Want to build a better online community? Then you need to focus on building a better company — from the ground up! There are no easy shortcuts to the process. You can’t hire an SEO guru and throw a bunch of content up on your website and expect to grow a genuine following. You can’t go online without a solid offline marketing strategy. Let’s get back to the basics of building your business and developing the kind of community you need to succeed.

1. Set Some Goals

The first step in building an online community is to set some goals. Don’t focus on the online part just yet. Think about your marketing plan in terms of a coffee shop pitch. If you were face-to-face with someone in a coffee shop who asked what you were working on, how would you describe your company and its goals? Do you want to increase customers by 200 percent in the next 6 months? Do you want to focus on improving your relationship with the customers you already have?

2. Build Your Community Offline

In order to build an awesome online following, you actually need to start with a good offline community building strategy. Just because you have a fancy new webpage with buttons for people to Tweet, Like and Post, doesn’t mean you should stop attending community networking and charity events in person. Regularly recognize community members at public events. Give them awards of appreciation. Shower them publicly with praise. Build your community externally and internally into a cohesive team. That means treat your customers like you treat your employees and grow the community as a whole.

3. Build an Attractive Meeting Place

Whether it’s a website, blog or physical business location, make the place you spend time an attractive place to hang out. Customers, employees and business partners will want to invest time in each other. This community building effort translates to more networking, more time spent browsing your webpage online, and more exposure to your brand.

4. Integrate Your Social Media Efforts and Outreach

An important part of building an online community is to integrate all your social media efforts. People come in through many different channels, and some respond better to Facebook or Twitter than email. Still others prefer to use the telephone after searching testimonials online. Make it easy for your potential customers to discover and share your message across their favorite media.

5. Improve Online Ranking Organically

Stop chasing Google’s frequent algorithm changes by building an online community around your company. It’s more than brand name recognition — it’s genuine engagement. And it leaves Panda and Penguin updates in the dust every time.

6. Share the Value of Your Business Ideas with Others

Don’t think “sell”, think “share”. Start each day with a purpose to share the information and lessons you’ve learned in life and in business dealings. You’ll quickly find yourself surrounded by a strong community of like-minded people. And because you have built the group based on helping everyone succeed, they will genuinely engage with your business.

7. Build Your Co-Marketing Team

Invest at least 10 percent of your time in other companies. Partner with other small businesses to develop co-marketing strategies. Develop a formal or informal referral system among your co-marketing team, to keep customers within your partner companies.

What strategies have you used to build and grow your online community? What might you try differently now?