So, by now you’ve found a few blogs you enjoy reading and you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and responded to a few. Maybe you said “Thanks for a great post!” or “I agree” and shared an example. Maybe you were a bit braver and disagreed with something you read. The point of that exercise was to get you comfortable participating in social media conversations. It IS a dialogue after all.

And just like in offline conversations, your contribution to the dialogue adds to your social capital online. Just stepping up and participating in a small way will help you to build an online persona. But “online” is a big place to make a splash!! As with all things in business, you’ll have more success if you niche!

How do you “niche” online? That brings us to the Week Three challenge:

Search for and join an online community! There are online communities of people (experts, enthusiasts and observers) for just about any topic. It’s an online micro-environment. The beauty is that it’s very much like joining a group offline—you start by looking around, reading people’s profiles, learning the lay of the land. You may respond to other people’s thoughts (like a real life dialogue) and eventually even post your own original thoughts. A word of quick warning: just like in offline communities, shameless self promotion isn’t welcome and the community will turn on you even quicker. It’s still about building relationships.

The benefit to you as a small business owner is to find an online community of people sharing thoughts and ideas pertinent to your business. It could be you join an online community discussing your industry, discussing how to run your business, discussing a particular aspect of your running your business (like marketing ideas). *There are also online communities for just about any hobby, interest or passion you can think of.

You’re reading this blog, so you’ve already found one online community—Dell’s Small Business Community. If you’re reading this, you could “join” by signing up and creating a profile, allowing you to tell others about yourself and participate in the dialogue. I also belong to an online community called Society for Word of Mouth for professionals dedicated to building Word of Mouth into the DNA of your business (www.theswom.org).

Do some searching—Google your favorite business topics, check national association Web sites or search special portholes for communities such as Ning.com.

A side note: Facebook and LinkedIn are also online communities, but I’m recommending you find an online community with a niche target to help you learn and build social media capital quickly and meaningfully. We’ll address Facebook and LinkedIn in future posts.