How do you build, grow and nurture an online community? Over the past several years, I have worked hard to build and grow vibrant and interactive communities on social channels including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+. Building a following takes time and effort, and there are no shortcuts. As someone with more than 377,000 Twitter followers (all organic), people often ask me how they can succeed in social media. My simple answer is that you get out of it what you put into it. The more effort you put in, the greater ROI you will receive. Unfortunately, people aren't always happy with that answer. Too often, people look for instant results. But creating and building online communities simply doesn’t work that way: It's a long road.

The key is to create compelling content that resonates with your community, then create interactions around that content to build your audience.

For those that need a little help, here are a few bits of advice:

Seize opportunities to build your brand. Be smart in spotting opportunities to build your brand. Be generous: If all you do is take, people will stop responding to your emails. Instead, establish partnerships with other key influencers in your niche. Serve as a trusted curator and provide your growing audience with high-quality content that aligns with their interests and passions. (Of course, you must first get to know their interests and passions through interacting with them online.) This will build your thought leadership and authenticity with your community and will help build your brand. 

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Although lists are often purely subjective, if you are fortunate enough to be included on a list of top social-media influencers published by a well-known personality or media outlet, view it as a positive development. Besides someone else declaring that you are influential, this will be seen as validation of your skills and leadership by your community. Achieving sufficient prominence on social media to be top of mind for such lists also takes hard work, dedication and focus: People can’t list you if they’ve never heard of you or seen your posts.

If you are not already doing so, follow them on their social networks. Reach out and say hello. Take the opportunity to establish new contacts and relationships. You never know where the serendipity of social media might take you.

As you build your online network, opportunities will materialize. Act on the right opportunities -- the ones that will pay off in terms of brand recognition, money or some other benefit. Then set yourself to the task of achieving the desired results. For instance, if your dream client wants you to drum up mentions on Instagram, take and share eye-catching photos. Write pithy captions. Reply to people’s comments. Share your Instagram photos for the brand across your other social channels to help the campaign gain traction.

Invest your time and attention in what you want to create. Don’t stop until you’ve done the job.

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Learn to work with others. There’s always something new you can learn. Keep an open mind. Think in terms of abundance and friendly competition, rather than being territorial or defensive. Support other blogs, and look for opportunities to collaborate with others. Select partners wisely, and you will build a powerful team. The social-media universe is practically infinite: There’s room for everyone to succeed.

Pursue complementary partnerships and relationships. Find people who exude positive energy. Whiners and complainers are rarely doers!

We all have different strengths, voices and perspectives and that diversity is key in building powerful and supportive communities. Treat people as allies, not assets, and your community will grow.

Stay positive and consistent. Remember to have fun with your audience. Think of your social channels as television stations.  Keep it fun, positive and engaging, so your audience will enjoy tuning in. To stay relevant on multiple social channels, you need to consistently create entertaining and valuable content.

Build a vibrant community. Success on social media happens when you create meaningful relationships with others and maintain a consistent focus on building your brand. Gaining a following on social media takes a lot of work and, as with most things worth doing, there are NO shortcuts.

Are you striving to be influential on social media? What strategies do you follow? Are they working? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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