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The vast majority of online communities are anonymous. The word “anonymous” can trigger all types of reactions. On one extreme, you might have some lowlife bullying and threatening another person. On the other end, whistleblowers. Most of us live in the middle.

But these communities aren’t anonymous as much as they are “share what you want.” Frequently, people will share quite a bit. This is very common, especially in niche communities.

I manage a martial arts community and, in general, many of the members that stick around, and become invested in our community, are the same members who share a lot about themselves.

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This whole reddit thing is interesting. Not just what happened on reddit, but all the analysis of it. For the most part, people are focusing on what reddit did wrong in 2015. Not many are talking about what they did wrong in 2005 or 2006.

Whatever you think reddit’s issues are or have been, know that they are foundational in nature. The culture of reddit is deeply engrained. How reddit responds to change now is a direct result of choices reddit leadership made early on. They wanted to create a particular type of environment, and they succeeded.

But the reddit situation really doesn’t offer us any new lessons. All of this is really old community business, handed down to us by the ancients.

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“Don’t read the comments” is a common refrain these days.

Many comment sections – and communities, forums, Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags and wherever else we’re talking – are full of terrible things, thoughts and people. Terrible in the mind of the beholder, anyway.

“Don’t read the comments,” they say. “Never read the comments.”

That excites me.

To me, “don’t read the comments” is an opportunity. Because I know great comments and great communities are possible. I’ve spent my entire career building them. I’ve participated in them. I’ve met some of my closest friends in them. I want others to have that same experience. It’s not far-fetched at all. It’s very possible.

While there is magic in a great comments section, there is no magic to creating them. The answer, as always, is moderation, which is simply a mix of tools, people and strategy. You need all 3.

“Don’t read the comments” shouldn’t discourage us. It should be a rallying cry. There is work to be done. Let’s go do it.


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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