Gini Dietrich

The Online Community Secret Sauce

By: Gini Dietrich | November 16, 2010 | 
94

People ask me all the time what my secret sauce is for online community building and I always make some self-deprecating comment about how my mom pays people a lot of money to be nice to me.

But I’ve really been thinking about what it is that creates such a strong sense of community and why they want to continue giving. And not just the Spin Sucks and Arment Dietrich communities, but all of our communities.

This is the formula I keep coming back to:

Human beings + humility + sense of humor + feeding other’s egos + not expecting anything in return = the online community secret sauce.

Just the other day, I was speaking to a Vistage group and one business leader asked, “Why can’t we just sign up for all of the social media platforms and see what sticks?”

I’ve said this time and time again, but this is not the “Field of Dreams.” If you build it, they will not come. You actually have to build real relationships with real people if you want to build a community who cares about your, your company, and/or your brand. And it’s not easy work. Think of it this way…if your sole job was networking, how would you go about it?

You likely would have a networking formula where you listen, engage, and participate. You would find people you want to do business with or can refer business to and you would build an offline community. The same goes for an online community, so let’s break down the forumla.

Human beings. Duh. We can’t have a community without human beings.

Humility. No one likes an egomaniac. No one likes people who act like jerks, just because they have a lot of Twitter followers or Facebook fans. Maybe the nice guy finishes last, but his relationships last longer. I have a handful of friends who have carte blanche to smack me if I ever get too big for my britches. I never want to be perceived as having a large ego.

Sense of humor. Ever notice the people around you who never get defensive when they’re criticized? Or who make fun of themselves as often as possible? This comes with confidence and a sense of humility. Plus, it’s way more fun to be around (even online) people who know how to laugh.

Feeding other’s egos. Sure, I just said humility wins in the community building game, but all of us have egos. All of us are a little bit narcissistic. And that’s OK. As long as we can fit our heads through our doorways. I think this mantra is very Midwest, but I believe that if you scratch someone’s back, they’ll eventually turn around and scratch yours too. Lots of people moan and groan about this…”I don’t have time to feed other people’s egos.” Trust me on this one. If you scratch their back, they will scratch yours. Ever had someone visit your store, buy your product, or even read your blog who is a huge fan? How does it make you feel when you don’t know anything about that person? I know if makes me feel really guilty. I go out of my way to find out more about them, take notes, and help them whenever possible.

Don’t expect anything in return. This is like expecting sex because you bought a girl dinner. As soon as you expect it, you might as well expect the glass of wine that is about to be thrown in your face, too.

Add in some things like great content and tools such as Livefyre and voila! You have a community in the making.

But the truth of the matter is, there isn’t a one size fits all online community secret sauce. You have to do what works for you. As long as you respect and admire people for just being people, your secret saunce can consist of whatever you think works.

Which opens the floor to you. What is your online community secret sauce?

Thanks to Skinny Emmie for the illustration that proves my point.

Update: I have been corrected. The illustration comes from Hugh MacLeod at GapingVoid.

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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94 Comments on "The Online Community Secret Sauce"

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joey_strawn
5 years 5 months ago

I just want to say that your Secret Sauce Formula is already on a note card, will be laminated, and used for later reference when I get asked this question.

It seems like everyone expects community-building to be easy and quick, when it’s really not. I might even add “Hard Work” to the formula. You have to be consistent and persistent with your community to help the growth along. If you don’t work for them, they won’t return the favor.

Great post.

wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago

I think you are right to stress humility. My personal blog covers some arcane stuff, but I still have a decent sized community. I think what does it is that we all talk about ideas, not our own lives as much – although I do cherish the examples some of the commentors give from their experience & it makes the ideas change and grow.

Community is a bigger picture, something beyohd us as individuals. I think as long as that is pretty obivous community will flourish!

ThePaulSutton
ThePaulSutton
5 years 5 months ago

You had me right up until: “This is like expecting sex because you bought a girl dinner”…yeah, and…?!
Seriously though, fantastic post, Gini. Combining humility as well as acknowledging egos is a bit of a masterstroke, really, and one that perhaps isn’t immediately obvious. Your secret sauce formula will undoubtedly be passed on down the generations like a good Christmas Cake recipe…

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 months ago
Your mom’s check came just in time! Though she told me until my LiveFyre points break 20 I am not getting a raise. Sigh. And I was told that my Disqus points are not convertible to Livefyre points just yet. Something about connection with the Chinese Yuan currency controls. I think this is a great post. Often there is a common thread/passion/interest that kick starts the connection. I can go back through the chain of how I met everyone in my twitter networks and the themes they exist on. Your post to me describes the glue perfectly. There have been… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 months ago

@ThePaulSutton Yes Gini just had like 20 guys decide not to ask her to dinner. The trick is get the free dinner first.

SamanthaCollier
SamanthaCollier
5 years 5 months ago

@ThePaulSutton That is one of my favorite parts too! Great post Gini. I agree 100%

ShellyKramer
ShellyKramer
5 years 5 months ago

Great post, Gini. Just makes sense, doesn’t it? Your secret sauce works for me, chica. But then, you also can always be counted on for cupcakes, which makes me biased.

thenakedredhead
5 years 5 months ago

“Don’t expect anything in return.” While this is the most valuable concept I’ve learned, it was probably the hardest to arrive at. I mean, really, NOTHING? “But, but, I want–I NEED–your comment love!” However, once I figured it out, wow. It’s kind of amazing, and it feels so much better and less desperate and Right. And I like being Right. :)

RedheadWriting
RedheadWriting
5 years 5 months ago

I’ve always thought it was so interesting that people had the same expectations of social media that they had of teenage romances. Grabbing a dude and kissing him when you’re drunk doesn’t mean you’re dating and giving someone a digital reacharound does not a relationship make.

Love it.

MaureenB2B
MaureenB2B
5 years 5 months ago

geez – thanks for laying it all out there. This post reminds me of the Dove campaign with all the beautiful, REAL women in their undies, dimples and all. SO nice of you to be so honest and why I keep pointing folks to you as someone who does this so naturally. Brilliant.

GACConsultants
5 years 5 months ago

But doesn’t that get expensive for your mom – lol

Love this post Gini – keeping your secret sauce ingredients (see above) consistently delicious will make you new friends and build your influence over time. There’s no substitute for effort and time – you get out what you put in. Thanks for sharing some of your secret ingredients : )

DannyBrown
5 years 5 months ago

Or you could just always steal someone else’s community and leave them hanging… 😉

The ego one is a fine lined one. I’ve seen a ton of comments on certain A-list blogs, and towards them on Twitter, where it’s so obvious that all they want is to be noticed by the perceived “cool kid”. If that kid is so cool, they’ll notice you anyway – ego-stroking just puts them off. Or at least, the god ones. :)

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 months ago

@ShellyKramer You mean there are cupcakes I have been missing? I knew Shelly I would find value in connecting with you. Holds hand out for cupcakes.

wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago
@dannybrown I have to agree with you on egos – never understood why this is important or why people take so much time to do it. It seems to be a much bigger part of (today’s) online world than it is in real life, for example – or the way things were back in the 80s and 90s online. But I’m watching to see what happens here and other places to see what I can learn about a culture that seems to requires this sort of thang. Though I doubt that my annoyance at ego boosting makes me a “cool… Read more »
wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago

@thenakedredhead I’ve wondered about this for a long time. Some people write deeply personal blogs about their own life and I honestly have to wonder what they hope to get from it. I’ve written to help get ideas out of my head and hopefully get a good conversation going, and I think a lot of people write for that reason. So if I don’t get a conversation going, that is a bummer, but … it prolly means it just didn’t reach people who found the topic interesting. I dunno.

JMattHicks
5 years 5 months ago

It’s official. I’ve had to create a separate folder in my browser to keep all of the articles of yours I love in an organized fashion. That’s some valuable real estate you’ve got at the top of my browser. Great write up, I learned a lot.

Mandy_Vavrinak
Mandy_Vavrinak
5 years 5 months ago

@HowieSPM @ShellyKramer Cupcakes? Covered in secret sauce? Double win.

Mandy_Vavrinak
Mandy_Vavrinak
5 years 5 months ago

Gini, I imagine talking to you in person would be much like reading your posts, and that is a very, very good thing. I have those guilt feelings, too, when someone I meet or connect with already knows more about me from being a fan than I know about them. Resolving to do better on the reciprocation scale today.

DougLeavy
5 years 5 months ago

Now if we could only get a way for the bean counters out there to understand this formula. Success in engaging does not ALWAYS = Immediate ROI. Great post, I’ll have to start chanting that as a mantra around the office till everyone gets it. 😉

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 5 months ago
Love me some Gini humor!My mantra, give and it will be given back to you. That being said, the reason we enjoy helping others and doing what we do is that we love people! We love caring for, supporting, encouraging and building up people. The bonus is we always seem to be provided for with clients and opportunities. My favorite thing to do is to look back and see how well we’ve been covered. In the heat of the drama, we panic, stress and somehow get through it. We learn from each other, help when we can and continue learning… Read more »
thenakedredhead
5 years 5 months ago

@wabbitoid The people who write the deeply personal blogs I think hope to find a community of like-minded people (I mean, don’t we all?) but to me, the super personal blog is almost like a hyper-niche. You’ll get people who either feel EXACTLY the same way, or people who are being sorta voyeuristic in reading. For example, there’s a blog I read by someone with chronic illness. I’m a voyeur…I don’t have chronic illness. BUT, she has a group of HARD CORE followers who also have chronic illness. That’s her payoff.

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 5 months ago

@dannybrown I believe the ego boosts on line are a little insight into who a person is, really. We have a couple of clients I have said and I quote, “i’m gonna need you to bring that down to Mock 1, you’re a little over the top big guy!” I understand more now than ever why my 84 year old mother who’s filter wore out years ago says, “what are they gonna do, kill me?”

DannyBrown
5 years 5 months ago

@wabbitoid Perhaps it was the 80’s that started it off? Or at the very least, the early 90’s with the whole Yuppie movement and the “greed is good” mantra? That seems to have been a turning point for the whole materialistic thing, of which ego is just a part.

DannyBrown
5 years 5 months ago

@janbeery You sound like the type of consultant EVERY client wuld love, Jan – need to keep everything in check :)

And your mother sounds awesome!

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jenna Langer, Jenna Langer. Jenna Langer said: Check out @skypulsemedia's comment in "The Online Community Secret Sauce" http://fyre.it/am -He only needs 1 more point to get a raise! :) […]

jennalanger
5 years 5 months ago

@HowieSPM After this comment, I think you deserve a raise :)

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 5 months ago
@dannybrown Let’s just say the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree with Mom!I lived in Operating Rooms with Docs for a number of years as a manufacturer. Got the reputation of “the eye roller.” When ever they would step out of line and pull out the ego, my eyes would roll, I’d deep sigh and say, “are we ready to work now or do we need to wait for the swelling to go down!” It has gotten way out of line with materialism. Love to remind people that at the end of the day, it all goes back… Read more »
DannyBrown
5 years 5 months ago

@jennalanger @HowieSPM That Howie – he so crazy, he thinks Hertz Van Rental is a Dutch soccer player.

Wait – not that kind of raise?

janbeery
janbeery
5 years 5 months ago

@dannybrown @jennalanger @HowieSPM hahahahaha…..breathe…hahahahaha

wabbitoid
5 years 5 months ago
@janbeery @dannybrown Jan, great examples because they are very real world. I’ve never understood how people can spend time worrying about egos (especially their own!) and get any work done! Here’s a very real problem I have with the excessive complimenting / ego boosting that happens on many sites – including this one, if I can break out of anthopologist mode. If I were to walk up to a woman in just about any setting and say, “Wow, that was really great, thank you so much!” she probably would assume I was hitting on her. I’ve seen “that look” often… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 months ago

Thank you all who helped me get that raise with Gini’s mom. I am very flattered and humbled. I am also going to start promoting Spin Sucks as the ultimate crowd sourcing platform. Contacting Pepsi and Doritos to migrate their CS campaigns to this site. Phenomenal success rate!

patrickreyes
patrickreyes
5 years 5 months ago

@RedheadWriting Great analogy…always love your POV.

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 months ago

@janbeery @dannybrown @jennalanger Wait! I have Hertz’s team jersey bought on EBay for $112 out bidding 4 other people. It said ‘Hertz Van Rental Classic Jersey – Arsenal Soccer Club’. Not only are my negotiating skills weak my European Soccer knowledge needs a refresher. Sigh.

RedheadWriting
RedheadWriting
5 years 5 months ago

@PatrickReyes If you can’t count on me for a poignant, slightly inappropriate remark, what’s this world coming to?

DannyBrown
5 years 5 months ago

@wabbitoid I was chatting with David Siteman Garland on his Rise show about this very thing. People that create personas that are different from their real ones will fall soon enough – there’s only so long you can be a dick online without being found out 😉

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 months ago

@dannybrown @wabbitoid David Siteman Garland And off line too Danny. How many Stars do we only see a public facade and they turn out to be monsters in private. There is only so long you can live the lie.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@RedheadWriting @PatrickReyes So here I am…I get out of a meeting. I have 10 minutes before my next one. I’m multi-taskng. Snarfing down a granola bar, drinking some water, flipping to Spin Sucks comments…when I see “giving someone a digital reacharound.” While swallowing some water, which then came out my nose! I always joke that someone makes me laugh hard enough to spit water, but that actually did make it happen. So. Freaking. Funny.

PeterGault
PeterGault
5 years 5 months ago

@GiniDietrich @RedheadWriting @PatrickReyes Gotta say – this anaolgy, as Patrick pointed out, is GREAT! Red, you need to own that as a new hash tag! #digitalreacharound … or #dra for short. Can’t tell you how many of those I get in a day on ghosted accounts. And by goly, when there’s no reciprocation, how offended folks get!

Ya know, us guys also toss a glass of wine now and then 😉

PeterGault
PeterGault
5 years 5 months ago
Your formula of hb+h+soh+feo+neair=ocss is pretty much dead on. Mine is a little shorter but boils down to the same basic philosophy. BG+G+T=R or – Being Gracious Grateful and Thankful = Relationships. It’s true that there’s a little narcissism involved in social media or at least a level of admitted and accepted extroversion. It’s our unique individual voices that make all this work and there’s nothing more comforting than the sound of your own voice. Hey, I could listen to me all day. But that doesn’t mean everyone else wants to. The thing to remember is that being able to… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@joey_strawn Please send me a picture of your laminated formula! I totally agree about hard work. So many people think they’ll build a Facebook page and have instant community. Not. So.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@wabbitoid I think the personal anecdotes is what makes us human beings. We could all do more of it…and be less judmental of those who do.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@HowieSPM @ThePaulSutton Oh I get the free dinner first. Even after this blog post!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@HowieSPM @ThePaulSutton Oh I get the free dinner first. Even after this blog post!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@HowieSPM @janbeery @Dannybrown @JennaLanger I’m not sure how you people just crowdsourced a raise for Howie, but I think you definitely managed it!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@Mandy_Vavrinak @HowieSPM @ShellyKramer I think everone should come to visit so I can share foiledcupcakes with you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@thenakedredhead @wabbitoid Blogging is SO personal…we all do it for many different reasons. Some use it as a personal journal while others use it to build a brand. We blog for ourselves first. Then to build a community.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@MaureenB2B I’m not sure how I feel about showing you my cellulite, but I’ll take this as a compliment! Thank you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@GACConsultants It DOES get expensive for my mom! LOL!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@Dannybrown I’m not talking about stroking the A-listers egos. I’m talking about taking the time to respond to people who take the time to comment on your blog, Facebook wall, or Twitter stream. We all want recognition. Sure, there are some people who use the social networks to bait influencers into “talking” to them, but that’s an entirely different topic.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 months ago

@jmatthicks I like having valuable real estate at the top of YOUR browser!

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