters, so you can provide more information. Follow the guidelines mentioned in the email section on how to word your message. The idea is to encourage the person to subscribe to one of your “intimate” channels such as your email newsletter or blog, where you can nurture them.

Twitter mention

To get people to notice you on Twitter, use the Twitter @mention feature. All you need do is produce a tweet containing their Twitter handle and the tweet will appear in their Mentions stream. Before using this feature, think carefully about what you are going to say. It is best to provide comments on an existing conversation or compliment them on something. Do not promote yourself because this is what the majority of people do on Twitter. Provide value-adding commentary rather than self-promotion.


Once people are following you on Twitter, your tweets will appear in their feed. As mentioned earlier, do not self-promote, but rather produce value-adding content. If people find your content interesting, they may retweet you and then your tweets will be visible to their respective followers.

Link in your Twitter profile

You are able to provide one link in your Twitter profile so use it wisely. Your Twitter biography, the content you share and the conversations you have should encourage people to click on the link. Thin about where you want to take them. You could include a link to your website, your blog or your LinkedIn profile, each of which have your “call to action” to subscribe to your “intimate”, nurturing channels.

Twitter adverts

Twitter has a service which you have to pay for which provides a number of functions. The campaigns you can run can enable you to:

  • Reach more people and drive conversation
  • Send people to your website
  • Get people to install or re-engage with your mobile app
  • Get people to watch your videos using Twitter’s native video player
  • Grow your community on Twitter
  • Collect emails from people who express interest in your value proposition

Promote/support targeted social media influencers

This is a long process so be patient. Social media influencers are constantly “hounded” on Twitter however the opportunists do not persist. Once you have chosen the influential people you hope to connect with on Twitter, show genuine interest in them (without looking like a stalker) and support them by sharing their content. If they have published a book, buy it and read it. If they publish content from their blog, read it and comment on it.


Remember these rules when building communities:

  • Provide value
  • Have a consistent brand promise and call to action
  • Do not promote your company, products or services
  • Show a genuine interest in people with whom you connect
  • Be patient
  • Focus on quality, not quantity
  • Do not spam and respect the law
  • Cross promote your communication channels
  • Never deviate from your promise

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