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Gini Dietrich

The Online Community Secret Sauce

By: Gini Dietrich | November 16, 2010 | 
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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

85 comments
mpalko
mpalko

Another thing to remember is that people don't organize around a product or a business. What binds people together is a cause or goal. I manage an online community of people trying to improve healthcare, it just so happens that they use a tool they've purchsed from my company.

Anna
Anna

I'm reading this and nodding as I go until I hit..."Add in some things like great content"

I think you're giving short shrift to the importance of having content that is actually useful and meaningful to community members.

anniefiddle
anniefiddle

Great post. Humility is a great secret weapon .

barrykahan
barrykahan

Wait!!! Dinner does not = SEX???? That explains everything!!!

Great post. I think a lot of people would benefit from applying the principles of an old stand by book How to WIn Friends and Influence People to their social media tool kit. Seems so many are trying to be everywhere at once in fear of missing out on something. Sort of like when you are talking to someone at a party and they never really look at you but are looking around to see who they can talk to next. Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

JonHearty
JonHearty

"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."

Well put, Gini! I think this is one of the more important ones. The people who expect something in return make it clear that they are there for themselves and nobody else. This attitude is limiting and selfish and creates more selfishness.

SchuggaJoy
SchuggaJoy

Gini! What a marvelous article! All recipes by design must be flavored with what I like to call "the pinky juice" in the soup! :) Culinary cultivation of a sweet & savory online community requires great care as much as anything that would be melted into a fondue pot! I agree humilty is the key ingredient in the mix. And as you said, remembering also there is humanity behind every avatar and even in 140 words or less the messages all translate to the hearts of others much like a gourmet meal. It does require a great deal of time to prepare and requires consistancey over time for fear the sauce will turn. :) There are so many recipes to choose from, We can only hope what we all have to offer in value to others will be palatable and remembered. Thank you for your amazing perspective! It's encouraging to know there is no secret to the sauce :) & anyone can whip it up if they so desire. I am so grateful you shared this, thanks doll! ~ SchuggaJoy

SchuggaJoy
SchuggaJoy

Gini! What a marvelous article! All recipes by design must be flavored with what I like to call "the pinky juice" in the soup! :) Culinary cultivation of a sweet & savory online community requires great care as much as anything that would be melted into a fondue pot! I agree humilty is the key ingredient in the mix. And as you said, remembering also there is humanity behind every avatar and even in 140 words or less the messages all translate to the hearts of others much like a gourmet meal. It does require a great deal of time to prepare and requires consistancey over time for fear the sauce will turn. :) There are so many recipes to choose from, We can only hope what we all have to offer in value to others will be palatable and remembered. Thank you for your amazing perspective! It's encouraging to know there is no secret to the sauce :) & anyone can whip it up if they so desire. I am so grateful you shared this, thanks doll! ~ SchuggaJoy

JamesBSchultz
JamesBSchultz

Gini, @ our Vistage meeting today we got into a discussion on the characteristics of a great leader, it matched your list.

PeterGault
PeterGault

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 share and interact with each other is very much a gift. The opportunity to partake of individualized philosophies, like Gini's post here, learning more about her as a person, is what this whole social media thing is all about. Access to individuals on a mass media level is so freakin' cool!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

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!

janbeery
janbeery

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 and growing. You dear friend have been a bonus piece in that journey. So from this online fellow Chicago girl, we appreciate all you share. The secret sauce for me is all about the community!

DougLeavy
DougLeavy

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. ;-)

Mandy_Vavrinak
Mandy_Vavrinak

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.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

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. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Danny Brown @mpalko And, honestly, I think of Spin Sucks. While we all agree that spin does, indeed, suck, it's not a cause or a goal. It's definitely a community where we don't take ourselves too seriously and also talk about things that no one wants to say out loud. But maybe that's a cause.

P.S. I love "I think this interweb thing is really going to take off soon"

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@mpalko While I'd mostly agree, I also think of Apple. There's no cause or goal there, but man the fanboys sure can stoke the fires when needed...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Anna Totally agree, but I felt like (when I wrote this) that content has been discussed over and over and over again here so I didn't want to belabor the topic. But yes, I agree!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Danny Brown @barrykahan It's a good thing I can't drink rum or I'd be in big trouble! And Barry? GREAT point about re-reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People"!

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@TwitterMarketing Wow, you must really be desperate to spam if you signed up to @ginidietrich's blog just to leave a link back to your site. I remember you doing the same crap on one of my posts, when you questioned the cost of a social media campaign and how you could do it cheaper. Even though no-one could find you on Google when it came to social media, just some link-baiting crud for old-hat SEO.

You should read this post, I think it'll appeal:

http://dannybrown.me/2010/11/16/dont-be-a-twat-pirate/

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JamesBSchultz My Vistage Chair always says, "Gini, you have the most humble ego I know." We're all human beings and it's important to remember that not one of us is better than the other. I'm glad your list matches mine.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@PeterGault Did you just make my formula an acronym?! LOL! I agree...this is all so freaking cool! Even if I do have to learn that not everyone loves snow!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@PeterGault Did you just make my formula an acronym?! LOL! I agree...this is all so freaking cool! Even if I do have to learn that not everyone loves snow!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@HowieG I hope my mom is reading this and knows about your raise.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@janbeery It's such a pleasure getting to know you better online, Jan! We keep trying, but we must find a way to work together in 2011.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Mandy_Vavrinak We should meet in person, then! I'm with you - I feel guilty when I meet with someone and they say, "I'm sure you read my blog on XYZ." Crap. I didn't. So now I do ALL of my background research before an IRL meeting.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@joey_strawn @ginidietrich You couldn't have been - that was me (though I also doubled for the short blue one when the original got an allergic reaction to leaves).

joey_strawn
joey_strawn

@ginidietrich @Danny Brown Just so you guys know for when and if we ever meet in person. I'm 7'9'' walk on all fours and am blue-skinned. I get a lot of prejudice for it, but I'm making the best. Just didn't want you to be surprised. Either that or I'm sleep-commenting again.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Danny Brown I always say there is almost nothing worse than meeting someone offline who you've built a relationship online with and they're nothing like what you expect. No pressure for when we meet DB.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Danny Brown 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.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@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 ;-)

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@janbeery @Danny Brown 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 enough when I was way South of what I see in many blog communities.

So why is this aceptable online? Or, for that matter, are the rules completely different for me - especially when people learn that I'm a 44 year old divorced guy (cue: Jethro Tull's "Aqualung") ?

I do thank the people who contribute to my blog, but leave it at that. I especially thank them when they tell me exactly how I'm wrong when seen from a different perspective - which is what I really love more than anything. I tell my clients to leave it conversational and to deal with people just like they do in real life - which is all any of us can do. I do not currently think that it is best to develop an alternative personna that feeds people's egos just because you are online, but I am willing to listen to arguments and see what I learn.

janbeery
janbeery

@Danny Brown 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 in the box!!!! Hey, thats a great blog post title!

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

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

And your mother sounds awesome!

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@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.

janbeery
janbeery

@Danny Brown 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?"

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@Danny Brown 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 kid" - just someone easily annoyed. :-)

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