Gini Dietrich

How to Build a Community that Thrives

By: Gini Dietrich | February 26, 2015 | 

Build a CommunityBy Gini Dietrich

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the Content Marketing World Twitter chat.

You think the Spin Sucks Author Q&As move quickly. Holy cow! I thought my keyboard was going to catch fire.

During that conversation, one of the questions posed to me was: What role does social media play in content marketing?

We talked a lot about engagement and networking and building community.

In the early days of social media, everyone talked about community. Build a community. Talk to your community. Community is the bee’s knees. Everyone should have a community.

Speaking from the perspective of having one of the most active communities in the PR and marketing world (yay, Spin Sucks Crazies!), that is hooey.

Yes, community is important, but if you think about it only from an engagement point-of-view, you will be angry you spent so much time and energy building it.

What is Community?

But let’s back up and talk, first, about what it means to build a community.

Mitch Joel, the author of Six Pixels of Separation and of Ctrl Alt Delete, wrote a blog post a few years ago about building community. He said you don’t have community until the members begin to talk to one another without the help of the author or moderator.

And he’s right. The magic happens not when you begin to get comments on your content, but when those people begin talking to one another.

One of my most favorite things to hear is how people who part of this crazy community have become friends, began dating, or have gotten married (we have our first Spin Sucks wedding in May!).

In fact, just yesterday I was emailing with a student who said he and his girlfriend are huge Spin Sucks readers and they met, not in class, but in the comments here.

I didn’t build a community with this in mind. In fact, I didn’t say, “Let’s build a community” and strategically set out to do it.

This isn’t something that can be created or forced. It happens organically.

The Community Secret Sauce

But there are things you can do to build a community, help it grow, and encourage members to begin building relationships with one another.

The secret sauce is this: There is no secret sauce.

However, if you spend some time talking online to the people who can influence purchase decisions, you can provide the foundation to build a community.

And, when you do it this way, it becomes much more than engagement.

  • You build a virtual sales force that isn’t on your payroll.
  • You build goodwill.
  • You build trust among a group of people who will go to bat for you in a crisis.
  • You build a referral network.
  • And you build relationships with human beings who will not only buy from you, but will become your biggest advocates.

Think about it from this perspective: Just like you, prospects, candidates, customers, journalists, and bloggers want to be noticed.

They want to know their comments or content resonates. They want you to acknowledge it, share it, and help their voices be heard.

Help them do that.

Give Your Community a Voice

With people who spend their time with your content:

  • Visit their sites.
  • Comment on and share their content.
  • Follow them and engage on their social networks.
  • Publicly thank them for their efforts.

For journalists and bloggers:

  • Visit the sites of those who you want to notice your content.
  • Comment on and share their content.
  • Continue to do this day after day and, soon, you’ll have developed an online relationship with an influencer in your industry.

Give people a reason to want to visit you—again and again.

To build a community is hard work. You’re building relationships with human beings. That doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s worth all the elbow grease.

Today’s Exercise: Build a Community

Exactly how worth it depends on your goal. More than likely, your goal is not only to build brand awareness and gain credibility but to increase sales. So how will you use your community to do all of those things?

There are a few things you can do immediately to build a community.

  • Install Livefyre. Livefyre is a commenting platform for your blog or website that allows people to not only comment and engage with one another but follow the discussions via email. While some of the other platforms do something similar, Livefyre is more user-friendly—it provides many different options for readers to set their settings in a way that’s convenient for them.
  • Answer comments. There is a big debate in the blogosphere about whether or not you should respond to comments…or even if comments have any value. Many journalists and bloggers believe the article or blog post is their say and the comment section is for the readers to agree or disagree, but not for the author to participate. If, however, you are trying to build community for the sake of increased sales, it is imperative the author speaks to the people who are commenting. After all, you can’t build relationships—online or offline—by sitting in your throne and not speaking to the people.
  • Engage people with one another. This is another thing Livefyre allows you to do. Just like on many of the social networks, you can “tag” people in the conversations. By using the @ button, you can type a person’s name and invite them to the conversation. They’ll be alerted either on one of their social networks or via email and follow the link to extend the conversation. Try it in the comments here. You can bring people into the conversation from Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
  • Introduce readers to one another. We do this through our weekly Spin Sucks Inquisition blog post. Every Friday, you are introduced to one member of our community, which provides information about professional and personal lives, including hobbies, interests, and fun facts we’ve learned about them while they’ve hung out with us. This provides an opportunity for members of the community to get to know someone they see in the comments a little bit better. While that doesn’t do a lot for direct sales for us, it certainly creates a deep loyalty that is tough to break.

Your customers. Your community. The influencers. The journalists. The bloggers. All of these people will help you grow your business.

It’s no longer about just the people inside your organization—it’s also about those outside.

  • Some will buy.
  • Some will refer others to buy.
  • Some will talk about you non-stop.
  • Some will talk about you only once or twice—but when they do, it’s powerful.

The Scavenger Hunt

If you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit Andy Crestodina’s blog.

The secret word is in his blog post, “The Ultimate Website Launch Checklist.”

But, there is one slight catch. Andy’s post is what’s going out in their newsletter today, so it is a beast (if you don’t already subscribe, I highly recommend it; it’s very good).

Therefore, I have one little tip for finding the secret word: It’s toward the end, but before the “Bonus Fun” section.

Just write down the secret word in Andy’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through March 3, so keep playing along (and you can work backwards, if you’re just starting out).

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office, including a Spin Sucks computer sticker, a Spin Sucks Sharpie, and more. I’ll even personalize and sign a nameplate for you to put in the front of your book.

Just email the receipt to Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

Now get to work…your community awaits!

photo credit: Shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

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  • Talk to each other *and* make fun of one another!! LOL

  • belllindsay Am I wrong?!

  • ginidietrich Never. 😉

  • belllindsay It’s sad you only have to agree with me for two more days.

  • “The magic happens not when you begin to get comments on your content, but when those people begin talking to one another.” <– YES! I own a quickly growing community on Google+ and have been purposely stepping back from answering questions and welcoming new members to see if others will latch on and start helping each other. When it happens, there’s no better feeling. Thanks ginidietrich for the reinforcement

  • ginidietrich ‘ish. 😉

  • In this case, it’s only a community when people start teasing each other 🙂

  • I thought this was a dating site; you just added some peripheral ‘stuff’ to give it some legitimacy, right?  

    Probably the majority of the people I have met online have some connection to this site and even though I am not as active, I will still travel to meet someone in real life just because I think that’s kind of neat. 

    From a purely financial standpoint, there was certainly a lot of hooey in my efforts to build a community, but from a relationship standpoint I had a lot of fun and would do it all over again if I had to make a choice.

  • Wait, who’s getting married???

  • So what I understood is now you can add ‘matchmaker’ to your bio?

  • KristenDaukas YES!!! And I’m totally going to!

  • RobBiesenbach I don’t know if you know them. They met in the comments here about four years ago. They live in Wisconsin.

  • rosemaryoneill It’s so fun that way!

  • John_Trader1

    Great post, and of course I have to add an international element to it….

    It gets rather complicated when your community spans 5 continents and a multitude of cultures, each with their own nuances, tastes, and preferences. How do you build and balance a community that consists of so many different cultures, and what’s the best approach to engaging people who don’t speak English as a first language?

    Thank you!

  • I think what you laid out sounds simple but it is not. I will put it simply for once.

    You are a facilitator. You accept disagreements with your points of view gracefully and with wit and charm. I know. We disagreed once. You are accessible. You know your stuff and never throw out BS just so you can have content for a day. You support others even competitors because you are fearless and confident. You are transparent. You foster all this within your team. You say what you do and do what you say.

    Most are not capable of this. But we can all strive too.

  • danielschiller

    The key is self-sustaining communities are intuitive and flexible enough so members use them for subjective ends. That is matchmaking (Spin), cross-cultural adventures (Instagram), Reddit/sub-reddits (espionage) — I could go on but you get the picture. Oh, that and there is a reason for users to show up with some regularity. But with all of the above in place, that’s maybe not your greatest challenge. What about keeping trolls to a minimum??

  • Howie Goldfarb If you could write with this simplicity all the time, I would probably be able to comprehend  that  98.42% that always eludes me .

  • jasonkonopinski mazel tov!

  • John_Trader1  You mean “….what’s the best approach to engaging people who don’t speak American as a first language”

  • ginidietrich rosemaryoneill Its all fun and teasing,  until someone makes a flaring grammatical error.

  • ginidietrich belllindsay 2 more days?  that’s it ? 

    Reminder to reset  the passwords on all ArmentDietrich / Spinsucks accounts this weekend.

  • Digital_DRK Howie Goldfarb Howie is fearless too….

  • bdorman264 knowing that about Howie Goldfarb scares me.

  • I sent this blog post link to @RogersHelp.

  • Digital_DRK Bwahahaah!

  • danielschiller We, thankfully, don’t have many trolls. If it were set up more like Reddit, that could be a real problem. But most business blogs won’t have that issue, if they take care to build their communities.

  • Howie Goldfarb We disagree at least once a week!

  • jasonkonopinski Apparently so!

  • ginidietrich not funny….can we delete this please ….very embarrassing…..

  • John_Trader1 You know, I don’t know that answer to that. We have lots of community members who span three continents, but they all speak (or at least write) English. I wonder if things like real-time translation from Skype will help with this?

  • bdorman264 It is rather fun, isn’t it?! I mean, it’s how I met you. And now I can’t get rid of you!

  • Digital_DRK ginidietrich No way!

  • KateNolan

    ginidietrich KristenDaukas Oh dear.

  • Howie Goldfarb I need to visit my fave instagram account — it’s been a while 😉

  • ginidietrich RobBiesenbach are they getting Spin Sucks branded stemless wineglasses as their gift?

  • ginidietrich bdorman264 #FloridaCraziesFTW

  • Yes but mostly when discussing the dietary habits of the great northern tree sloth U0001f607 we agree on way too many things as it is!

  • Done!

  • ginidietrich jasonkonopinski I always suspected Dietrich was a Jewish surname!

  • Digital_DRK John_Trader1 so glad Canadians speak American even if Y’all spell Color wrong. 8)

  • ginidietrich John_Trader1 I think it depends on what the community is about. For example hacker communities all speak the same code. But for a Brand their products and how they are used could be different by locale. In the US Mercedes would be a luxury car community but in East Africa a Safari/Outback brand since they also make off road trucks. 

    One thing I have done is go to Facebook. Most multinationals have country pages. You can just see the content posted on each and see how people feel about a Brand. The soda companies in the US get a lot of angry posts about how they are killing people with high fructose corn syrup and blaming them for the US obesity crisis. One reason Coke kind of abandoned their page But in other countries where Obesity is not an issue their view of these brands are much different. 

    I think case by case you might have to go regional.

  • I will add this because Digital_DRK can understand it.

    Even if you are not using social media or have a presence as a Brand communities already exist about your products and brands. Not always online. In fact the majority is offline. 

    Where I moonlight there is a really beautiful four room in upstairs. So many tourists and business people talk about hotels (we have very few and the ones we have are dingy in the area), travel and their experiences. They share which ones they like and dislike. I participate because I traveled for business heavily from 2002-2007. Very few of these people ever talk online, leave reviews or share this on social networks. The majority of the community talk is offline in person. We talk airline points, hotel points, services, restaurants. 

    Very hard to participate as a brand….BUT YOU CAN…if you provide a great product, service, experience you will be part of the conversation just as you will be with the opposite. So focus on what you can control.

    While the crazies are a powerful force here on Spin Sucks look at the upper right of this post. 32.787 people get this blog’s posts every day. I bet maybe 2000 have shared content on social networks the last week. Maybe 125 have commented. But there is a community of 32000 people who I bet share this view email with their coworkers, talk about the discussions during lunch, and even try to look smart to managers by sharing what they learned as knowledge they now have.

    Frankly I am unsure which group is more powerful…but being a crazy….

  • Howie Goldfarb    I believe I may have comprehended most of your comment.  I think you are right there are still valuable offline communities that  exist as result of demographics and geographics ( and whatever other graphics you want to add). who exchange brand and product stories. What I personally found interesting a few weeks ago was the interaction that occurred over other channels after my Spinsucks Inquisition.  Those who didn’t feel comfortable commenting in this community, followed up with me over channels such as twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and even in person to acknowledge the post.  We can’t underestimate the value, reach and potential influence of well formed communities, online or off.
    Looking forward to reading more of your simplistically styled comments in the future.

  • John_Trader1

    ginidietrich John_Trader1 I know there isn’t any easy answer but I didn’t know about Skype’s real-time translation. I’ll have to look into that, thanks.

  • John_Trader1

    Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich John_Trader1 Appreciate the feedback, thanks. I think that your strategy may work well on a B2C level, but may have different implications when it comes to B2B.

  • Great tips ginidietrich! Your blog is such a great example of a thriving community in action.

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