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.

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