Build a CommunityBy Gini Dietrich

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the Content Marketing World Twitter chat.

You think the Spin Sucks Author Q&As move quickly. Holy cow! I thought my keyboard was going to catch fire.

During that conversation, one of the questions posed to me was: What role does social media play in content marketing?

We talked a lot about engagement and networking and building community.

In the early days of social media, everyone talked about community. Build a community. Talk to your community. Community is the bee’s knees. Everyone should have a community.

Speaking from the perspective of having one of the most active communities in the PR and marketing world (yay, Spin Sucks Crazies!), that is hooey.

Yes, community is important, but if you think about it only from an engagement point-of-view, you will be angry you spent so much time and energy building it.

What is Community?

But let’s back up and talk, first, about what it means to build a community.

Mitch Joel, the author of Six Pixels of Separation and of Ctrl Alt Delete, wrote a blog post a few years ago about building community. He said you don’t have community until the members begin to talk to one another without the help of the author or moderator.

And he’s right. The magic happens not when you begin to get comments on your content, but when those people begin talking to one another.

One of my most favorite things to hear is how people who part of this crazy community have become friends, began dating, or have gotten married (we have our first Spin Sucks wedding in May!).

In fact, just yesterday I was emailing with a student who said he and his girlfriend are huge Spin Sucks readers and they met, not in class, but in the comments here.

I didn’t build a community with this in mind. In fact, I didn’t say, “Let’s build a community” and strategically set out to do it.

This isn’t something that can be created or forced. It happens organically.

The Community Secret Sauce

But there are things you can do to build a community, help it grow, and encourage members to begin building relationships with one another.

The secret sauce is this: There is no secret sauce.

However, if you spend some time talking online to the people who can influence purchase decisions, you can provide the foundation to build a community.

And, when you do it this way, it becomes much more than engagement.

  • You build a virtual sales force that isn’t on your payroll.
  • You build goodwill.
  • You build trust among a group of people who will go to bat for you in a crisis.
  • You build a referral network.
  • And you build relationships with human beings who will not only buy from you, but will become your biggest advocates.

Think about it from this perspective: Just like you, prospects, candidates, customers, journalists, and bloggers want to be noticed.

They want to know their comments or content resonates. They want you to acknowledge it, share it, and help their voices be heard.

Help them do that.

Give Your Community a Voice

With people who spend their time with your content:

  • Visit their sites.
  • Comment on and share their content.
  • Follow them and engage on their social networks.
  • Publicly thank them for their efforts.

For journalists and bloggers:

  • Visit the sites of those who you want to notice your content.
  • Comment on and share their content.
  • Continue to do this day after day and, soon, you’ll have developed an online relationship with an influencer in your industry.

Give people a reason to want to visit you—again and again.

To build a community is hard work. You’re building relationships with human beings. That doesn’t happen overnight. But it’s worth all the elbow grease.

Today’s Exercise: Build a Community

Exactly how worth it depends on your goal. More than likely, your goal is not only to build brand awareness and gain credibility but to increase sales. So how will you use your community to do all of those things?

There are a few things you can do immediately to build a community.

  • Install Livefyre. Livefyre is a commenting platform for your blog or website that allows people to not only comment and engage with one another but follow the discussions via email. While some of the other platforms do something similar, Livefyre is more user-friendly—it provides many different options for readers to set their settings in a way that’s convenient for them.
  • Answer comments. There is a big debate in the blogosphere about whether or not you should respond to comments…or even if comments have any value. Many journalists and bloggers believe the article or blog post is their say and the comment section is for the readers to agree or disagree, but not for the author to participate. If, however, you are trying to build community for the sake of increased sales, it is imperative the author speaks to the people who are commenting. After all, you can’t build relationships—online or offline—by sitting in your throne and not speaking to the people.
  • Engage people with one another. This is another thing Livefyre allows you to do. Just like on many of the social networks, you can “tag” people in the conversations. By using the @ button, you can type a person’s name and invite them to the conversation. They’ll be alerted either on one of their social networks or via email and follow the link to extend the conversation. Try it in the comments here. You can bring people into the conversation from Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
  • Introduce readers to one another. We do this through our weekly Spin Sucks Inquisition 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’ve hung out with us. This provides an opportunity for members of the community to get to know someone they see in the comments a little bit better. While that doesn’t do a lot for direct sales for us, it certainly creates a deep loyalty that is tough to break.

Your customers. Your community. The influencers. The journalists. The bloggers. All of these people will help you grow your business.

It’s no longer about just the people inside your organization—it’s also about those outside.

  • Some will buy.
  • Some will refer others to buy.
  • Some will talk about you non-stop.
  • Some will talk about you only once or twice—but when they do, it’s powerful.

The Scavenger Hunt

If you are participating in the Spin Sucks scavenger hunt, today you will visit Andy Crestodina’s blog.

The secret word is in his blog post, “The Ultimate Website Launch Checklist.”

But, there is one slight catch. Andy’s post is what’s going out in their newsletter today, so it is a beast (if you don’t already subscribe, I highly recommend it; it’s very good).

Therefore, I have one little tip for finding the secret word: It’s toward the end, but before the “Bonus Fun” section.

Just write down the secret word in Andy’s box on your scavenger hunt card (if you don’t have a card, download it here).

We have through March 3, so keep playing along (and you can work backwards, if you’re just starting out).

And don’t forget…if you buy a copy of Spin Sucks between now and March 8, we’ll send you a fun package full of goodies to use in your office, including a Spin Sucks computer sticker, a Spin Sucks Sharpie, and more. I’ll even personalize and sign a nameplate for you to put in the front of your book.

Just email the receipt to [email protected]. Please include your mailing address so we know where to send the package.

Now get to work…your community awaits!

photo credit: Shutterstock

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich