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This month In the Tank, we catch up with Haley Hanlon, Social + Community Content Manager for business.com to discuss the impact of thought leadership content and community building on business marketing initiatives.

Tell us a bit about your role as Social + Community Content Manager for business.com.

Before I dive in and talk about myself (we all know that’s what the people really want 😉), I’d like to give a bit of background on business.com, specifically the portion of our business model that I primarily focus on. Business.com is an online marketplace specifically geared towards SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses) looking to grow their business. Between product reviews, advertising solutions, and an online network of 200K+ SMB professionals, we offer a well-rounded web of resources for businesses. 

My role centers around one of our core offerings; the business.com community. Our community is an ever-growing virtual network of SMB professionals who can ask questions, provide advice, or publish content. The best part is that it is completely free! My team and I are dedicated to acting as a unique resource for our members to find the information that they need to grow their business.  

My role as a community manager includes monitoring the Q&A boards, facilitating discussions, getting to know our community members and their individual needs, and helping to identify ‘power users’ who can help act as expert resources for their peers. My favorite part about this portion of my role is the ability to meet (albeit virtually) some amazing people and help them to achieve their personal or professional goals. 

The other half of my role includes managing our social feeds. Luckily, we have an amazing team of internal staff writers dedicated to providing the most up-to-date small business information and trends. Additionally, we have thousands of community members who have been accepted into our contributor program who provide original content for us to publish and share. Both of these factors make my job as a social media manager much easier because we have a never-ending flow of new small business-focused content to promote! 

Now, this is where the two halves become a whole; because of my relationship with community members and our content/editorial team, I try to feature our community as often as possible on our social feeds. Whether that be promoting our featured entrepreneur of the week, using community members’ quotes for PR opportunities, or even re-sharing their own social posts, we try to promote them as thought-leaders as much as possible. 

Why has content become such an important role in marketing for brands?

When it comes to small business brands, content creation and promotion is extremely important. Small businesses are usually competing with other ‘big brand’ names while working with a much smaller budget for marketing or promotion. How do you stand out and earn the business of clients deciding between a big brand and a small business? Content. 

As a small business, you have an advantage that big brands don’t; you know your customers on an individual level and can speak to their needs directly. By creating and sharing content that speak to your already existing client-base, you will attract those with similar needs. Identify who your customers are and determine how your brand can provide solutions to their unique/niche needs. Creating original content gives your brand a voice and a personality that will directly resonate with customers. 

Now, we all know that not everyone is a seasoned author, so think about leveraging different outlets of content; podcasts, infographics, thought/opinion pieces, featured customer profiles, testimonials, etc.

What are some of the biggest mistakes a brand makes when creating content/thought leadership for 3rd party outlets?

Being overly promotional of your services. While your content should be ‘on-brand’ with the type of service or product you are providing, your content should not always be focused around your specific offerings. Thought-leadership pieces are one of the best ways to connect with and attract new customers. By referencing personal anecdotes and giving out some of your most tried and true tips, you are giving the customer a sneak preview of what is to come and often times a cliff-hanger works better than openly pushing your services on the reader. 

Nowadays writing and publishing isn’t enough – it’s critical to build and engage your community. How can brands best do that?

Understand what your community wants from you. Identify what problems your community is experiencing and try your best to provide them with solutions. A good way to do this is by surveying your community members (SurveyMonkey is a great tool for this) which will help you to understand who they are and what they need. In terms of engaging your community, make sure you are giving them an outlet to express their concerns and stories as opposed to just providing them with what you think they want to see. By planting or facilitating an open-ended discussion about your community’s thoughts on certain topics, you are building trust with them, allowing them to network with others, and giving them a ‘safe space’ to share their stories. In terms of social media communities, make sure you are always responding to their posts and sharing what they have to say. 

What is your best tip getting started with thought leadership and community building?

Think about what you wish you knew when you were first starting out. Your community is looking to you for information and inspiration. Do not just write content because you think it makes the most sense for your industry or profession. While the topics should be on brand, think about what would catch your eye when you were first learning about what you now consider yourself an ‘expert’ on. 

To create a free business.com community profile, click here. To keep up with business.com on social media, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram.

Interested in sharing your insights in journalism, marketing, or communications in a future installment of In the Tank? Drop us a line.


Matt Bretzius

Matt Bretzius is President and Partner at FischTank PR.

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