Small businesses understand the need for social presence, but they often miss out of the value they need to create within these networks. It’s not enough to simply tweet or Facebook here and there. In fact, even creative and routine posts that go up like clock-work aren’t enough if you aren’t building a core community within those networks. When it comes to social, think of community as conversion. Are you drawing in a repeat crowd and is that crowd engaging your brand online?

Rick Ullman, Senior Vice President of Ripple6, would agree. In a BizReport interview, Rick is spotted as an industry leader who “sees too many brands treating social marketing like display ads, counting clicks rather than collaborating with consumer.” For Rick, there is a better way forward, one that pairs social with community.

“When you look at all of the people on the island of social media, it is one island of people who are gathering to share information. These tend to be consumers or smaller businesses,” adds Rick, noting that ‘other’ residents also include the big name brands who see social as a component of an overall campaign. Here’s the difference between small business and big business. Small businesses tend to merely exist on social with almost a stake-the-flag attitude that says “here we are.” Big businesses, on the other hand, sees social as a tool to an overall campaign. For big business, social isn’t the end-goal but a means to an end – a way to engage the consumer in conversation and (ultimately) build a community. Unfortunately, most small businesses aren’t engaging the consumer. They’re too busy shouting “look at us.”

To engage the consumer in a social environment, try to start thinking like the consumer. Think outside the box of your businesses and create a conversation around your industry rather than your product or service. If you want to focus on the product of service, that’s completely fine too but there’s a way to do it. For the latter, create a community conversation around value. What value does your product or service offer? If you’re an awards company, for example, then you’re not just selling an award – you’re selling a sentiment of victory or appreciation. Your value is found in the way both the giver and recipient might feel, which is where you find your motivator to purchase. In other words, you’re not thinking about the sale; you’re thinking outside of your own immediate needs and to the desired end-result of both your consumer and your end-recipient; in other words, both giver and receiver want to feel a sense of pride and reward for both the giving and the receiving actions. Understanding this helps you better design your posts around this desired effect.

Being able to understand your consumers and give them exactly what they want creates a level of transparency that moves you out of the flag-staking category. It’s that level of transparency that turns makes the difference between community building and social marketing. Being able to move beyond yourself encourages a level of trust between you and your potential community. New potential community members trafficking your social pages will also be able to discern your level of authenticity through these actions – are you there for yourself or are you there for them?

Paul Gilliham of Adobe offers a great insight into what a community is really all about. He notes that “in the consumer world, communities can pop up in the most unlikely places. Take Flickr. It isn’t just a photo sharing site, when you peel back the covers, you can see groups of incredibly knowledgeable photographers and artists sharing tips, expertise, and advice on technique. Live Journal isn’t just a blogging site, it is a community of writers, poets, artists who discuss every topic imaginable.”

A community is about pooled resources and a concentrated knowledge base. In a social context, consider yourself as a master conductor. In a business-to-consumer setting, your role is to provide insight and value to your community of users, to bring them together in a natural environment that networks like-minded interests. In a business-to-business climate, this role shifts slightly to accommodate product knowledge that guides a community to best practices, offers top recommendations, and bridges the gap between user and industry. As an ombudsman, you’re there to serve as needed. As an innovator, you’re there to take them ahead of the curve by building an informed and networked social community.