Where Should You Build Community?By Gini Dietrich

Last week, I was the guest tweeter (you never thought you’d see the day that was a thing, did you?) for #marketingchat, a Twitter chat for Experian led by Mike Delgado.

The theme was building community and we had all sorts of great interaction.

We talked about goals a business should have when building community, types of content to develop, and metrics.

Typically these things are fun and engaging. It’s rare you see a disagreement happen as fully as it did between me and one Mr. Louis Gudema.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t unprofessional or inappropriate. It was just…a disagreement.

Where Should You Build Community?

The question was:

What are your thoughts on using an existing network (e.g. Facebook) or building a network on your own domain (e.g. forum)? 

I said you should always build community on something you own, citing the fall of social networks that could take your content, your community, and your customers with it.

It’s no surprise I love the social networks and see a place for them, but they’re for developing relationships with people you can bring back to the community on your own website or blog.

But Louis disagreed with me. Vehemently.

So I set about to understand why.

He said:

Some companies have built large, active communities on FB, LinkedIn, etc., faster. I don’t see prob w being on one of those.

Sure, it can happen and does happen. It’s certainly faster and may even cost less, but I countered with, “What happens when the social network dies?”

He said:

It’s unlikely to die overnight! If it’s dying, then you can move them.

But then you have to move to something you own…which I contend you should have done to begin with.

When the Social Network Dies

OK. I’ll play along.

Let’s say you have zero tech skills and can’t afford to hire a designer…therefore no website or pretty blog that is visually enticing.

You create a Facebook page for your business and everything you do drives people to that page.

It becomes a fun place for people to hang out. Customers ask questions – and get answers. Prospective customers learn more about you – and engage with others on the page.

And then, five, 10, maybe even 15 years from now, Facebook is replaced by something that is just a sparkle in some toddler’s eye right now.

What do you do?

Do you move everyone to the new thing? Do you try to get them to your website or blog after the fact? Will they go?

When you build community on something you own, you don’t ever risk losing the community by the death of a social network.

Community on Something You Own

But here was the kicker.

He said:

And not everyone can afford to be AmEx Open!

I’m sorry. I built community right here on this blog one-by-one, painstakingly, and for years.

I nurture, I grow, I build. My team – who didn’t exist back then – does the same today.

We’ve grown it into one of the most active communities in the PR industry.

And guess what? We still can’t afford to be OpenForum.

Sure, some companies can afford to buy their way into communities. The rest of us have to work at it.

Build your community on something you own.

Do it every day. Connect one-on-one with customers and prospects. Send handwritten thank you notes or videos. Make people feel part of something.

And do it where you not only control where it goes, but can measure the activity through your analytics.

What do you think?

P.S. If you’d like a full rundown of the chat, you can read the Storify here.

P.P.S. Louis, if you read this, I’d love to have you comment and leave your side of the story. I love a good debate!

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