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Key Takeaways from the “Make Friends, not Followers” Hangout

By October 24, 2013Building Community

candy-designFinding the right people for your community is like finding the pink Mike and Ikes in a sea of red, greens, yellows, and oranges. Unless you had a technologically advanced robot to sort the pinks out, there’s no easy way to do this. Same with finding just the right people for your community.

Building a community requires you to sort groups, test theories, and generally put in a lot of time and effort to find that perfect fit. And once you’ve done that, you have to start all over again so you’re constantly expanding your reach and finding people to help spread your message. If that sounds like a lot of hard work, it is. But the benefit for you is that you’ll know your audience better than anyone else. You’ll know what their interests are, where to connect with them, and how to talk with them. That’s invaluable.

A few weeks ago, we gathered 5 awesome community managers together to talk about building community and targeting the right people for that community.


If you don’t have time to watch the video, here are the key takeaways from the Hangout.

Key Takeaway: The conversations are taking place whether you’re there or not.

Sheena Medina, currently a digital strategy freelancer and formerly community manager for Fast Company and Live in the Grey, brought up this good point:

“There are conversations taking place whether your brand is going to be there or not. Look where conversations are already happening. See if you can insert yourself in a natural way that’s still relevant.”

The conversations with your community (especially when you’re building a brand-spanking-new community) are not going to be on your terms. They’re going to be on their terms. Show up where the community is – don’t make them come to you.

You need to put effort into finding those conversations and then interacting like a real-life human being. That means creating your own personal profile (while making known your affiliation with your brand/company) and start talking with the community. If you’ve put in the time and effort to being a good friend within a community, people are more likely to click on the content you share. Otherwise, you’re just back to broadcasting your brand or company, but just in a different online space.

Jennifer Sable Lopez from Moz added her two cents about this in our discussion:

“Social media does not equal community. It’s just one portion.”

The conversations may be happening on social media or they may be happening elsewhere. Don’t try to fit a round stone into a square spot – look outside of traditional social media for your community. Especially when you’re starting out – go to where your community lives and interact there.

It’s not enough to maintain your social media accounts and hope to build a community from that. Real-life community building requires targeting of theright people and focusing your efforts to interact with them.

Key Takeaway: Develop your outreach list all the time, not just when you launch.

During our discussion, Sara Lingafelter from Portent Interactive threw out this good point:

“Be building your list all the time, not just for launches. Partly, internally, this helps you think of your user more as a friend – you [start to] think about what their interests are rather than what you want them to do next. It’s an opportunity to think broader about the people you want to attract.”

Launches are great and all, but an under-developed community is not going to care as much about them as a hyper-developed community would. Your community building efforts are an all-the-time thing – not a launch-specific thing.

That way, once you have something to launch that the community can get excited about, your news will get a major boost and spread to the far corners of the Internet by your community. Your boss and others will love when your organic reach (not to mention better targeted reach) provides a better return than paid reach. It’s possible through community building.

Sheena summed up this great point about engaging your target audience:

“Engagement is a cycle, it’s not linear.”

When you build communities, you’re not going to go down the line and say to yourself “ok, now I’m going to talk to this person on Twitter, then this person, and that’s it.” It’s going to be more of a cycle where you may talk to that person on Twitter; then you see them in person at a meetup; and then you get their opinion on something via email.

Every potential community member has lots of touch points for a community manager to reach out to him or her. The best way to do that is to make sure you’re in all those places where your potential community members hang out in.

If you’re trying to reach a new community, start off by simply finding one person in that community and see where he or she leads you.

Key Takeaway: Talk to everyone, not just the influencers. 

Getting coverage from the heavy hitters of your industry is a great boost for traffic and for your self-esteem. But if you only focus on them, you’re forgetting about the foundation of your community (aka everyone else). People with a smaller reach are the ones who are going to end up being the real champions of your brand and company.

Jen drove that point home with this quote about the early work at Moz before they were a big deal:

 We talked to anyone and everyone – we didn’t only respond to people with a certain number of followers or who we thought were influential in the industry. We jumped into all the conversations and became a part of that.”

Mack Fogelson also brought up a similar point that you don’t have to necessarily focus on the big fish in the community:

“If you look for brands that are still hustling and still very much want to be part of the community, [it’s great to] partner with those brands, emulate what they do, and do things together. That authenticity goes a long way.”

By finding the right brand or company to partner with or even to simply ally with, you’ll have more success with building your community than if you just went after the top influencers in that field. It’s okay to go after the top influencers in an industry if you have good reason to, but don’t just do it because of the high traffic they could push your way. That boost in traffic won’t help you build a lasting online community. The goal you’re aiming for here is to build a long-term relationship that will help people come back to you over and over again.

Key Takeaway: Give something of value back to your community.

A community isn’t all about one person or one brand. It’s about the multiple people who make up the community.

A big part of building communities around your brand or company is to give users some sort of value from it. If they’re not getting anything out of the relationship, then they’ll leave before even getting too far into the community. Content is one way of giving them that value.

Cheri Percy from Distilled expounded on this point during the Hangout here:

“Tying community and content together is so important. It gives the users something of value and it gives you something to talk about.”

If you’re not intimately involved in the content creation process as a community manager, start this very week. Help your content creators by sending them tips of what to write about based on the community discussions or comments. On the reverse side, content creators should talk with you about the content they’re developing so you’re not in the dark. Other departments that may be operating in silos need to integrate with your community and social efforts to help you push forward in your company’s goals.

Think about it – if you can be in the know about what’s happening within your company, you’ll be better able to represent it to the community outside of your company.  After all, you’re helping your company as a whole, not just the social media department, accomplish its goals. It makes sense to get multiple staff members involved. Also, you’ll have more lead time on interacting with key people and building up different communities for your company if you know what’s going on.

Key Takeaway: Success indicators for a community will vary, but you’ll see your impact.

This is different for every brand and company. What might be a huge failure for one company in the community might be a great stat for a totally different community. So the number one rule is don’t compare your community to other communities.

Here’s what Elise Ramsay from Wistia had to say about her indicator for success when building communities:

“When people are talking to each other about video marketing and we’re not involved… [that’s an] awesome indicator of our community thriving. It’s cool to see that we provide the context for those conversations.”

Your indicator for success (especially when you’re starting out) might be having a conversation with a potential community member and getting them to check you out. Or a retweet on a piece of content you thought was awesome.

Last words of wisdom about community building.

I can’t say it better than how these wonderful community managers did so I’ll let their quotes take the stage here:

“Just start being a part of the community.” —Elise Ramsay

“Consistency is key. If you say you’re going to respond to every tweet about your brand, you respond to every tweet. And you don’t stop doing it when you get big. We get lots of responses on the blogs because we’ve essentially trained people to know we’ll respond to them.”  —Jennifer Sable Lopez

“We’re big fans of the personal delight – sending them free stuff and the like. These things will set your brand apart [from others].” —Cheri Percy

“I just give an analogy – if you’re showing up at open mic night, do you want to have an empty room and be singing to the bartender or do you want to be surrounded by your people, telling all their friends, amplifying your announcements, getting the word out about your show, and then talking about how awesome it is? It’s a step further because you built that community by sharing your values, being transparent about your brand, and telling your story. That’s what community management is about for me – it’s about bringing your people together and attracting your people so they’ll be your biggest fans.” —Sara Lingafelter

“Ultimately at the end of the day, people matter the most. The tools don’t matter – don’t let yourself get caught up in those things. The thing that really matters are the people that create a community. If you’re trying to create a community, set your sights on that and you won’t go wrong. You won’t be lead astray.” —Sheena Medina

If you’ve been inspired by this post, I’d highly recommend downloading our Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities.

Building a community means showing up, talking to everyone you can find, giving members value, and deciding what you consider a success for your brand and company. Do that and you’ll be on your way to a strong and supportive online community.

Become a part of our strong, supportive community on Twitter – you won’t regret it!

Author Ayelet Golz

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