The Campfire Strategy for Online Community Building By Laura Petrolino

Friday afternoon I was in debate about what to write today’s blog post about and so I turned to Facebook to crowdsource the topic du jour.

Luckily, I have an amazing online community of storytellers, who created a treasure trove of ideas.

I have blog topics to cover a couple of months….and you can bet I now feel challenged to tackle every single one—even Brian Meek’s suggestion I write a story about a friendship between a lemur monkey and a camel named Phillip. And especially Brian Tudor’s suggestion that I do a comprehensive report about ninja turtles—not TMNT—but turtles that are actually ninjas.

The good news is I pride myself on my ability to make an analogy out of anything (one of my X-Men skills), so I feel up for these challenges.

If you’d like to see the full discussion you can find it here.

Let Me See Your Lobster Roll

To the left, to the left, to the right, to the right. To the front, to the front, to the back, to the back.

(I hope the visual image of a lobster doing the tootsie roll helps get you through Monday.)

Beyond the bevy of awesome blog topics, one of my favorite things that happened on this thread was the side conversations that sprung up within the online community itself.  

Paula Kiger and Betsy Decillis delved into the cats vs. dogs argument, and a whole detailed discussion developed as a result of Bill Smith’s suggestion I write about lobster rolls.

The great thing about the lobster roll discussion was that none of the participants (other than Bill and myself) knew each other. They were only connected through their friendship with me and their love of lobster rolls (or more accurately, love of Maine, the lobster roll was just the gateway).

The Campfire Strategy for Online Community Building

I love this because it’s a great example of:

  1. What we should always strive for in a successful online community.
  2. The power of stories to connect online community members to each other in a powerful way.

Take this situation and pretend I am a brand—either for-profit or non-profit—while this discussion may not be connected to my product or service it, the connection between online community members is where the power is.

Gini Dietrich has often discussed this same dynamic using the Spin Sucks community as an example.

When you build an online community where members begin to talk to one another—bonding separate from you, but as part of what you’ve created—it’s a very exciting position.

Be a Moderator of Your Online Community

I see the process of building an effective online community much as what you do to start and build a camp fire.

You put the building blocks in place:

  • The fire pit (place for the online community to develop);
  • Firewood (content for the online community to form around); and
  • Kindling (content distribution to grow the community and bring new sparks—voices and perspectives—into it).

And then you let it burn as it will. You don’t tell a piece of wood how to burn, you just let it do so how thermodynamically works best.

You step back and serve as a moderator—add new kindling and sparks when needed and contain those elements which might kill the fire or make it dangerous and out of control.

And just like a campfire, the warmth of an online community like this will attract many to convene around it.

I’m definitely not saying anything new or groundbreaking here.

This really serves as a bit of a reminder.

It can often be very hard to let go of a certain amount of control when you try to grow a community—but it’s that freedom which it needs to become successful.

Take a look at the communities you are in and those you work with.

How are they being cultivated to become bigger than the brand itself?

How can you serve as a better moderator to add sparks to the fire?

What are you doing to dampen the flame?

image credit: Pixabay

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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