Gini Dietrich

Where Should You Build Community?

By: Gini Dietrich | March 11, 2014 | 
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Where Should You Build Community?By Gini Dietrich

Last week, I was the guest tweeter (you never thought you’d see the day that was a thing, did you?) for #marketingchat, a Twitter chat for Experian led by Mike Delgado.

The theme was building community and we had all sorts of great interaction.

We talked about goals a business should have when building community, types of content to develop, and metrics.

Typically these things are fun and engaging. It’s rare you see a disagreement happen as fully as it did between me and one Mr. Louis Gudema.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t unprofessional or inappropriate. It was just…a disagreement.

Where Should You Build Community?

The question was:

What are your thoughts on using an existing network (e.g. Facebook) or building a network on your own domain (e.g. forum)? 

I said you should always build community on something you own, citing the fall of social networks that could take your content, your community, and your customers with it.

It’s no surprise I love the social networks and see a place for them, but they’re for developing relationships with people you can bring back to the community on your own website or blog.

But Louis disagreed with me. Vehemently.

So I set about to understand why.

He said:

Some companies have built large, active communities on FB, LinkedIn, etc., faster. I don’t see prob w being on one of those.

Sure, it can happen and does happen. It’s certainly faster and may even cost less, but I countered with, “What happens when the social network dies?”

He said:

It’s unlikely to die overnight! If it’s dying, then you can move them.

But then you have to move to something you own…which I contend you should have done to begin with.

When the Social Network Dies

OK. I’ll play along.

Let’s say you have zero tech skills and can’t afford to hire a designer…therefore no website or pretty blog that is visually enticing.

You create a Facebook page for your business and everything you do drives people to that page.

It becomes a fun place for people to hang out. Customers ask questions – and get answers. Prospective customers learn more about you – and engage with others on the page.

And then, five, 10, maybe even 15 years from now, Facebook is replaced by something that is just a sparkle in some toddler’s eye right now.

What do you do?

Do you move everyone to the new thing? Do you try to get them to your website or blog after the fact? Will they go?

When you build community on something you own, you don’t ever risk losing the community by the death of a social network.

Community on Something You Own

But here was the kicker.

He said:

And not everyone can afford to be AmEx Open!

I’m sorry. I built community right here on this blog one-by-one, painstakingly, and for years.

I nurture, I grow, I build. My team – who didn’t exist back then – does the same today.

We’ve grown it into one of the most active communities in the PR industry.

And guess what? We still can’t afford to be OpenForum.

Sure, some companies can afford to buy their way into communities. The rest of us have to work at it.

Build your community on something you own.

Do it every day. Connect one-on-one with customers and prospects. Send handwritten thank you notes or videos. Make people feel part of something.

And do it where you not only control where it goes, but can measure the activity through your analytics.

What do you think?

P.S. If you’d like a full rundown of the chat, you can read the Storify here.

P.P.S. Louis, if you read this, I’d love to have you comment and leave your side of the story. I love a good debate!

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.

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58 Comments on "Where Should You Build Community?"

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ClayMorgan
2 years 4 months ago

It boils down to do you want to own or do you want to rent. If you are on FB or LinkedIn, is your community truly yours? I mean, I’ve owned rental properties where I was told to treat it like I own it, but it still wasn’t mine.

I see the pluses and minuses on both, and maybe a combination (integration!?), is the best approach.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorgan  We have a pretty active community on Facebook, but we are always driving them back here. I don’t want to rent my community!

AnneReuss
AnneReuss
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorgan  I like the integrated approach. If someone puts in the effort to build a website or owned platform, it can be done at a reasonable price. But we have to go where customers are – and if we do social well (including the personal touches I like that ginidietrich recommends – handwritten notes, etc – extend it beyond social media channels) then it’ll encourage people to visit the owned platform. Which requires a lot of nuturing too, so they aren’t just “visiting” from a shared link and see it’s another (and better!) place to hang out.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

AnneReuss ClayMorgan Integration FTW!

annelizhannan
2 years 4 months ago
I agree with ClayMorgan on the integration but when you have limited resources I would keep the financial and time investment in my home property. I look at it just as I would any housing. It is nice to have the rental property where the tourists or friends come and enjoy the view but seasons and hotspots can change and then you’re left with either trying to unload it or suffer a loss in keeping it maintained. To me the website or owned blog is where the family can always count on as home. As I infer from what  ginidietrich is saying, it’s… Read more »
RobBiesenbach
2 years 4 months ago

The term “digital sharecropping” (which I believe copyblogger coined?) has always resonated with me. I imagine there’d be a pretty big drop-off rate from switching platforms — though maybe that winnow followers to the truly engaged.
Anyway, I’ve always thought you guys should have a message board/forum for the community, for people to use to ask each other questions and bounce ideas around. I haven’t found a group of communicators on LinkedIn or the other platforms that’s this engaged and active AND spam-free.

belllindsay
2 years 4 months ago

It’s very difficult to put a number on how many people *will* actually follow you to another platform. People are lazy. They are also easily enticed by the ‘next new thing’, and would rather put their time there, instead of on your brand new blog (which, as Gini hypothesizes above, you’re only building *because* your social network died!). Don’t take the risk of losing your community.

jennimacdonald
2 years 4 months ago

Gini I agree 100% but that might be because I once heard that from you years ago! : ) 

I have had the same debate with many people, especially those in the C-suite at my past employers. Sometimes I hoped that our Facebook Page would get deleted just to prove a point!

creativeoncall
2 years 4 months ago

http://www.livefyre.com/profile/6107/ I missed the exchange, and will need to read the full stream of tweets (wishing Storify had a way to streamline it), but I will offer one word of advice about that debate idea… Louis Gudema was one of my debate team partners in high school, and I could rarely keep up. Just sayin’… let the debate begin!

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

creativeoncall  LOL!! I was in debate club, too. I can do this!

PatrickHayslett
2 years 4 months ago

I think the dissent from Gini’s (correct) opinion comes from the whole “the medium is the message” outlook. If you do feel that way, you should at least make sure YOUR media is YOUR message. If you don’t take active steps to own it, Zuckerberg or Matt Cutts or anyone else owns it by default! You also have to realize who a real community member is, and who is not. Chasing promiscuous media hoppers in a reactive mode all the time is a zero sum game.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

PatrickHayslett  This phrase is brilliant: promiscuous media hoppers.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

jennimacdonald  I suppose you could “accidentally” delete it.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

belllindsay  I think Google+ is a great example of that. They launched, thinking everyone would head over there. And yet…

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

RobBiesenbach  It’s actually something we’ve been bouncing around, too. I have to think more about it.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

annelizhannan ClayMorgan I LOVE this analogy. In fact, I’m going to steal it. I’ll attribute it to you, but I’m stealing it none-the-less.

corinamanea
2 years 4 months ago
http://www.livefyre.com/profile/6107/ I was wondering when were you going to write about this :). It was an interesting debate. Like I said on #marketingchat, it depends on what strategy you (as business owner) have for your communication. You want to build something of your own, where people get to feel part of a community, where you can find prospects and/or brand ambassadors. Translation = put in the hard work.  Or you want the “fast & go” as in social channels, assuming the risk that once the network disappears, so does your community. I would like to know what´s behind Mr. Louis Gudema´s… Read more »
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
2 years 4 months ago

It is not just the death of the social network that you have to worry about it is the TOS too. If the network decides you have violated their TOS they can shut you down and there is no guarantee you will be given notice.

Can you build elsewhere? Sure, but if you don’t own it you risk losing it all.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes  Yes! Terms of service, too. You so smaht.

annelizhannan
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich  ClayMorgan  Of course, that’s just ‘Gindisputable’

jennimacdonald
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich the thought did cross my mind!

Howie Goldfarb
2 years 4 months ago

you were nicer than i would be. You can’t move communities but they can move on you. You always have to start from scratch and build new ones.

as for your community speaking on behalf of the crazies we are glad you are still proud of us….but keeping bdorman264 in the closet was a great idea

rosemaryoneill
2 years 4 months ago

I probably don’t even need to post this out loud, but I definitely believe you need to “own your turf.” The social networks are excellent feeders and supplements to the turf, but I feel strongly that you still need to control the experience and privacy of your community members. (Also, there are many price points on the spectrum before you get to AMEX OpenForum level…)

NancyCawleyJean
NancyCawleyJean
2 years 4 months ago

I love this disagreement, because both sides hold value. Being on the side of having a website but not a blog, I totally rely on the value of the social networks, but I have often thought about what happens when the next big thing comes along. What you’ve done is amazing, Gini, and it takes a lot of work to get to this point, and many businesses don’t have the resources, time or talent to do so. But overall, I think you’re right… driving everything to something you own is key. And I’m really sorry I missed that chat!

bdorman264
2 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb Only because I wouldn’t shave my legs……….ginidietrich…..

bdorman264
2 years 4 months ago

I’d like to be contrary and debate you, but I believe you. However, most of my friends I need to get rid of after about 5 years because they are on to me, so some of these platforms can’t change fast enough……..

Danny Brown
2 years 4 months ago
Great topic, Gini, and loving the comments so far. For me, I equate it to the blogging question – do you want to have control over your content, or do you want the third-party hosts like Medium, Tumblr, etc., to have it (and sell whenever they wish)? How many people were left standing when Posterous sold? Where will all your cool creations on Vizify go now? What happened to all the Ning communities when it went premium? The point is, building any form of community takes time, not only to grow it but also to nurture it once grown. If… Read more »
ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb bdorman264  The only way to keep things sane is to keep Dorman in the closet.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

rosemaryoneill  MANY price points. It’s fairly inexpensive to build a community on something you own. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

NancyCawleyJean  I suppose time and talent play into this. I had zero resources when I started so I kind of don’t believe that argument. I did it alone for a good three years. It’s like anything else – if it’s a priority, you’ll figure it out.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

bdorman264  Dang it! I wish you would disagree with me.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

Danny Brown  I know which one I’d rather be, too. And great examples with the blog platforms that died. I wish I’d had you on Thursday afternoon!

LynnMcConaughey
LynnMcConaughey
2 years 4 months ago
Very pertinent debate.  I think you should have both. There is much to be valued in interacting in the ‘big pool’ where your audiences already live, as well as, as you said, driving them to your own site. You want your brand to be consistent across several platforms, right? You may be renting space on Facebook but you’re still able to influence your own community there, along with similar or parallel communities.  Also, you make the case that if Facebook disappears in 10-15 years, you will still have your own space – but who’s to say that space will exist… Read more »
LauraPetrolino
2 years 4 months ago

why rent when you can own?

patrickreyes
patrickreyes
2 years 4 months ago

AnneReuss ClayMorgan ginidietrich  Well said Anne. At the end of the day, man cannot live by social (or blogging) alone.

LIONS

LauraPetrolino
2 years 4 months ago

ClayMorgan  OMG! I’m just seeing this now after I posted the rent/own comment above! Great minds, although you had a greater total insight, so +1 for your mind.

annelizhannan
2 years 4 months ago

Danny Brown  Great analogy about ‘if’ the community followed you around and the not so relative numbers. I just saw a slide show from my local TV station listing ‘Americas Defunct Retailers. It was sad to see but I couldn’t have named many that were listed if asked off the top of my head…except for the one that went belly up when I was there!  Even if people were once great fans of a platform(or store) they move on and often forget. No one forgets their home. 

If you want to check your recall of the retailers here’s the link: http://on.wcvb.com/1ixjpEq

Danny Brown
2 years 4 months ago

annelizhannan “No-one forgets their home” – amen to that, miss.

CarlMyers
2 years 4 months ago

I am actually doing this very thing this week by moving everything I do professionally to my own website. I want to be present on social media of course, but creative content should also be on a page one owns, I agree.

corinamanea
2 years 4 months ago

Howie Goldfarb Brilliant Howie “You can’t move communities but they can move on you.”

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

LauraPetrolino  I agree!

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

LynnMcConaughey  I see your point, Lynn. We have a pretty active Facebook page, but we are always driving people back here with it. I don’t know that all of our fans read Spin Sucks, but our goal is to at least get them here and not be reliant on Facebook for it.

ginidietrich
2 years 4 months ago

CarlMyers  Yeah!!

photo chris
photo chris
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich LauraPetrolino  ….because you don’t have a down payment and your decorating skills are awful….

photo chris
photo chris
2 years 4 months ago

ginidietrich NancyCawleyJean  …the “HOW can I” not if….
Now Gini- if you could be kind enough to write an instructional post about how to set up your own website and blog without being taken, or needing tech skills, that would help us all out. Wait, is it only me who is a total tech idiot?!?!?! drat!

aimeelwest
aimeelwest
2 years 4 months ago

Danny Brown Really great examples. They go and poof all your hard work is gone.

aimeelwest
aimeelwest
2 years 4 months ago

It is great to be active but never want to constantly go out to talk to people. Sometimes it is nice to have the party at home. Sure you have to clean up but you know where everything goes, that does not happen at someone else’s house no matter how often you visit.

marjorey56
marjorey56
2 years 4 months ago

I have a large number of active community from <a href=”http://www.blogoloola.com/”>blogoloola</a>. We keep everyone updated with or without social networking.

LouisGudema
2 years 4 months ago
So, I think this is the first time that I’ve been referred to as “one Louis Gudema”, but I accept it as it is accurate — as far as I know there are no others. And it’s probably better than “a person named Louis Gudema” 😉 I figure I should chime in here. I can well understand the almost unanimous position that we should be building “on our own land”. The recent case of Facebook throttling back visibility of content of brand pages in new feeds is a good example of why (although I don’t understand why brands thought they’d… Read more »
LouisGudema
2 years 4 months ago

Oh, right, one other things. We have seen good portability between properties. When Nick Bilton or Nate Silver leave the Times, people follow them to their new digs. In the virtual world, where any “property” is just a click away, the “build on your own land” requirement may not be as important as it is in the physical world. Sheryl Sandberg wouldn’t lose her following if she left Facebook, people will follow Oprah anywhere, and Lady Gaga. But you don’t have to be as big as those names. The people who really care about interacting with you will move.

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