Community Community Community

(the title of the post should be said outloud like Jan on the Brady Bunch yelling “Marsha Marsha Marsha!”)

I think Micah’s post on the Lie About Community hits the mark pretty well. “Community”, like Social and Participation and Conversation has been the buzzword for a while now. Everyone wants one. Clients want the “network effects” and the “just add water” efficiency of having a group of interested individuals focused on their product/service/brand. Every company would love to have a community. Every Brand and Product or Service would love to have dedicated, passionate fans who check in all the time. Agencies would love to sell their clients on this day-in-and-out. Every agency out there would love to sell a client on building a community around there .

Just showing up doesnt make it a community. If that was the case, then Grand Central Station in NYC would have a new community every 5 minutes. Just because people go somewhere doesnt mean they are engaged, that they care, or that they are something more than a collection of individuals checking something out. Just because we all like airbags in cars doesnt mean there will be a Ning site tomorrow dedicated to our love and fandom of all-things Airbag.

Then again, survivors of car accidents thanks to Airbags could be a community.

Community is something that grows over time and connections (shallow and deep) are made, broken, strained and strengthened. A forum isn’t a community. A chat room isn’t a community. A blog isn’t a community. A wiki isn’t a community. But a community can be found on all four (and more platforms). It has to start with something that people care about or have an interest in. Then comes the participation. Then comes the quality of interaction. Then comes the exchange of the member’s attention for value (sense of belonging, information, catharsis, etc.). Then comes the investment of time/effort/attention/love.

Its kinda like porn – we know Community when we see it:

Where we see individuals self-organizing around a common goal/topic/crisis/effort/idea/joke
Where we see a company facilitating and acting as a host – encouraging and participating in the community’s interactions, acting as a guide (and sometimes a hall monitor) without being a shill, a censor or drill instructor
When the members of the community take ownership and a stake in its ongoing existence by policing their own, sharing and helping, acting like members instead of guests

More importantly, like a startup, or neighborhood, within a community a culture develops. Shared expectations of behavior and action are mutually agreed on and evolve over time.
is an amazing community that developed from one dad’s desire to share and interact with other families whose children were diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (Jeff’s story is awesome and I am going to be begging him for an interview in the coming weeks). The community managers were there to keep things moving, to keep an eye on things without being heavy-handed. The community – kids and parents – share and interact and help each other online and off. They had a common interest (kids with diabetes), a way of connecting (the website and meetups) a culture that evolved and grew as the community did. They built trust and love between the site and the members and between the members themselves to the point where, when the management of the site let the community know that they were going to be bought by J&J the community gave them the benefit of the doubt because “we trust Jeff”.

You can’t buy that – you can only earn it.

After all that rambling, whats driving me nuts is this idea that community managers can be outsourced or provided by the SaaS platform provider. Thats plain nuts. Its like “ghostbloggers” who blog for someone else. How can a company claim to be more authentic and trying to enter the conversation when they hire outsiders to communicate? Authenticity by proxy? Community managers, in my mind, need to function as a both hosts and facilitators – helping the newbies, participating, adding to the conversation, and listening to the community – they are the lighting rods for trust between members and the management. Agencies/Consultants/Community Gurus should be “teaching the skill of fishing” instead of being fishmongers. Otherwise, communiy managers are just moderators/hall monitors/crossing guards – involved but not really committed.

A company can only show it’s committment to community with actions: honest dialog, engaging the members, listening, asking permission, being authentic not talking about it,paying it forward.

It’s there because it works…

Chris Brogan writes (in a great post you need to read here):

How much does one of those opportunities cost? It can’t be cheap to put up a billboard in an airport, right? That same amount would fund a social media project for an entire year, and you’d have clickable metrics for the effort. Wouldn’t that be a better return?

Did Chris remember the name of the company sponsoring the phone/laptop charging station (Samsung)? The Advertising worked (and got the fringe benefit of promotion on Chris’ blog)

Did Chris remember those Vending Machines in the airport (Apple and Best Buy)?? The Advertising worked (” fringe benefit” comment again).

Did Chris remember the 2 billboards before the Hudson News stand? How about the 2 page spread in the middle of this month’s WIRED? The 12 commercials that ran between when you sat down at Fox Sports Bar and when you got up?

Little Guy In The Subway With A Bag of $

Little Guy In The Subway With A Bag of $

The two examples he used (Samsung charging stations and the Apple or Best Buy vending machines) worked because they either provided immediate value (needing to juice up, a HUGE problem in most airports, or chargers, iPods, etc.) or potential future value. They fit within his/yours/my context. If my mom was travelling at the same time, she wouldnt notice who sponsored the power, because she doesnt travel with devices that need power. She might notice the Apple vending machines because they are novel/unique to her, but 5 years from now she will ignore them because they will be commonplace.

Billboards are a “shotgun” approach (with a ton of metrics behind it). The hope is, the right person happens to walk by who happens to have that product or service as part of their context (along with Direct Marketing phone, email, URL to let them find out more AND to let the marketer see effectiveness) or the creative in the ad connects with the user (for a brand campaign – the iconic APPLE ads are a great example of this). In the case of Brand ads, the marketer is paying for impressions (and they pay through the nose – those boards aren’t cheap). In the case of ads with some kind of direct component, the ROI can be (to a certain extent) measured. There are impressions and clickthrough rates to measure against. Is it personal? Nope.

Here is the thing: this stuff, these traditional techniques (print, radio, tv, out-of-home, ad banners, PR, etc.) aren’t going away. Sure, more of the budget is going to digital, but not all of it. There are more of them (less digitally savvy or complete luddites) than there are of us (people reading this, living this, sharing this thing of ours). Marketers still think of us in terms of CONSUMERS and demographics. The reason the old school isn’t going away, the reason we don’t have the advertising apocalypse is because of one thing – IT STILL WORKS.

While we keep saying Social Media is no longer an experiment, we need to keep the marketer’s context in mind. The CMO wants to be innovative, and the brand manager wants to change the world, but both have numbers (leads, impressions, brand value, etc.) that they have to meet to be successful, to grow their brand, get their bonus or in some cases keep their job (the avg lifespan of a CMO is currently something like 22 months). No one ever got fired for doing yet another Direct Mail campaign (where a 1% response rate is considered successful), billboard or tv/radio spot – they are part of the marketing mix. Even ad banners get clickthroughs and they are the “ritz crackers” (low value, not tasty or very effective) of digital advertising.

Small, growing and new brands can go all-in on Digital and Social because they need an edge, and the edge is reach and cost and hopefully shortcut the need for brand recognition and jump right to a relationship. P&G knows it needs Social and is working towards it for the long term (the same thing they did with radio and TV). Ford and GM know they need it, but have to work harder to connect emotionally and with passion (two things that are kinda requirements). If all you do is SELL SELL SELL, its kinda hard to “start a conversation” – you have to invest a lot (time, money, humility) to get respect and to get people to listen. That investment is happening now.

As the Social Media side of Digital grows and matures (and we get more news like the Dell metrics) it can make the case to take a bigger piece of the marketing pie. Digital is no longer sitting at the kids table when it comes to the Agency-Client relationship. Digital is getting more and more budget because it is effective and less expensive and has greater, time-agnostic reach. Sure, we might start shooting commercials for Hulu (or whatever replaces it) and we may see more immersive and experiential and integrated efforts in the future, but the Old School isn’t going away. An ad agency I interviewed a few months ago WILL NOT HIRE an account, strategist or creative without digital in the portfolio or CV. Its becoming that important.

But Social can be the “red thread” that ties the traditional and the digital together, make them more connected, connecting, relevant and responsive. Social (listening, outreach, participatory) can start changing the marketing mindset from campaign to commitment. But that is going to take time.

In 10 years we will have Marketers (CMOs and Brand Managers) who have grown up with Digital in their toolbox from the beginning. Thats when things will start getting weird (in a good way).


Like it? Hate it? Leave a comment below 🙂

The 50/50 Rule, Link Love & Reciprocity

The 50/50 Rule is something I started sharing with clients a while back. It’s nothing new or earth-shattering and TONS of individuals and companies are doing it EVERY SINGLE DAY. The idea is simple – to connect in the Social spaces where the users live, you need to spend half as much of your time talking about the users as you do about your brand/product/service/website/effort/whatever.

You need to be a neighbor, not Vince from ShamWOW (who I think is AWESOME, but not a good example of starting/having/maintaining/sharing a conversation). If all you do is pitch AT them all day, they will tune you out. If you spend at least half of your time celebrating them, encouraging them, recognizing them, sharing with the rest of the community what they are doing/have learned/successes/challenges, then they might listen to the other 50% of your “stuff”.

Link Love is described in Wikipedia as “the effect that web pages rank better when they have more and higher quality links pointing at them.” It is partly about attribution (making sure you acknowledge where a discussion or quote came from), but it is also about sharing these connections that you value with your users – and hopefully they will check out those links. This is a powerful gesture, because in the digital space, links are a currency. They have intrinsic value, links are an outward, public display of paying attention. Says Doc, “In simpler terms, humans are distinguished no only by their ability to talk, but also by their ability to point.”

Some real examples of Link Love:

  • Blogrolls are Link Love: they share with the readers of any given blog the other “voices we like”.
  • Trackbacks are Link Love: they create a connection between my blog post and another blogger’s post – a discrete, ping-based connection that says to the user and the blogosphere “hey, these things are related”.
  • Twitter posts are Link Love – I think enough of what someone is doing to share it with my circle of followers/friends
  • Comments (although sometimes NOT counted by Google thanks to comment spam) are Link Love – I think enough of the ideas in this post to not only leave a note, but also where I can be found later for thanks/feedback/comments/a beating.

How do we connect in with this link economy? Where does Reciprocity fit in?

We need to link to the voices and ideas outside our “four walls”. If our blogroll only contains the other blogs our company has created and not the blogs of the users then we aren’t using that currency properly. If we only comment on other corporate blogs, then we aren’t connecting with our community. If we have a twitter feed with thousands of followers, but only following a few users, then we are missing out on an opportunity to participate. As publishers/pundits/journalists/program managers and “experts” we need to send the link love out there first (real, authentic), without expectations that it will be returned until we have earned it – and earning it is completely in the mind of the user. You either add value or you don’t. You are sponge-worthy or you are not (to use a Seinfeld reference). Reciprocity in this context is less about obligation (“oh hell, he linked to me, so now I need to link to him”), and more about attention and intent (“X is paying attention to my ideas”, or better yet “wow, those guys from Company Y spend a lot of time talking about what the members of their community are doing”). Its about adding enough value that others think you are worthy of their currency (links, attention, comments – whatever your measure of success is).

One of the clearest, fastest ways of seeing the 50/50 Rule in action is on Twitter with users like Richard @ Dell and Zappos. Richard@DELL is one of the leaders in corporations working with social software like twitter and making business personal. He spends as much of his time sending users to other voices and links as he does “Dell Business” with his twitter feed. Zappos uses his tweet time to talk about the people he is meeting with and interacting than he does his own site (along with DMs to users who ask questions about Zappos.

Liz Strauss has this to say in her killer blog post about the 25 Twitter Traits/ Twitter Folks she admires:

Certain value and actions make people who care about having relationships and conversation before transactions easy to spot…
5. talk mostly about the accomplishments of others….
12. shout out good news, help in emergencies, and celebrate with everyone.
16. offer advice when people ask. Help whenever they can.

If you want people to talk to you and about you, then link to them for all the right reasons. Spend the time and the social capital to celebrate what they are doing. Show where you see the value in them. If you want them to link to you, give them lots of opportunities to find something valuable in what you are doing. A shout-out is a personal gesture regardless if it comes from the DJ booth, the radio or a blog post.

Thing to do:

1. If you are building a community anywhere (twitter, facebook, ning, wordpress, Meetup, etc.) spend the time to look at how much you are talking about “Me Me Me Me Me” and course correct NOW.
2. If you have nothing to to link to (don’t really have a relationship with the users beyond their consuming your “stuff”) then start that conversation NOW.
3. Use the features of the community to connect with users: ask them if they have blogs and add ’em to your blogroll (or have a special blogroll for your community members), send Link Love to them through microblogging platforms like Twitter, use the forums as a commons for discussion and to point out the achievements of the users
4. Celebrate your users and set an incredible example that shows the rest of the community just how much you appreciate them – small, simple gestures can have a real impact.
5. Reciprocity is like love – it isn’t an obligation, but something freely given. Hope but don’t demand, ask, but not too often.
6. Be “linky”, use the currency of the web to show your users what/who you think is valuable.
7. Be real. Don’t engage in linkbait, users notice and your credibility will suffer as a result
8. Send half of your time talking about the users, the community, the people outside your org, company, startup (the 50/50 rule)

Ghost Blogging and Authenticity

David Mullen nails it with his post on “Save the Ghosts for Halloween

Think this is a great post and should be required reading for companies that want to “use” social media.

It may seem like splitting hairs, but in my mind there’s a difference between ghost writing the typical items mentioned above and ghost writing blog posts, Twitter “tweets,” and blog comments. That’s because there is a different expectation in place when it comes to social media engagement.

If we really believe in this stuff, not just paying lip service to cluetrain and treat “the conversation” like the newest jug of snake oil, then ghost blogging has to be seen as inauthentic, not real, and a BAD IDEA.

Strategists, “gurus” and agencies need to stop treating their clients like junkies and acting as crack dealers. They need to stop “blogging for”, “communicating for” and “using social media” for their clients and work with the clients to develop a real sustainable culture within the communications (marketing and PR and events) teams of DOING THIS THEMSELVES. Are you really joining the users in a conversation if you are doing it by proxy (ghost blogger)? Acting as a filter between the user and the client is inherently INAUTHENTIC, FALSE AND WRONG.

The main reason I got involved with digital media in the early days was because it was different, special, unique. The same goes with Social Media. How is blogging different from a press release if it isnt real?

Are you really joining the conversation if you are having someone do it for you?

Strategy at its core is about education. Guru by definition is a teacher or guide. These roles arent meant to be cutouts between the user and the org. We “experts” need to help the clients tell their stories and connect DIRECTLY with the users. I would rather see the intern in the client’s Comm department blogging than have some wonk in the agency write it for them.

In Social Media, WHO says it is as important as WHAT is said. Otherwise this will end up like press releases and advertising… and users will move on.

Interview with John C. Havens

Had a great interview today with John C. Havens. on

John and Shel Holtz recently released their new book Tactical Transparency: How Leaders Can Leverage Social Media to Maximize Value and Build their Brand (where yours truly is quoted). Check it out.

>>> Editors Note: I am an idiot and got my “Shel”s mixed up, originally posting John’s co-author as Shel Israel, and not Shel Holtz, who IS the co-author of Tactical Transparency. My sincerest apologies to John and Shel, and thanks to Shel Israel who pointed out my error. I have corrected it above.

Brands Brands Brands

Brands are important and valuable, but on the users’ terms.

For a long time the human race thought the sun revolved around the world. Then we figured it out.

I think brands and users are in a similar dynamic. Users don’t revolve around brands (even if they LOVE them, like Apple, the Corvette, & Manchester United), Brands revolve around users. Users bring brands into their own lives. Users add significance and context to Brands, not the other way around.

Canon helps me take pictures of important moments in my life. Those moments are going to happen with or without Canon.

Brands take up space in our lives when we let them in. Brand stewards create platforms for us to connect with, keep the brand relevant to their target markets, basically create opportunities for us to connect with brands.

Do Experts Matter?

Great post from Phill Baumann on experts, the value they may bring and Social Media experts in general. My favorite:

For example, Social Media experts are everywhere. When they’re everywhere, they’re nowhere. In other words, they don’t matter.

So if you want to tout your expertise then you better possess a passion for making other people’s lives better, not yours. And you better do what you love in a way that sets you apart from the experts.

I have been pitched by “Social Media Experts” that don’t blog, that dont twitter, that dont videoblog, that don’t stay on top of the more social trends on the web (my least favorite excuse is the one about the shoemakers children).

When I work with clients on these types of projects my main goal is to get them to become the experts. They need to believe this is something different. They need to commit. They need to do the work, make the effort, reach out to the users in real authentic ways. If we are trying to be more real and more authentic, why would we let an agency do it for us?

The Social Media Expert should be a catalyst, an evangelist (sorry @DAHOWLETT !), someone who is looking at the landscape, helping their clients understand what this is about, work together to build the program and advising them over time to tune and tweak and enhance their program and how they communicate. I think there may be something inauthentic about hiring an agency to communicate in a real voice to your users/customers/fans. Part of this thing of ours is about becoming more transparent, removing the “press release barrier”, dropping the the corp speak and taking off some of the armor that companies build to “protect” themselves from their users.

Whats really important?

<mom> What do you say? </mom>

When we were little kids, my little brother and I heard this all the time. When Mrs Kennedy (not that one, the one on 138th street in the Bronx) gave us an ice pop, when grandma gave us a quarter, when someone told us we looked great in our leisure suits (if i ever find the photos, I will scan and add to flickr). Mom used that phrase because we were little, didn’t know any better, were too busy trying to scarf down the ice pop and because we were learning the social customs that (some) grownups already knew: when someone gives you a compliment or a gift, you say thank you.

How does this all relate to Social Interactions on the Web? Any decent Social Media effort will have some kind of Outreach program:

1. Identifying bloggers, podcasters, videobloggers, forums, communities, social spaces that have something in common with the Social Media Effort
2. Joining the spaces and conversations in a forward, transparent manner
3. Add value to the discussions and attention without expectation or demand of reciprocity (pay it forward slick ad guy)
4. Make good stuff, not marketing taglines or “socialized” press releases
5. Keep the effort going – this is more about bringing big corporations down to eye level with the user than “eyeballs” or “share” or “Audience”

So now a Social Media Effort is doing outreach the right way, is adding something to the conversation, is getting people talking. Users start talking. 2-way dialog meets the 2-way web:

Users start leaving comments on the Social Media Effort’s YouTube videos
Users start threads in a forum dedicated to some topic or subject that the Social Media Effort is engaged in
Users start twittering about it (thanks Pistachio!)
Users start blogging about it
Users start mentioning it in their podcasts, videoblogs, screencasts
Users start participating, giving you their clicks, their eyeballs, their intention, and their voices

Did you remember to say thank you?

In the “little kid” example, it starts in direct personal interactions and continues in the dreaded process of writing thank you notes for birthday and Christmas presents. In this Social Media world of ours, when a user leaves a comment on your blog do you look to see where they are coming from? Do you respond to their comment? Do you check out their blog? Do you look and see what they are writing, what they are into? Do you leave a comment on their blog? Do you add them to your blogroll? When they mention you in a forum like Videoblogging do you respond on-list or leave them a note or tweet? Do you have the processes and procedures in place to listen AND respond?

Not all users will have something to say that is profound or game changing or even nice. Sometimes it will be mean, or bitchy, or completely negative. Sometimes it will be missing the point entirely. Sometimes it will be a simple, anonymous “thanks guys” – and thats it. Its on their terms.

The point is, you are becoming a neighbor, joining a community, being part of something that is smaller and bigger than yourself. Scoble and Godin can’t answer every comment and no one expects a Social Media Effort to mean “direct, personal, immediate, one-to-one communication”. But they do expect that you are listening and they expect you to show it. Demonstrative examples of “hey, we aren’t asleep at the switch or using this Social Media stuff to scam you”.

Are YOU actively participating in the architectures of participation you are spending so much time and money and effort on? Are you showing the community you are trying to engage that you are both interesting AND interested? Social Media Efforts ache over how many ways they can engage the user and get them to hit the SUBMIT button, register, leave a comment or write a wiki entry. If you are spending all this time creating “feedback loops”: platforms, code and process to get users to interact and participate and join in, are you closing the loop?

Some Social Media Efforts spend a fortune (things like Radian6, BuzzMetrics, employees, PR/Ad/Social Media agency personnel) on listening to the places and spaces where users are talking about them. Some more grassroots or startup Social Media Efforts utilize Technorati/Google Alerts/Summize/TweetScan/Etc. and brute-force (human capital) to see where they are being mentioned.


  • Have a blogroll – it is an outward, persistent sign of the sites, people and voices you believe in.
  • Linklove – be “linky” – link to the users, call it out when they add something to the conversation, send the attention of the conversation at your door to their door
  • Celebrate the things happening OUTSIDE your four walls – if your entire conversation is “me, me, me” the conversation will become a monologue. Call out the wins and ideas of the community, show you are participating by checking out their flickr feed, their blog, their tweets, their Second Life island. Spend a % (make it a hard rule if you have to – “one story every day or week or hour will be dedicated to THEM”) of your time and blog space and twitter feed and flickr experience on the community
  • Participate – in the comments, forum, NING ring on your platforms AND the platforms where your users live. Don’t be radio-silent. Show them someone is there and her/his name is Susan or Fred not ADMIN or MODERATOR. Humans don’t have conversations with MODERATORS. In the same way that you call out what users are doing outside your four walls also participate on the user’s sites/platforms. Leave a comment on their blog or Flickr feed. Reply to their tweets. Show you are listening AND visiting
  • Don’t trust one person to be the “community manager” and be responsible for all the commenting and listening and responding – it is everyone’s job. Find ways to get individuals inside the company or org interested in participating. Give them small things to do, get their opinion on what they can do/interested in/would be willing to try. Not everyone wants to be on camera or a blogger – and they all have day-jobs. Make it as frictionless and as fun as possible. I would rather interact with someone inside than some hired blogger or agency wonk

When a user paid you a compliment with their attention, did you remember to write a thank you note?

Generation Dobler

From a post on BoingBoing today is this little gem:

Emotionally, I don’t understand why so many people get so upset at being marketed to, or at gleefully acknowledging the good that comes from crafting a social world that is dominated by people willingly exchanging skills, services, and goods. These types could be called Generation Dobler, after the famous quote from the sad sensitive man-child character, Lloyd Dobler, played by John Cusack in the 1989 film Say Anything.

Dobler certified his soulfulness by announcing that “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed.” (my bold)

I need to get crackin on a “Generation Dobler” group on Facebook