Gini Dietrich

Where Should You Build Community?

By: Gini Dietrich | March 11, 2014 | 

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • AnneReuss ClayMorgan Integration FTW!

  • 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 nice to have the family around your own hearth rather than a drop-in that can be as finicky as the wind. What mother hen doesn’t want all her chicks safe by her side;)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!

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

  • 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.

  • PatrickHayslett  This phrase is brilliant: promiscuous media hoppers.

  • jennimacdonald  I suppose you could “accidentally” delete it.

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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 answer, something more concrete, because for me the answer
    “If it’s dying, then you can move them” doesn´t make much sense. I
    mean, why work twice with the risk of loosing part of your community?! Let´s be
    honest: if someone thinks that moving a community from a place to another it´s
    easy and with 100% results, then it´s dreaming. Like belllindsay said: people are

  • 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.

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

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

  • ginidietrich the thought did cross my mind!

  • 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

  • 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

    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!

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

  • 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……..

  • 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 you’re willing to leave that in the hands of the third-party hosts, then more power you.
    As for a community following you around – by that token, people should have the same amount of followers on every network as they do on the one they have the most on. So if you have 10,000 Twitter followers, you should have 10,000 Facebook fans, or g+ followers. Except that logic doesn’t work.
    if it’s a resource / cost argument, then let me ask this: If you were a small business owner, would you leave your sales to the landlord you pay rent to, or your sales and marketing team (whatever that looks like)? That’s what third-party versus owned is. I know what one i’d rather be.

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

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

  • 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.

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

  • 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

    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 either? There’s a good chance web site forums will be dinosaurs by then too. Perhaps it’s all about constant adaptation?

  • why rent when you can own?

  • patrickreyes

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


  • 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.

  • 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:

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

  • 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.

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

  • LauraPetrolino  I agree!

  • 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.

  • CarlMyers  Yeah!!

  • photo chris

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

  • photo chris

    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

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

  • aimeelwest

    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

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

  • 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 have a free ride forever). And I did once have a page with a small, nascent following inexplicably deleted by Facebook. That said…

    I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. The New York Times, which has built it’s own property and could have just elected to have all of their online engagement there, has a FB page with over 5M followers. CNN has over 8M. Large brands like Starbucks (36M) and Coca Cola (80M) similarly have staked a claim on FB. And B2B brands like Cisco (1M+ across all of their FB accounts). Why? Because that’s where the people are. And we’re on Twitter, and LinkedIn, and Pinterest, and on and on. After all, Gini and I started this conversation on Twitter.
    So if I comment or share something on LinkedIn, there’s the possibility of 1,000+ people that I’m connected to seeing it, and with that I’m helping build awareness of that brand and that community — and my own brand. And tens of thousands of others in the LinkedIn group may see it, and me. If I comment on something here, far fewer people will see it.
    Bob Johnson at IDG Connect wrote a recent piece called “Connecting Conversations to Content: How to Drive Engagement through Social Media 2014”. According to his survey of IT decision makers, they used FB more than any other social media site when researching and buying — 2-3 times more than analyst blogs, and more even, than Google search. (This surprised me — we’re talking IT buyers, not music fans!)

    Back to the NYTimes: The New York Times has 760,000 paying digital
    subscribers and 950,000 print subscribers with access to digital. But it
    has those 5M FB followers and over 11M Twitter followers. 
    But it’s not an either/or situation. We are in an omni-channel world. We should probably have both. I have my own property, a blog (, and am active on FB, Twitter, LI, other blogs, etc. — in part to drive traffic to my blog, and in part for the interactions and branding from being there.

  • 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.

  • I absolutely agree with build your own, so you control its destiny, but you nail an important point: it is painstaking starting from zero. You can more easily ramp up on the existing platforms with built-in communities/groups that are tailor-made for online networking (especially LinkedIn for B2B), but then you are captive to their whims.

  • patrickreyes Bears.

  • aimeelwest  And you do have to wash the dishes. I hate washing the dishes.

  • dbvickery  It’s hard to start with nothing, for sure. That’s why I like the social networks to bring people back to something we own, but not to start and end there.

  • rdopping

    ” I’m sorry. I built community right here on this blog one-by-one, painstakingly, and for years.” Well now, that’s the thing many people are afraid of…….hard work.

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  • jacquez

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  • jacquez

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    Text message interception
    Password retrieval
    Databases hack
    Clearing of criminal records
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    Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Skype Hack
    Bank Transfers
    University grades changing
    Software hack
    Phone hack
    Retrieval of lost files and documents.
    Contact solely on