We talk with a lot of small businesses about how to stay in touch with their current customers online and how to find new customers. Facebook is an obvious place to start – after all, there are billions of people on Facebook, and it’s likely all of your current customers have Facebook accounts too. So, get your current customers to “Like” you and new business should fly in, right?

As many of you know, it’s not that easy. A typical scenario is a small business creates a Facebook page and asks their customers and friends to “Like” them. The number of likes goes up dramatically in the first few weeks, and the business owner posts lots of interesting content on their business page. After a few weeks, the number of new likes starts to go down, and the chatter dies down as well. The business owner slowly stops posting regularly, which of course leads to less engagement.

There’s also Facebook itself. It’s fairly well known that organic reach on Facebook has declined substantially, and that Facebook makes a decent amount of money on small business advertising. In other words, the ability to “reach” new people now requires you to pay Facebook for advertising, it isn’t going to happen organically.

The main point here is not to complain about Facebook. Once a crowd gets large enough (and Facebook’s crowd is as large as you can get!) it’s very hard to have your voice heard over all the other noise – you typically have to do something unnatural (such as pay for advertising) to get a larger voice than anybody else. And we’re pretty confident that many of the other social platforms (e.g. Twitter, Google+) will suffer from this same issue as the crowds there get larger too.

The point is that as a small business owner, you should be creating your own targeted crowd. Have a bullhorn that goes specifically to the people who want to hear your message. If at all possible, do it on a platform that is totally focused on you, not the crowd. Examples include your own website and tools like Bizyhood. The fact is there is no free lunch here – cultivating and growing an online community takes time and effort. If you are going to rely on a third party site to do it for you, it will ultimately be weak or cost you as much money as the third party site can charge. If you put a little time into cultivating it yourself, there is a bigger up front investment (typically of both money and time, although with Bizyhood it’s not as much money!), but there’s nobody with a gun to your head charging you down the road – since you manage it.