A few years ago, I found myself in a meeting with some real heavy hitter business people.
The woman to my right was talking about the importance of building a social following and how in today’s landscape, your “social currency” (yes, those were the words she used) was the greatest asset you could have to build your brand or your business.
The man to my left was a semi-famous reality TV star. He said that “followers equals dollars.”
I was asked to be in that meeting as a consultant. Because of my success building large social media followings, the table turned to me and asked what my opinion was.
I said that the trick to succeeding in this particular project was not about followers and it was not about self-promoting, it’s about knowing how to build an online community.
Community is a common theme that has remained constant across all of my successful companies. Every company that I worked with that didn’t build a community has failed.
This article is dedicated to teaching you how to build an online community. It will be the best choice you ever made. Let’s get started.
1 – Don’t Make It About You
What is everyone’s favorite subject?
Why would you get in the way of that? The best way to make people feel engaged in your message, your brand or your company is to talk less about yourself and more about them.
This is the first step in learning how to build an online community because it is more of a shift in mindset then it is a technical or strategic change. Once you decide to put other people ahead of yourself, it will seem like second nature.
One of the simplest examples of this shift in mindset can be found on almost every business website you find.
When companies put websites together to promote their businesses, what’s the first thing they do? They write an about page and services pages and they write all about themselves. They talk about their services. They talk about how long they have been in business for. They talk about their leadership team and their awards and their skill sets.
But no one really cares about all your accolades or skills. People care about themselves. It’s human nature.
If you want to make people feel engaged in your message, you need to talk about how your company or your brand will impact them. What can you do for them? What is in it for your followers?
Once you make the mental shift in deciding not to talk about yourself as much, small things start to happen that really add up and make a big difference.
This small shift in mentality is the difference between “we are the best” and “we care about you, why don’t you join us?”
Which one of these two messages would you rather contribute to?
2 – Feature Other People’s Stories
One of the projects I am most proud of is Sober Nation.
This website is an online resource center for people who are struggling with addiction or are looking for resources to get help. From the very beginning, I set out to build an online community. I knew that community was the key to make Sober Nation a nationwide brand.
We created an entire section of the website where people could submit their own stories and get it published. People can go to the site, upload a picture of themselves and share their story of addiction and recovery in as much or as little detail as they want. We then share those stories on social media and everyone loves them.
A huge benefit is that people are always willing to share or repost these stories to their followers because it makes them feel special. It makes them feel like they are part of something that is bigger than themselves.
The best part is how excited people get when they see their faces and their words published on the website. Over the years I have received hundreds, if not thousands of emails from people thanking the team for making their day by publishing their story.
What is your overall message? How can you incorporate other people’s stories into your brand?
Could you feature other people’s art or music or writing? Could you somehow get video clips from your followers about how they feel about a certain issue? Could you grow a forum or a discussion board?
It doesn’t matter if your website is about politics, or art or food or grammar or a city. If you focus on how to build an online community you can engage the tribe, your tribe will grow your brand for you.
It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
3 – Start a Podcast or a Weekly Interview Series
I believe everyone should start a podcast. The value I have gotten out of interviewing people on my podcast has been without question. It’s been very rewarding and a great way for me to build a community around my message.
Interviews are great community builders and they have proven to be a solid tactic and marketing channel. The audio form of media is a great addition to any brand. Out of all the different ways to build a community around your brand, a weekly interview podcast may be the most efficient and the quickest route to success.
Audio is the future – Podcasts have exploded in popularity and they will only continue to grow. The audio format is easy to absorb, you can listen on the go and it is very emotionally engaging. Don’t you feel like you can get to know the podcast hosts you listen to? Hearing someone’s voice build a relationship.
Podcasts invite conversation – There’s no better way to spark a conversation than to have a conversation of your own. In a podcast or interview series, you can learn about people’s ideas that are separate from your own, you can participate in the dialogue, you can ask other people to join the conversation as well.
You will tap into other audiences – One of the reasons why I love interviewing people in my podcast is because after the episode is published, the person I interviewed then becomes a part of my own community. I invite my guests to share the podcast to their community and then we are both able to participate and help each other spread our ideas and our companies.
Interviewing your followers will double down on your community – What are some of the brands that you follow on a regular basis? Just imagine if one of those brands reached out to you and asked you to talk to them so they could learn about your ideas and interview you about your experience. Wouldn’t that be great? Wouldn’t you jump on the opportunity? Wouldn’t you want to tell all your friends about it? A podcast gives you another way to invite your audience into the community so they feel emotionally engaged and loyal to your cause.
There is no downside to having a podcast. A podcast brings value in a lot of ways, but the real value of a podcast is the community it builds. If you approach every interview and every podcast episode with the intention of building your community, you will grow 10x faster then you would have otherwise.
I believe in the art of marketing. I believe that understanding high-level tactics like conversion optimization, SEO, copywriting and data aggregation are all important skills to know if you want to be a successful marketer.
But with all of that aside, no amount of talent or skill or organization can beat a strong online community. No matter what happens, a passionate group of people will always hold more marketing power then all the tactics and strategies combined.
If you know to build an online community, you have the most powerful marketing tool there is. Once you have a tribe, all you have to do is get out of the way.