Do you want the secrets to building community online? I’ve got them. Meet me in this back alley over here and I’ll give them to you for a price. But, let’s keep them just between us. We wouldn’t want the common people to know.

If anyone ever tells you this, run away from them. There are no secrets. There are just things you haven’t learned yet. Are those secrets? I don’t know.

I receive emails, regularly, from people offering to improve my search engine optimization (SEO). They promise that they have the SEO secrets and that they’ll hook me up. Generally, we regard these people as spammers that lack credibility and are looking to take advantage of us. Why should online community be any different?

Here’s the thing: when it comes to businesses who want to build community, there are three primary “secrets” – perhaps the three most powerful builders of online community.


The first one is quality. If you offer something of quality, strong community can build around it. The easy example is Apple. Are they out there engaging via social media? No, not really. But, among companies, do they have one of the strongest, most engaged communities? Absolutely. That’s because they produce a certain quality of product and experience.

Which is not to say that Apple doesn’t support their customers (they do, in other ways) or that they wouldn’t benefit from being more social. They might. But, the mythicism of the brand also factors into that quality.

Quality engagement builds community as well. Examples of quality engagement: when someone asks you a question and you give them the information that they need. When someone needs help on Twitter and you help them on Twitter, either through direct message or in public, rather than sending them to some contact form of 1-800 number (unless you are required to do so for some reason).


It’s important to understand and embrace the culture of your audience and of your company. ThinkGeek is a great example of this. View their Twitter stream and you will see what I mean. It’s mostly replies and they are geeky, funny and – yes – helpful. This is who they are and they do a great job of representing it.

Remember who you are. Trying to be everything to everyone leads to mediocrity that appeals to a dispassionate few. Measurement is important and numbers are fun, but I don’t believe in chasing numbers. I believe in chasing culture. You can’t always win at the numbers, but you can win at culture. Culture drives numbers – numbers don’t drive culture.


The third and final “secret” is appreciation. Appreciation may be the most powerful builder of community. Saying thank you is very important, but it goes beyond that.

Appreciation is taking the time to respond to people and help them. Appreciate is sharing the spotlight and highlighting the fans and customers of your brand. Appreciation is going above and beyond, following up and doing theĀ  small things really well. That’s how you visibly demonstrate appreciation.

That’s all. Sorry to disappoint. Quality. Culture. Appreciation. That’s the recipe. Yes, there are specific tactics, yes, I can get a lot deeper. But, most everything can be tied back to one of those. Care and make it happen. You now possess the secrets. Use them wisely.