Why I left social media to build community around my business

For someone who was once told that she had “no social skills” as a tween, finding and growing a community of small business owners has been one of the biggest surprises and joys of the past two years for me.

I’m a classic introvert (who does, by the way, have plenty of social skills), but have learned that I love hanging out with certain groups of people and making connections in certain situations, like through workshops, teaching and mentoring.

But I didn’t find that community on social media—in fact, it was leaving social media that really had me consciously grow my community, and embrace the joy it gives me.

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I’m fairly sure that when I started marketing my business on Instagram in early 2019 one of the reasons I did so was to “build community” (or, to use the oft-repeated phrase, “find my audience”). It fascinated and frustrated me that there were so many people out there on Instagram, but finding the right people and truly building that community was hard, and often felt elusive.

It soon dawned on me that sharing did not automatically lead to community. Also, generalizing, followers on social media are a lot less engaged than you’d like a community to be—they’re more an audience in that sense.

Sharing is not the same as connecting—connection, often, requires much more explicit action, more thought, and more than an image, a limited number of words, or a scroll can offer.

I’ve always been drawn more to long form, to more in-depth conversation, to reading books rather than magazines. So perhaps it’s no wonder that social media didn’t give me that sense of connection that I craved. But I think we’ve also been taught somehow that on social media posting an image and text, perhaps leaving a comment or clicking a heart is engagement.

Engagement seems to have become one of those words like “friends” when Facebook started using it: suddenly you were “friends” with not only the people you’d describe as friends off-line, but also with your aunt’s neighbour who you briefly talked to at a birthday party, or that person who you ran into at a conference and who now posts pictures of his wife’s c-section (true story).

Finding like-minded people

If I’m honest, I met many of the people that are now part of my community through social media. I wouldn’t have been part of the Aligned Community if it hadn’t been for Katie pointing me in the direction of Jen. I wouldn’t have met the women of my mastermind group if I hadn’t followed Josephine Brooks online, who then went on to offer a mastermind programme.

But there are also other ways that I discovered people that resonate with me. I discovered many of the small business podcasts I enjoy listening to just through the Apple podcast app. I discovered my favourite yoga teacher when I looked for yoga podcasts a few years ago and discovered Andrea Ferretti’s Yogaland podcast. On some of the episodes, she talks to her husband, the yoga teacher Jason Crandell. I signed up for their newsletter, found Jason’s classes on Glo, and signed up for his 200-hour yoga teacher training last summer. No social media interaction required.

Community doesn’t equal sales (in fact, there is no magic bullet for sales, of course). But, community is a very effective way of creating future clients and customers, especially since the people that know you already feel a level of trust.

Equally important for me is the joy that I get out of creating community: I’m very good at working by myself, but I also love knowing that I’m not alone in this whole running-a-business-thing. I feel genuinely nourished by the connections I’ve created. And I keep being surprised by the opportunities that appear: a Substack-post that is shared on social media by someone led to someone else contacting me about a podcast interview and workshop.

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Growing connections and community

Have a virtual cup of tea: one of my favourite ways to connect with people is to invite them for a virtual cup of tea. It’s scary at first, but a lovely way of creating connections and even building friendships. If I’m asking someone for tea to get their input on something—rather than to catch up or collaborate—I make sure to buy them a virtual cup of coffee to thank them for their time, just as I’d do offline.

I love knowing that I’m not alone in this whole running-a-business-thing. I feel genuinely nourished by the connections I’ve created.

Collaborations: seek out opportunities for collaboration. If someone resonates with you, ask yourself: what is it that you enjoy about their newsletter, their services, their products? And where do you see possibilities for collaboration? Look for shared values and complementary perspectives.

An email like this led to the guest blog posts that Jo Dymock and I wrote for each other’s blogs on social media.Collaboration can be as big as suggesting a shared offer (a physical product that combines one of your products with one of theirs—like a journal and a candle, or handmade soap and tea) or hosting a workshop in someone’s community, to pitching to a podcast, suggesting a guest blog post, or interviewing someone for your blog (like I do with my series here).

Follow threads: my examples of how I found community all consist of little threads that I followed. One person’s Instagram post led to me discovering someone else and subsequently a whole community of like-minded people. A podcast led me to find a yoga teacher that I really resonate with. Where can you follow threads?

On Instagram I would sometimes look at which people commented on posts that I enjoyed, although this could be overwhelming. Podcast apps like Apple podcasts offer suggestions of similar podcasts. Guests on a podcast you enjoy might have also appeared on other podcasts, leading you to find a new favourite. YouTube offers recommendations too on videos that you watch. One of the things I love about Substack is not only how I discover new people and publications through comments, but also by browsing the lists of publications that others subscribe to (click on someone’s profile picture to see the list).

Are you ready to join the revolution?

Radically deprioritise social media in your business, focus your energy on marketing your business in other ways.
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Ask questions: ask the people that you already know whether they can recommend something or someone to you. If you’re looking for an invoicing-service, ask in the online community you’re already part of, or the person whose newsletter you read and who often talks about her online systems. If you’re looking for a photographer to work with, ask that person who has such gorgeous photographs in their newsletter. This doesn’t only strengthen existing ties, but also helps you grow your community—and get recommendations you can trust.

The joy of spreading joy: for the longest time I thought “my comment doesn’t matter to this person”. Now that I’m explicitly telling people how much I enjoy their newsletter, their workshop or course I’m getting so much joy out of it myself. It helps that I know how much joy it gives me when someone says something nice about what I create, and I’d love for others to feel the same.

An experiment

Take a moment to think about or journal on these questions.

  1. Which people would you like to add to your community of business buddies? Who would you like to invite for a cup of tea?
  2. Over the next few weeks, keep an eye out for newsletters and posts by people that you resonate with. Why do you resonate with them? Can you potentially collaborate with them?
  3. Where can you spread joy and connect?

Please feel free to share this post with business friends, in your newsletter or on social media. 💛

I’d love to support you in all phases of your business. Providing clarity, focus and next steps is something that my clients tell me I’m really good at. If you’re curious about how we can work together through 1:1 mentoring, check out what I offer or send me an email–no strings attached. I have payment plans available, and flexible options for mentoring calls (30 or 60 minutes).

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