Skip to content


How to build an online community for your small business

'Right from the start, with virtually no money for marketing, I knew that social media and developing a loyal online community would be key to my success.'
Sheryl Thai, Cupcake Central

Top tips

  • Talk to your community regularly
  • Segment your audience, consider what regulars would like compared to new customers
  • Measure return on investment as best you can

The business

Founder of Melbourne-based Cupcake Central, Sheryl Thai, combined her two great loves - cupcakes and IT - to create a business which thrives through an online community she strategically set out to create.

From employee to business owner 'I was an IT consultant for a global consultancy firm when I went to New York and decided to visit a place I'd read about - The Magnolia Bakery,' she says. 'I ordered one of their sweet vanilla cupcakes and took my first bite. In that moment my passion was ignited.'

So, when her boss told her she no longer had a job in IT, Sheryl decided to start her own business, making and selling cupcakes from home. Requests from friends turned in to orders. And orders turned into an online business – cupcakecentral.com.au. Within ten months, she was taking so many orders; she decided to open her first store with her partner, Thin Neu.

Growing the business through social media marketing

'Right from the start, with virtually no money for marketing, I knew that social media and developing a loyal online community would be key to my success,' she says. 'We use every social media channel we can,' she says. 'About 30 per cent of our sales are from online and the only real cost is my time.'

Measure return on investment as best you can, for every $500 she spends on an online promotion, Sheryl expects to return three or four times that amount in sales.

A loyal online community

'I'm very conscious of engaging with my online community,' Sheryl says. 'We post new things on a daily basis to keep our regulars coming back and offer new customers something different. 'Through our online community, we're all about building a brand that isn't just about cupcakes but the whole experience.'

The result

The Cupcake Central website is loaded with features. Instagram lets customers share their photos, Sheryl posts a regular YouTube video with baking tips, Facebook offers great access and interaction, she sells gift boxes and corporate packages, and runs regular themed promotions. Due to this, 30 per cent of sales are online.