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Gini Dietrich

The Secret Sauce of Online Community Building

By: Gini Dietrich | August 24, 2011 | 
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Everyone always wants to know what is the secret sauce to building a community. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s simple, really.

Stroke people’s egos.

Seriously. That’s it.

You’ve heard this from me before; it’s not a new concept. But it truly is the secret sauce.

Starting from Scratch

Some people disagree with me. Mitch Joel, for instance, thinks blog comments are nice, but the real juice is in the content.

I agree. But I also think if you aren’t giving people a reason to comment, they’re not going to. If you don’t stroke their egos by visiting the places where they participate online, they’re not going to come to you. And this is very important, especially when you’re starting out.

But how do you go about doing such a thing?

Three years ago I began blogging for the sheer purpose of figuring it out so we could counsel clients on the pros, cons, and how to make a blog effective.

And something interesting happened along the way. I built a community.

It actually wasn’t on purpose. You see, I had 128 visitors the first month of blogging. No one commented; not even my mom.

But I began reading other blogs, and commenting on them. Soon, those bloggers came to my blog and commented on my content.

Well, let’s be real. It took me 10 months to figure that out. But when I figured that out, our traffic jumped, oh, nearly four thousand percent. Yes, four thousand percent.

All I was doing? Stroking other people’s egos by commenting on their blogs and being smart about what I said.

The funny thing is that, when you comment consistently, the blogger wants to know who you are. So they check you out. And, if they like what they see, they comment, subscribe, and share.

Building Community

But, of course, for this double type A personality, that wasn’t enough. I really wanted more than traffic and comments.

I wanted community.

Back to Mitch Joel…I read a blog post he wrote about community. He said (I’m paraphrasing) that you don’t have a community until people begin talking to one another without your participation. Until then, it’s just comments.

And he’s right. You know you’ve hit community mecca when people come to your site to talk to one another, with your content as the conversation starter.

One of the things we did to really help build community was install Livefyre as our commenting platform. You see, it invites people to come back over and over and over again.

But it’s not the end all, be all. It’s only a tool. It’s in how you use it that makes community building successful.

The consistent content has to drive conversation. Create a polarizing opinion and watch people talk to one another (professionally, of course) about the topic.

Additional Things to Consider

So we’ve talked about stroking people’s egos, having good and consistent content, creating a conversation, installing Livefyre, and providing some banter.

A few additional things you should consider:

  1. Know what your vision is for the blog. It’s easy to forget when you read other blogs and you’re moved so much by what the bloggers have written that you want to write something similar. Unless it matches your vision, don’t do it.
  2. Have goals, just like you do for everything else you do in business. We started out with silly goals, such as “beat Danny Brown in the AdAge rankings,” which keeps me, particularly, motivated, but doesn’t do much for the business. Know what you’re trying to achieve and don’t take your eye off the ball.
  3. Your content should always have a call-to-action to it. This was a really hard lesson for me to learn. When I figured that out, this last year, our traffic grew 281 percent. Our community grew. And you know what else? Our sales increased because we gave people a reason to buy from us.

Three years of blogging. Nearly a 30,000 percent increase in traffic since the beginning. Ten blog posts per week (four from guests). A highly engaged community. And increased sales.

All because I believe if you stroke other people’s egos, your benefits far outweigh the cons.

Thanks to PowerPointNinja for the image. I always think, two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun when I think about community building.

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.

211 comments
douglaserice
douglaserice

Gini, I could not agree more! I blogged for 6 months before I started commenting and sharing on the blogs of others. The pageviews on my own blog skyrocketed. Giving is always the greatest strategy. As I've evolved, I've realized that I get more pleasure commenting on others' blogs and talking about the great work others have down than I do expressing my own opinions on my blog. My posts are mostly about others and the recognition goes along way. People simply don't care about you until you've demonstrated that you care about them. Why should they?

Reson8_NZ
Reson8_NZ

I really liked the advice - simple, straightforward and obviously very effective. The striking thing about this post is the clear evidence of community that you find when reading through the comments. I cant help but think that this is greatly facilitated by having livefyre commenting. I'm going to ditch Disqus :)

janwong
janwong

I don't know about you but I feel that many out there are trying to build their own community simply because they know it works - but they don't know how. Little do they know that it is the simplest strategy that counts. A vision, a goal and a call-to-action. Thanks for sharing :)

KieraPedley
KieraPedley

You know, this is one of the simplest strategies, but probably the one that rings true the most. You'd do the same in any offline business - you'd network, connect with influencers, gain their trust, stroke their egos. You'd give your customers a reason to buy, and ask for the sale!You'd also ask them to come back!Nice article, some great insights!

Ambolino
Ambolino

Trying to build community as we speak! Thanks for the great article, some really hit the nail on the head for me. Like the article on a day in the life of the COO and Creating an editorial calendar, genius!! I had stared my editorial calendar but this took it to a whole new level.

Thanks to @John Falchetto for introducing me to your blog and to you! Have a wonderful weekend!

landscapeforms
landscapeforms

Excellent article. Having just launched a corporate blog these are important reminders of how to build and foster community. Thanks!

timsoulo
timsoulo

237 comments?!?!?!? This is truly impressive!!! at the moment I'm using Facebook comments at my blog (http://bloggerjet.com), but something makes me want to change them to Livefyre :) I will study the difference and write a post about it :)

ExpatDoctorMom
ExpatDoctorMom

Thanks Gini! I was just figuring this out (same as you 10 months into my blog) when you posted! Saw it with Twitter. I wasn't really following back. Ok, was a little but was not really working on or in the blog the past 6-8 weeks. So now that I am back on track I said what the heck, I am going to follow back for awhile and see if I like the other person's tweets. It is working. As is responding to community comments on posts. I have connected with some great people by STROKING EGOS!

Ok, ok, ok, I will have to switch to livefyre before that guest posting becomes available... @jennalanger any videos on how to sign up I can insert for my readers?... I am serious most of the comments (aside from @johnfalchetto et. al) come from those who are not on the blogosphere and I still think will refrain from commenting but I could be wrong. Will give it a try!

cheers,Rajka

jennalanger
jennalanger moderator

"But it’s not the end all, be all. It’s only a tool. It’s in how you use it that makes community building successful." <--- Golden.

I feel like we just had this conversation in person when we were sitting in your office. Wait a second...I met you by commenting on this blog, interacting with you and your community, and creating real relationships where we actually meet in person and enjoyed each other's company! That's surely thanks to @livefyre and the Interwebs, right? ;)

The Internet gives us the ability to connect far and wide. But it's not about the tools. It's how you use them.

NasimKaregar
NasimKaregar

Yes, you might get traction but are they people in the industry (other bloggers) or are you getting a wider audience?

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

IIRC I was one of your first regular commenters years ago, it's been quite a ride. What matters most are the goals, not just for the blog but what the blog does to help meet the business goals (and the last piece of my own marketing puzzle). I don't know my stats/metrics but know I've had an increase in readers (clicks), RTs, some comments and that's because of one thing: engagement. I think it's more than the value or wit I try to offer, more than anything else. Be it a comment - sometimes stroking nary an ego - or a clever RT, or a linkback discussing a post, being engaged with others has helped develop a nice community. The pros have outweighed the cons, haven't had a single felon approach me for biz. FWIW, I second-guess myself on the pun but am leaving it in there. :)

lauraclick
lauraclick

What is that thing my mom always said? People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. (though this probably needs to be attributed to someone).

Anyway, that point definitely applies here. You're the queen of community, Gini. Though, there are plenty of others - @markwschaefer , @Danny Brown and @thesaleslion are all great examples. I've actually become friends with people "IRL" that I met through Mark's blog. Pretty crazy, yet, incredibly awesome. It's amazing what happens when you build a community. And, you're a living example of that.

The only problem is, like you mention in other comments, when you run out of time. Like you, commenting on blogs is the first thing to go when I get super busy. It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work!

Great post!

delwilliams
delwilliams

@ginidietrich It's really not a "secret" what's in the sauce. It's mayo, ketchup, relish, etc. (Just teasing you Gini)

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

I love this post. Okay, so I love most of your posts. But this one is genius because it is SO simple and yet, apparently, so elusive. Just as there is no secret to the secret sauce recipe ( for heaven's sake...it's mayonnaise, ketchup and pickle relish...secret...pffffft) there is no secret to building a community...it IS all about stroking egos. We are, after all, an egotistical being and we work best when we are told how awesome we are. The real secret is in HOW you stroke the ego. And you, my friend, are a genius at knowing just how to get your community all feeling that warm fuzzy @ginidietrich love. You are sincere, conversational and humorous. You make it your job to "know" enough about your community members to keep it personal. You keep your community engaged on the various social media platforms so that the conversations are ongoing and, well, pretty much everywhere. It's like we are all on the old telephone "party lines" (yes, go ahead, razz me...I just about GAVE away my age ;-) ) In my dental practice I have always (and I mean always) written down something important and personal about each of my patients in my records so that at each visit, I can "wow" them with remembering that their third cousin on their Mother's side once removed had an appendectomy 12 years ago. But you know what? THEY LOVED THAT I REMEMBERED. and that love turned into loyalty to me and my practice. I really do know the difference between disingenuous ego stroking and genuine ego stroking that stems from gratitude and THAT is what should be strived for. After all, I am SO TOTALLY filled with gratitude when someone comments on my blog or FB page or Twitter that, when I show my appreciation and make them feel good about themselves, I am being very sincere. Most of us are in the customer service business in one way or another and, when I was a 15 year old working at McDonalds (you deserve a break today...and yes...McDonalds DID exist when I was 15) my first boss taught me that the customer is ALWAYS right...and you know what? HE was right!

TheJackB
TheJackB

People remember how you make them feel so stroking them isn't a bad way to go about it. There is something to be said for commenting on other blogs for the sole purpose of helping the score keepers feel like they are being treated fairly.

Every now and then I receive a comment or email from someone who complains that they visit my blog but I never visit theirs.

If you blog about blogging it is a guarantee that other bloggers will comment on your posts.

Ambolino
Ambolino

I'm with ya! Going to ditch Disqus and put in livefyre.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@timsoulo The only thing I don't like about Facebook comments is you don't own them. I've tried all of the platforms and keep coming back to Livefyre. I'd love to hear what you think.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@jennalanger It's FOR SURE about how you use the tools so you can meet awesome people. And meeting you is definitely due to Livefyre, which I'm very, very grateful for.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@NasimKaregar They're both. For instance, I spoke to a group on Tuesday and half of them already read the blog. I'd say a quarter of the other half do now, too. And they're our target customers. Sure, we have other bloggers on here, which I love, and not all of them are our customers. But I'd venture to guess 80 percent of our readers are our prospects.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@NasimKaregar I think the growth of an audience has a direct correlation to building a community. Every person who is a part of that community - no matter how new he or she is to it - has a circle of influence. As that person shares content with the people in that circle, those people visit the original source, thereby widening the source's audience. Those are my initial thoughts; I may have to mull your question some more.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@3HatsComm LOL!! I'm glad you left it in because it left me scratching my head. You have to look at your stats. That's what partially motivates me. I can tell you what kind of conversion we have on everything we do ... and what kind of conversion we expect when Spin Sucks Pro comes back out of private beta. It drives everything.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SocialMediaDDS You know what? They DO love that you remember. That's all I'm talking about here - pay attention, listen, make note and bring it up in conversation. That's the secret sauce.

But I disagree with one thing. The customer is not always right. Our clients are wrong. A lot. But they like that we're not afraid to tell them so and why.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@SocialMediaDDS@ginidietrich McDonald's also existed when I was fifteen (heehee), and one of my first "real" jobs was at one. Unfortunately, my McDonald's experience taught me more about what not to do when it came to treating people right. I emerged relatively unscathed from the experience, though, and earned some wonderful tales to boot.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TheJackB You seriously have that happen? I've had a few people say things like, "I thought you didn't like me" or "I thought you didn't like my writing." Nope. Turns out, I get overly busy, too and blog commenting is usually the first thing to go.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@TheJackB Mind you, if you get someone that doesn't know how to stroke, the feeling is anything but good. ;-)

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@ginidietrich Thanks to you I get the PostRank emails and I've put the GA in the WP dashboard. I do look at the stats, just not daily or as much as I should.

Erin F.
Erin F.

@ginidietrich@SocialMediaDDS Those are some of the words I was trying to find in order to leave a legitimate comment instead of piggybacking off other people's comments. The words and I are having words today, I'm afraid.

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

@ginidietrich@SocialMediaDDS You are right...I get that...in reality the customer is, in fact, not always right. But part of the secret of the secret sauce is getting the customer to see things your way so, in the end, the perception is that they are right. There might be slight differences in our industries...first and foremost I am respectful of every one of my patients, I have generated sincere loyalty, I always listen to them, and then I present options. And I listen again. And if I hear the patient heading for the least favorable option, I create more value for the best option. I don't ever tell the patient that they are wrong. When I see that they are heading in the wrong direction, I gently take their proverbial hand and help them to see what I am seeing and then...they are right!! ;-) And happy!!

TheJackB
TheJackB

@ginidietrich There are a lot of scorekeepers out there who spend far too much time trying to keep track who did what, where and when. Childish antics if you ask me, but...

NancyD68
NancyD68

@Danny Brown@TheJackB There are some bloggers who don't even acknowledge commenters. That drives me up a wall. Everyone wants to feel special and nothing does that like a good stroke.

timsoulo
timsoulo

@jennalanger wow! cool! :) you can be sure I'll ask you a few questions for my post as soon as I do a switch :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@John Falchetto@ExpatDoctorMom@jennalanger Jenna and I just talked about this the other day. I don't want people on here who won't sign up. Sure, they can create a fake account, but at least they're creating an account. My feeling is that if they're allowed to guest post, we'll have a lot more trolls. And THAT is not in our plan.

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

@Erin F.@ginidietrich ha ha...I like that...your words and you are having words...boy is THAT the story of my life ;-) Just remember @Erin F. , your piggybacking today will be someone else's piggybacking off of YOUR comment tomorrow. ;-)

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

@ginidietrich Ha ha ...if he has any doubt at all, you should have referred him to this blog....You are more than "kind of" a big deal ;-)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@SocialMediaDDS Oh I didn't take it that way at all! I do it the same way you do, though I'd certainly like to tell some of them they're wrong sometimes. :)

Totally separate note: I had a client ask me today if I'm on Twitter. When I said yes, he asked me how many followers I have. When I told him, he gasped. I said, "I'm kind of a big deal. You didn't know that?"

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

@ginidietrich ooooo....re-reading...I did NOT mean to imply that in your industry that you are not respectful of your clients....I KNOW that you are...I apologize for how that came out...

Erin F.
Erin F.

@Danny Brown That's a good point. I may have to revisit the Livefyre settings for my blog.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@HowieG@NancyD68@TheJackB@livefyre Actually, Howie, I removed the option for points on my blog and our For Bloggers By Bloggers blog, as I didn't want commenters put off by some regulars with super high scores. For me, every commenter is worth a "Like", even the dissenters, so having out-of-whack points seemed off-putting. :)

TheJackB
TheJackB

@NancyD68@Danny Brown You are absolutely right. People who don't acknowledge your comment are making a big mistake. It is similar to ignoring someone who walks into your home.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@Danny Brown@NancyD68@TheJackB I come for the @livefyre points myself. I'm closing in on Danny If I over take him by next march I win a Caribbean cruise. So any Blogger, Brand, Relative, Co-Worker etc who strokes my ego with @livefyre points even if they do not like my comments...I completely support that traffic driving community building strategy.

Most of the blogs I choose to read have certain characteristics: I feel they rank in their segment for smarts and content, they are accessible, and they are genuine, and tactful/gracious even with dissenting opinions. I seriously am amazed at the volume of responses to comments wondering how they can find the time. And if just responding to me directly because the medium allows this with the intent to stroke my ego with some attention I am fine with that to a degree...if you are too fake I would spot it really fast. They you would have to go all Mashable and block me. LOL

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@NancyD68@TheJackB The "best" ones are those who say they're the most active commenter on their blog. Uh... no, you're not. ;-)

Trackbacks

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