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Have you ever launched an online community independently, with no budget? Without someone else’s money? Without a team supporting you? Without the resources of a larger organization? If you’ve never done it, and you really want to grow as a professional, give it a try. If you run community for a big brand, start an unrelated community on the side, in your free time.

I’m not talking about a Twitter following or a blog or something like that. I’m talking about a hosted online community where all contributions are equal and people engage with one another. A place where you are responsible for everything. Something goes wrong? You have to fix it.

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Sean “Diddy” Combs is working on a new album, which I’m excited about. He recently posted some studio footage. The brief clip has a few seconds of a song, which Combs stops and then remarks:

“We’re making a feeling, people. Not a record. A feeling.”

They aren’t just creating an album or a sound or a song. They’re creating a feeling.

That’s how I look at online community. I don’t just want to create a website or a meetup or a group. I want to create a feeling. When I think about community, the first thing that flashes to mind isn’t software or numbers. I think about people. I think about feeling. How do I want people to feel when they visit this community?

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If you are a particularly proactive community manager, you might notice when a member starts to become inactive and check in with them to make sure everything is OK or to see if there is anything you can do. In demonstrating that you care, you might be able to bring them back into the fold.

Why isn’t community software helping us do this?

I envision this working as follows. The person managing the community can define scenarios that would demonstrate a meaningful change in activity. For example, if a member has not made a post this week, but had made at least 30 posts in the 30 days before that, I want to see a flag in my dashboard.

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Credit: sbclick (CC BY 2.0)

Credit: sbclick (CC BY 2.0)

On the plane ride to SXSW, I watched The Wolf of Wall Street, which I had been wanting to watch for a while. The critically-acclaimed film was directed by Martin Scorsese, widely regarded as one of the greatest directors of all-time.

I have an Amazon Fire HDX (disclosure: I’m an Amazon shareholder) and, where possible, Amazon has an X-Ray feature where they will display a list of actors currently on the screen as well as information about the film.

During one of the film’s speeches, this note was displayed, from IMDb:

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Jay Baer recently wrote about the importance of owning your “social community.” The idea of building community in spaces that you control is something I’ve always felt strongly about, and it’s good that someone like Jay is talking about it. That will help the message reach more big brands.

His article led to a discussion on Google+, where someone pointed to some examples provided by Jay – like The Home Depot Community – and questioned if they represented real “engagement.” They mentioned that there were discussions with a handful of replies and “no likes.” There were plenty of views of the discussions, but not a lot of replies. So where is the engagement, they wondered?

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Always Be Closing

Still Image from Glengarry Glen Ross

There is a famous scene in the film Glengarry Glen Ross, when a character played by Alec Baldwin attempts to motivate a team of salesmen. One of the most quoted lines is: “A-B-C. A – always, B – be, C – closing. Always be closing.” They are salesmen – they should always be closing sales.

However, there is another ABC that most people would probably be better served by: Always Build Community.

When I spoke at CNN, I told a group of professionals there that if they built community around their work at the company, it would not only be good for CNN – it would be good for all of them, as individuals. It is one of the most important ways for them to avoid putting all of their eggs in one basket. Most of them have CNN in their Twitter handle. What I asked them was this: when you leave CNN, and take that brand out of your Twitter handle, will anyone still care about you?

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My friend Jay Baer received a new leather backpack for Christmas. He discovered the bag because of a recommendation made by a mutual friend of ours, Rohit Bhargava. This recommendation was posted in a private Facebook group for frequent travelers. Both Jay and Rohit are members of this group.

He had never even heard of the brand (Piquadro) before Rohit mentioned it. But Jay knew he wanted it and sent the link to his wife, who bought it as a gift. Piquadro has no idea that the sale was primarily generated by a post in a private community of frequent travelers. That community receives no credit, nor does Facebook. To Piquadro, it will simply look like a direct referral.

Listen to Jay tell the story himself in the video below (or read his article, “Why Social Media Will Never Get the Credit it Deserves”).

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Back in August, I wrote a long email to a couple of friends, discussing how I saw community working within their businesses. Here is one thing I told them:

“The point is that as [redacted] companies mature, they should do more than just talk about being a part of the community, they should hire people who can actively cultivate their community. It’ll give them a definitive advantage over others because this whole community thing isn’t going away.

‘Social media’ will go away, because social media just means communicating online, and those responsibilities will be shared and used by different departments based upon their needs, goals and desires. Marketing uses social media, community uses social media, recruiting/HR uses social media, but they all have different goals. Community is here to stay.”

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Mind the GapHere’s one way to think about what community means for many businesses.

Community is what fills the gap between sales and service. Too many companies still only talk to customers when they are selling or when something goes wrong. Sales and service. But between those two things is this huge gap, which we can refer to as everything else.

If you aren’t in this gap, you are vulnerable. It’s risky because there can always be another company that is willing to come in and treat your customers better than you do. That’s why community – real community work, online community building and management, not just general social media marketing and use – is so important to business right now and will only continue to grow in importance moving forward.


Recently, I received an email from a community manager that was dealing with a lot of abuse, harassment and insults, including threats of death and violence. As unfortunate as it is, that stuff happens to many professionals in this space. That doesn’t mean it’s OK or that it should happen. But we have to acknowledge that it does if we are to deal with it.

From this point forward, I will refer to the community manager who emailed me as CM.

The worst part of the story was how the community manager’s boss reacted. The boss forbid CM from taking any action against the members. If they did any of those things to a fellow user, CM is allowed to take action. But if it is directed at CM, nothing can be done. Members can’t be warned, and CM cannot ban them. CM can’t even remove the post they made. The boss has decided to do this under the guise of wanting people to feel comfortable criticizing their site.

This policy is atrocious.

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