Facebook and Google+ Groups have made creating and managing a niche online community a lucrative practice, and many brands are already using those Groups as marketing tools. These communities provide an incredible opportunity to educate and generate leads from your target audience. Here are some tips on how to start your own niche community online.

Selecting between Google+, Facebook or LinkedIn

Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the top three social media platforms that allow group formation and have the largest current user bases. Selecting which platform to adopt rests on a few critical questions to consider, such as:

1. Which platform has the largest concentration of my target audience?

If, for example, you're a B2B organization, LinkedIn would most likely be a more attractive platform than Facebook. Or maybe you're a B2C company that isn't comfortable with Facebook's unpredictability around user communication, so Google+ could provide a better option.

2. What current groups (if any) exist that are similar to my idea?

Sometimes, it makes more sense to join an existing group that already has a large member base. Google+ might be the best option in this case, since the platform allows you to join a Google+ Group as a brand rather than just another individual.

3. How important is search exposure to my organization?

All other factors being equal, choosing Google+ ties you most closely to the most used search engine in the world. This guarantees that Google will be aware of all updates and content that your group generates over its lifetime. This will have positive consequences in search results for your organization as long as you update your group regularly, keep the content relevant and drive true user engagement. But if your target audience is concentrated on another platform, it doesn't make much sense to choose Google+ just for the search bonus--instead, go where your audience resides.

Building the Group

Be sure to maintain your brand standards when building your group. Visit our Google+ Community Creation Guide to get step-by-step instructions on creating your own G+ Community. The Social Media Examiner also wrote a great post on how to build a LinkedIn Group. Finally, The Next Web created a short and sweet guide on creating a Facebook Group.

Maintaining Your Group

It's also important to create content governance guidelines to support the inbound marketing efforts you offer to your online community. These guidelines dictate editorial and style guides related to content delivery, compliance, and publishing schedules. This important plan will put a structure in place that allows for smooth and consistent content creation. Without regular updates with relevant content, your community will die on the vine and your efforts will be in vain.

It may also be helpful to download a copy of the Enterprise Blog Optimization Guide, which offers more details on creating a content governance plan as well as other content creation ideas, tips, and instructions.

No matter what platform you choose or which plan you implement, the most important concept to remember is that you must make a commitment as an organization to maintain and grow your online community. Doing so will foster an evergreen resource that will generate leads and sales well into the future for your organization.