The first step to building a social community is discerning which community you should target. In breaking down social communities, we find there is a lot more out there than just the top four or five social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest). In addition to the cream of the crop community pools, you’ve also got social content networks that include blogs and video/podcasts, as well as group and forum communities. Many small businesses will flock to the familiar channels, but there is a wealth of community potential in lesser-accessed community pools. The question of which should you channel your energy into depends primarily on what each can offer and what you’re looking to get back from your community.

Best for Building a Community Base
Probably the most popular of all social networks, Facebook allows you to establish your presence and actively engage your community. With over 500 million users, this is definitely the place to drive business. However, it can be challenging to draw in new community members. That’s where Twitter comes in.

When looking to build a community base, I recommend moving beyond this first tier of social networking communities and consider the content communities. Though social content sites like blogs (and even video and podcasts channels like YouTube and Vimeo) are not designed as networking channels, they do attract social communities. These social channels are quite effective in building an audience for your custom content. User engagement is also possible here through post comments and email subscriptions. More often than not, user pools here bleed into other social communities like Facebook and Twitter; if someone likes your social content, chances are they’re going to follow you on other social media channels.

Best for Expanding Your Community Base
Drawing in over 30 million to 100 million members, Twitter is great for attracting new community members who are naturally interested in your industry or topic. Oddly enough, there’s more Twitter chatter than Facebook chatter, making it easier to engage people, start a conversation or join in on an existing one.

When it comes to expanding your base, you should also look to Pinterest and Instagram for a market that emphasizes visual content. Since not everyone wants to engage you or is necessarily interested in your industry, you can bet that people do love consuming visuals – which is precisely why these two networks should never be ignored or underestimated. Pinterest and Instagram also allow for just enough engagement opportunity, making it possible to access users who initiate interest.

Best for Industry Thought Leadership
A lesser known community pool can be found in LinkedIn Groups. Specific groups are a wonderful resource for thought leadership and industry insight. While LinkedIn is otherwise futile for networking through profiles alone, and can’t attract enough attention just off of its news feature alone, it does offer value if you invest in any number of groups.

Now often regarded as lowly on the social community totem pole, groups and forums are in fact the one social community that allows you to target all needs. Here you can build and expand upon a community base, as well as exemplify thought leadership. While benefits also include being able to really target an audience and create unique wells of community pools, there are considerable drawbacks that tend to leave this option out of the marketing equation all together. The fact is it takes quite a bit of time to earn trust in these communities since they’re often very tightly knit. Most managers and small business owners don’t have or don’t want to invest that amount of time into building a social community where their presence isn’t necessarily known. Since you can’t build a brand page in a form or group, most marketers are forced by upper management to forego this option altogether. This is a mistake.

Due to their exclusivity, groups and forums are exactly where you want to be present. It’s the one social community where people are listening and trusting the information. While you can’t get a branded page in forum, you do get thought leadership and access to consumers that network, share, and build with other hive-minded consumers. There is a smart way to engage in groups and forums to ensure you’re not wasting your time. First, track your industry groups/forums and observe them to see the quality and nature of the conversation over a span of time. Be sure to also consider hybrid social communities, where groups/forums are present on first tier social channels like Facebook. The latter would probably be a number one source to be present on (or create your own Facebook group forum if nothing is available).