Gini Dietrich

Building a Community: What’s the Secret Sauce?

By: Gini Dietrich | May 30, 2013 | 

Building a Community- What's the Secret Sauce?In just two days, I will be joining Karen Wilson, Lara Wellman, and all of my Canadian friends at Social Capital and I cannot wait (though I think Lindsay Bell might be just a tad more excited than me)!

My keynote topic this year is Blogging, Community, and Making it Work and we’re going to spend some time talking about building a community and the secret sauce.

No, not like the Big Mac secret sauce (though I hear you can now make it at home), but what it takes to not only build a community, but grow it and make it stick.

We’ve done this right here and, while it’s been a fun ride, it’s also been a ton of work and there are some days I wonder why we do it at all. As it turns out, building a community through blogging is hard work that doesn’t have many rewards for a very long time.

So why do it?

What is Community?

Let’s first start with what the heck community even means.

When I was trying to figure it all out about four years ago, I turned to Mitch Joel. He wrote a blog post about building a community and he said something that really stuck with me.

He said (and I’m paraphrasing here) you don’t have community until the members begin to talk to one another without the help of the author.

At the time, I remember thinking, “How, on earth, do you make that happen?” It turns out, you don’t make it do anything. It happens organically.

There are a few things you can do to help massage it:

  • Install Livefyre. I’m a big, big proponent of this commenting tool because it helps you create conversations. More than any of its competitors. 
  • Answer comments. There is a big debate in the blogosphere about whether or not you should respond to comments. I stand firmly on the side you should answer comments, particularly if your goal is to build community.
  • Engage people with one another. If you visit the comments section of Spin Sucks, you’ll notice I invite others into the conversation (by tagging them with an @ sign), which begins to build community.
  • Introduce readers to one another. We do this through our weekly #FollowFriday 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 hang out with us.

But, of course, these things are just the starting point. What, really, is the secret sauce?

Secret Sauce

Are you ready?

It’s simple, really.

Stroke people’s egos.

Seriously. That’s it.

It’s not a new concept. But it truly is the secret sauce.

That means responding to people when they comment on your blog. It means going to visit their blogs. It means commenting on their blogs. It means sharing their content. It means giving them a reason to want to visit you…again and again.

It also means visiting the blogs of those who you want to notice your content, commenting, and building a relationship. You’re stroking the egos of the bloggers and soon they’ll pay attention to you.

I know, I know. I can already hear the criticism: But if I’m stroking people’s egos for the sake of building community, isn’t that fake?

Um, no. Sure you have the goal of building community, but you can’t be fake about it. People will know if you’re not being genuine. They’ll spot it a mile away and it won’t work.

You have to do so from a very good place. Fakeness won’t work.

Because of that, it is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. Some days you will get really sick and tired of it all. But it’s worth it.

Building a Community

How worth it depends on your goal. Our goal for blogging initially was to figure out what the whole thing was about so we could correctly counsel clients. Then we discovered there was a way to monetize the blog through increased clients to Arment Dietrich, the integrated marketing communications firm in Chicago.

Today this blog right here is the number two driver of new business. In fact, just last week I received a phone call from a woman looking for a PR firm. When I asked her how she found us, she said she Googled B2B PR in Chicago (yay SEO) and then found the blog. She liked our thinking and our approach so she called.

We won’t compete for this business. It’s ours for the taking. This is the mecca in professional services firms.

All because of a blog that started with all of 128 readers and no comments or shares and has grown into one of the best communities (in my opinion) on the web.

A Gift for Our Community

If you’re going to be in or near Ottawa this weekend, we have a free ticket to giveaway.

If you’re not already a Spin Sucks subscriber, get yourself signed up. If you are already a subscriber and want to be included in the drawing, let us know. We’ll confirm your subscription and then we’ll do a random drawing.

I know it’s last minute, but hopefully it works for someone!

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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104 responses to “Building a Community: What’s the Secret Sauce?”

  1. If the flights to Ottawa weren’t so blasted expensive, I’d be all over that free ticket like white on rice.

  2. katskrieger says:

    Hey Gini, typo under What is Community, 3rd paragraph “I’m paraphasing her” vs here.

  3. PattiRoseKnight1 says:

    In a world of instant gratification I think the key takeaway from this blog is that it doesn’t happen overnight….it takes time to grow a community; lots of time but it’s worth the wait 🙂

  4. I don’t care if you fake-like me or not. I still love you. Can’t wait to see you in ChiTown in July!!

  5. John_Trader1 says:

    Wish I was near Ottawa this weekend 🙁
    Who knew that stroking egos would be the conduit to sustainable community growth? It seems rather obvious but your point about being genuine I feel can get lost very very quickly with others trying to build a community. My take is, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Begin with slow, steady growth and expand when you have the resources to do so, and not beforehand lest you come off as phony.
    Reciprocation is a key element of community building and should not be done without the proper resources and support.

    • ginidietrich says:

      John_Trader1 We started with 128 visitors. Not even my mom read the blog back then. It was horrid. But, like you said, we took it slowly – probably mostly because we had no idea what we were doing. But it worked!

      • John_Trader1 says:

        ginidietrichYou’ve come a long way. At least your Mom didn’t comment on a blog post in the early days telling you she loves you very much, which happened to me. So there’s that.

        • RebeccaTodd says:

          John_Trader1 ginidietrich That’s the cutest thing ever.

        • jolynndeal says:

          John_Trader1 ginidietrich John, that is hilarious. My mother does that too!  She hasn’t professed her love for me but she comments on and shares EVERYTHING.  And writes comments like, “This doesn’t make sense to me, or this didn’t work for me.”  Moms are the best fans.

  6. One day I will venture out and talk to others on this blog. Test out this community thing.
    I sold things that didn’t exist yet for 5 years. I am building a second and third Brand communities. Not sure which is harder. Most major brands with gazillions of fans and followers do not have community. And in many ways social can’t scale for a major brand. If you had 3000 comments a day would you respond to them all?
    I think this gives an edge to small and midsized companies because much easier to foster a brand wide community. Chain businesses should test individual store communities vs try to manage 28 million people on a Facebook page.

    • ginidietrich says:

      Howie Goldfarb This is more for when you’re starting out…even for big brands. We’re working with a huge brand that has thousands of fans, but no one is engaged. They don’t have community. These principles work to get started. A lot of this stuff we can’t even keep up with anymore.

  7. Awesome post, thanks! 
    Stroking people’s egos is great advice that can apply to a lot of areas of life – sales, community building, marriage, etc. People love to feel loved, and when you show them you care, chances are, they’ll be more inclined to listen to you too and show you the same type of love back. 
    On another note, you inspired me to install Livefyre over on my blog! Such a great way to start conversations 🙂 Thanks for the tip (or really the push to get this done… I’ve seen and used Livefyre here and on other blogs but I’ve never taken the couple of minutes to install it on my blog… crazy but it’s installed now! :-))

  8. jolynndeal says:

    I wouldn’t call it stroking egos, I’d say paying attention and engaging. You and your team have real conversations with your audience.  It’s a two-way street.  We love it.  I’ve followed your advice and highlight a community member every Thursday through a guest post. It’s very well received and people share their posts.  I also solicit contributions for various content and that returns engagement and a ton of shares.  I’m using Livefyre and it rocks. But these are all examples of professionalism and respect. You are an awesome mentor! —-stroke 🙂

  9. Lara Wellman says:

    Can’t wait to see you! 🙂

  10. TonyBennett says:

    Thank you for admiting what people beat around the bush about.  It’s totally about making people feel validated and important. Who doesn’t like to be affirmed? I remember the day you called me the smartest person in the world and that I was incredibly good looking.  I’d run through a wall for you, now!  Oh what’s that… you didn’t say that?  Must have been someone else, but still, you really are the smartest person I know (that’s named Gini).  Seriously, you are.  And when people ask me about examples of community – I point them here.  I’ve maintained a relationship with more than a dozen folks I’ve met right here on Spin Sucks.  That, my friends, is priceless.

  11. aimeelwest says:

    This is by far my favorite suggestion “Introduce readers to one another” and something that I always try and do around me. I love it when I can make lasting connections for people that help them out and I am so excited when someone does back to me. 
    I appreciate all the advice you and your team has given me and I if I can return that feeling I’ve had a good day ~ Thanks

  12. belllindsay says:

    Ottawa…? I’m flying to Quebec City…!!??

  13. decillis1 says:

    I get what you’re saying, but I’d phrase it a different way. Instead of stroking egos, I’d say that you need to simply show interest in the person professionally and personally. I use what I call the Friday Fun Question, which links people with common interests within the community and shows that I’m interested in them. I’ve asked everything from college majors to proudest accomplishment, and it’s been darn effective. Of course, I love learning about what makes people tick so that helps.

    • ginidietrich says:

      decillis1 It’s more words to say show interest in the person professionally and personally. It’s not as catchy. And no one wants to fight you on that. No one will buy me ice cream if I don’t give them a reason to debate!

      • decillis1 says:

        People with their priorities in order have a line item in their budget called “Gini-ice cream”. You look like you could eat two sumo wrestlers’ weight in ice cream, so I’ve allocated a lot of money towards this.

  14. A client was JUST asking about this the other day so perfect timing!!

  15. RebeccaTodd says:

    Awesome post! Yes- it really is about that ego thing. It’s kinda how I sell too, but your next bit is what make it true- you do have to mean it. I have an analogy I use, but it’s too crass for public. And YES include my name in the draw please! I can use enough “professional learning funds” to get there.

  16. I can vouch for the fact that you don’t “massage egos” in a fake way. I was so excited the first time or two you came to my blog to comment. I knew you were listening to your audience more actively and beyond mentions on Facebook and Twitter. You also added value to the conversation in MY community, which can’t be done if your comment goes no further than, “thanks for sharing my content on your blog”. 
    After the conference, I’m going to finally stop hemming and hawing about adding Livefyre and just do it. I’ve been thinking about it for a year because of the incredible engagement you have here. 
    See you in a couple hours!!

  17. mylefttom says:

    Another sign you’ve got a community is when people make unhelpful and irrelevant comments about the picture in the article instead of the post itself, so here goes: That’s a bacon cheeseburger, not a big mac. 
    And I might add: good article.

  18. TimPio says:

    Hi Gini:
    You touch on a topic I feel passionate about.  Four years ago, like you, I was trying to figure out this blogging thing.  Switched from Blogger to a WordPress platform. Stuck my picture on my “about” page and slowly I built community.  You mention stroking people’s egos…that’s a good suggestion and I agree with that.  My strategy on building community was commenting on other people’s blogs.  I guess you can call that ego stroking.  But my comments were sincere, thoughtful and genuine.  By doing that I became friends with some fellow bloggers.  Friends where we extended our conversation to the phone (for those living in other states). 

    Four years later…blog commenting seems to have slowed (though probably not here at SpinSucks).  People feel more inclined to share a post they like rather than comment.  But I would argue that blog commenting is one of the best ways to validate someone else’s work and stroke their ego.  
    I compare building community with having a good conversation.  Mostly this means being a good listener.  It takes an investment in time, but it is possible. 
    Thank you for exploring the topic here.

    • ginidietrich says:

      TimPio One of the ways I know community is real here is people meet in the comments and they build friendships. RebeccaTodd met two of the people she met her in person a few weeks ago while traveling. So it extends beyond even you and me as the bloggers, which is fantastic!

  19. susancellura says:

    I wish I was going to be in Canada!!! Let me know if you are ever headed to Houston. 
    I’m very excited about this post. I’m in an industry that is very blue collar and companies kind of/sort of utilize social media tools as part of their marketing efforts. My goal is to be one of the first that implements the marketing communication strategy to where we are one of the first ones to establish a community. My boss supports it, but also wants to see stats that it works. I continue to tell him, “it looks like we are going to create the stats”.  🙂
    Thank you for this information as I will utilize it in my ongoing conversations with my boss and the team.

  20. So ‘technically’, this is a great “Community Building For Dummies” breakdown. However, two chefs can make the same secret sauce, using the exact same ingredients and one will just taste better. There is an intangible that creates a really amazing community (one as rare and awesomtastic as the Spin Sucks community) that can’t be measured or described. 
    Sort of like Riedel phenomena (which oddly I researched the hell out of in one of my ‘I need to know this for no reason other than needing to know’ obsessive tangents). There have been all sorts of scientific studies to figure out and validate Riedel’s claim that wine tastes better out of their secret and specifically shaped glasses. Really, scientifically, it doesn’t add up, but time and time again the best wine experts have been given double blind tests, in which they have no way of knowing what glass the wine is being consumed from, and the consistently think the wine from the Riedel glass tastes better. 
    Gini Dietrich you and the team you have assembled are like Riedel glasses, people can try to copy what you’ve done, they can follow these steps exactly, but there is an magic quality, a qi (and as ninja, I know about these things) that makes this community extraordinary. Now I’m not saying others can’t build a ‘good’ community following these steps, I’m just saying that the community you build is different.

    • RebeccaTodd says:

      LauraPetrolino Gini Dietrich Since our chat the other day Laura, I now view Gini as the Jean Grey of community building.

    • ginidietrich says:

      LauraPetrolino Fine. I’m good with being compared to a Riedel. Thank you.

    • KevinVandever says:

      LauraPetrolino Gini Dietrich If by research you mean drink a lot of wine from Riedel glasses, I’m like a master researcher. My research tool of choice is my hand-made Riedel Bordeaux glass. 
      I like your analogy. This community is unique and special in how we interact with Gini and each other as well. We tackle serious topics and some not-so-serious ones, too, and the members remain thoughtful, engaging, humorous, and intelligent with their comments. Very few trolls. I’m impressed with what Gini has built and it has been fun to watch the growth over the years. (See, Gini, that’s how you stroke one’s ego…you know, just in case you’d like to practice on someone in particular).

  21. KevinVandever says:

    I’m still waiting…

  22. JayDolan says:

    I’m already the most humble person on the internet. No need to stroke my ego.

  23. Where else can we talk shop about squirrels, killer dolphins and five pound spiders.

  24. Ali_Davies says:

    You raised a really valid point when you said “it is hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight.” We live in a world that wants everything to come easy and now! So it is a bit of  a shock for many folk when they realise they might have to break a sweat to achieve the results they want. Relationships and community that are strong, healthy and lasting  don’t come easy and immediately. They take time, commitment and a shed load of hard work.

  25. ExtremelyAvg says:

    I think you’ve nailed the secret sauce. It is hard work, but also being friendly is huge. People like engaging with others who care.
    Oh, and your hair really looks great, today. Are those new shoes?  Good choice!

  26. Stroking people ego or reciprocating and being polite? Because Gini politeness is everything. 🙂

    Every website depends on visitors, readers and community, taking without giving is somehow stealing, at least imho.

    You mentioned me on FollowFriday, I’ve put a link both on my About page and on my page, isn’t it simply fair whatever Google thinks of it? But I could also have just taken the mention and peace with it but it would have been very rude at best.

    Livefyre is great, dharait is wonderful and their system work well plus it’s free and isn’t plastered with spam. Other systems are good too but spam is a real issue, even paid plugins which after having been promoted for years get abandoned by those who sweared about them.

    Answering to comments should not be an issue if your mother told you about being polite; mine told me every day. If someone’s ego is so big that thinks he or she doesn’t need to answer to comments because he or she is in the Olympus of something I usually leave a comment for the backlink and then never come back.

    90% of time those who behave this way have nothing really worth sharing. If this is their approach to the world who cares? You answer to comments, Marcus answers to comments and I think you’re both pretty busy right? Just the first two examples which come to my mind.

    My advice is: if someone doesn’t bother to answer to your, intelligent, comment don’t bother about him, or her.

    Happy weekend! 🙂

    • ginidietrich says:

      Andrea T.H.W. “taking without giving is somehow stealing.” I love that! I’m going to steal it (and credit you).

      • ginidietrich thanks a lot, as always a honor. 😉

        I forgot to add as regards commenting another example: also kikolani finds the time to answer comments. 🙂

        I mean that if busy people like you can find the time to answer to comments then probaly those who don’t are too busy, they simple aren’t interested. Imho.


  27. fieldsf says:

    Sure wish I was anywhere near Ottawa this weekend! The whole reason I started following this blog in the first place was because I heard you speak about Marketing in the Round on a live webinar and loved your presentation style.  Knock ’em dead this weekend! (Not literally, though.)

  28. sherrilynne says:

    Gini, I loved your keynote and learned a few new tricks. Thanks for coming up to Social Capital

  29. […] came across this Mitch Joel quote via Gini Dietrich’s post: Building a Community: What’s the Secret Sauce? Google+ has always been the place where people with interests in common as opposed to history in […]

  30. […] of losing a community member and destroying a community before you start. Community by definition is not about YOU, it’s about them. It doesn’t just work as a one way street to fuel your sales. It is about relationships, about […]

  31. PTheWyse says:

    This is a great post wow…
    ginidietrich you have sold me on livefyre. Great commenting system (I use Disqus and I see the community building impact right away). 

    Love this advice, “I stand firmly on the side you should answer comments, particularly if your goal is to build community.” Answering comments shows that you value people’s time and energy. Answering comments also extends the conversation and establishes expertise. 
    I am blown away by the level of interaction on Spin Sucks. Thank you for sharing the “Secret Sauce”.

  32. […] by those websites. It shows that you recognize them as an authority, and who doesn’t like some ego stroking. It’s also a way of being humble by recognizing you may not be expert enough […]

  33. mattmaldre says:

    Or explained in a nicer way, be friendly.

  34. […] then my focus was learning the different ways businesses were using social media. How were they building communities? How did they get people to comment on their Facebook page or chat with them on […]

  35. […] you think about it, no one’s more community-minded than a guy who’s been working these streets for 40 years. Trust is a huge commodity in any […]

  36. […] communities — from international news sites like The Financial Times to independent blogs like Spin Sucks — have one thing in common: staff participation. When reporters (and to a lesser extent, even […]

  37. […] you’re truly going to be building a community, think beyond social media—think about your owned […]

  38. […] Cultivating a community that engages with respect in discussions should be a top priority for any organization using social media. […]

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