Community Building 101: The Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

If you’re in business, you understand value. You ensure every action adds value to your business goals or bottom line. But do you evaluate your community-building initiatives as stringently?

Why social communities are important

Social communities can make or break your business. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C, there’s no better way to “cut through the clutter” than having a community of customers, prospects and influencers that has your back.

Social communities are valuable and can be your brand’s strongest advocates. They can also be a big driver for bringing in new customers. CrossFit and SoulCycle are both great example of using the social aspect of their brands to differentiate themselves in an otherwise crowded market.

But social communities don’t happen overnight.

First, choose the right audience for your specific cause or topic. This is where customer service is crucial, no matter the business or industry. This is the group that should remain at the center of all your marketing and community initiatives. Some quick, but important, questions to ask include:

  • Is the audience appropriate for your business?
  • Has your audience changed since you first started building a community?

Keep in mind that irrelevant, legacy audiences can be a source of blind headaches when they voice their disappointment in the way the company has changed. On the flip side, relevant legacy audiences can be your best friends – especially in times of trouble.

Once you’ve nailed down your audience, you’re ready to nurture your budding community with these four methods:


If you’re not engaged in social media listening, you’re missing out on tons of insights about the people who are actively talking about your industry and brand. Keep track of what the top influencers and prospects in your industry are reading and sharing. What hashtags are they using? What types of content are they sharing? What do their bios look like? What are their pain points?


While you want to control every aspect of the community-building efforts, you can’t. Control what you can and act responsibly, but know that at time you need to let your community develop organically. Allow your newfound audience to build its own momentum.


Once you’ve kept an eye on the pulse of activity within the community, opportunities to engage will present themselves. Ask and answer questions, comment on their posts, like their activities, share their content and follow them back. Over time, they’ll notice your engagement and appreciate it – and they will likely return the favor.


People love rewards and they love validation of their actions. Go ahead and thank people for sharing your content. Invite them to company events and webinars. Use your social platforms to maximize brand loyalty by first engaging your social community. Let them be the first to know about your brand’s news, rewards programs and more. This creates an exclusivity that people naturally crave. In turn, you can make your social media platforms the place customers are encouraged to refer your business through different contents, recognition and more.

Great! Now What?

It’s easy to forget that your business is not the center of your customers’ universe. Their lives are filled with experiences, information, relationships and stories that have nothing to do with you.

To them, you are an occasional blip on a crowded radar screen — and if you can maintain some frequency to your blip and some relevance to the audience’s radar screen, you’ve done more than most.

Focus on how well you engage those you attract.

Maintain awareness of your audience and how you want it to change over time as you continue to engage your social community.

To do this, we believe every social initiative, down to each tweet, should pass a quick “acid test” to evaluate its strength.

The Community Acid Test Every Message, Blog Post, Tweet and Idea Must Pass

  • Do we believe it?
  • Will it interest at least 50 percent of our target audience members?
  • Will they believe it?
  • Does it in any way risk making an audience member feel disrespected?
  • Will they feel good passing it along?
  • Does it build on themes our audience has already discussed?
  • Do we mind if the audience runs with it?
  • Can it impact the company in any negative way?
  • Does it add value to our audience’s life?
  • Does it help advance our cause or mission?
  • Does it help audience members feel good about their relationship with us?
  • Does it help build positive bias towards our brand in some way?

Depending on the answers to these questions, teams can easily decide whether to move forward with a specific tactical initiative, such as a particular blog post or tweet.

For example, suppose you sell energy recovery ventilation (ERV) technology for HVAC systems. Over time, you’ve built a social community of salespeople, facilities managers, HVAC equipment suppliers and commercial real-estate owners. For these audiences, you can offer tremendous expertise about HVAC, ERV and a host of associated benefits and opinions. You can start discussions about technology, help your audiences understand the competitive landscape and trade-offs, and opine about a wealth of topics ranging from clean-energy installations to various energy efficiency strategies.

As you can imagine, such an acid test varies from industry to industry. Creating and using your own acid test to evaluate your social content will ensure that you add value to the all-important intersection of your organization and your audiences’ lives.

In return, the community will add value to your business for the long term.

Max Power & Calculating Your Confidence


In Homer to the Max, Homer Simpson stumbles upon a television show character by the same name. After the character goes through a negative transformation, Homer gets ridiculed for being associated with such a person. In an effort to overcome this, Homer legally changes his name to Max Power. Garnished with compliments about his new identity, Homer embraces it. Improving his image by shopping in high-end retail and befriending the affluent Trent Steele, Homer has convinced himself that his new name improved his lifestyle.

Hubris was Homer’s real identity change. Which may not be as negative as it sounds.

Being overly-confident helps you set and achieve goals that were otherwise unthinkable and seemingly unattainable. Being realistic in your challenges can undermine your ability to meet goals. If you realistically viewed your challenges, there is strong possibility you’d never attempt to overcome them. Allowing yourself to overstate your own abilities can be beneficial in taking a risk you may not have even considered.

Jason Zweig, in his book Your Money and Your Brain, writes that 81% of entrepreneurs gave their own businesses a 7 to 10 chance of success. 33% of entrepreneurs say there is zero possibility their business would fail. Zweig goes on to note, “roughly 50% of new businesses fail within their first five years”. This shows a huge dissociation between perceived success and actual success. Being overconfident in their abilities and challenges allows them to deceive themselves of their own probability of success. Without this mindset, we may have been without such unicorns as Uber or Airbnb. Disrupting the taxi monopoly would have been unthinkable without a dash of over-confidence in Uber’s success. Airbnb was a failing startup before rocketing to success. Confidence in these projects success kept them afloat

Using this knowledge in your daily tasks may not be as reckless at it seems. Calculating your overconfidence is the key to avoiding failure. Do this by asking yourself such questions as: When can I take on more risk to push a project to succeed? When can I tell myself this will not fail (and if it does, not be destroyed along with it)? Being overly-confident can push you over the hills of “It won’t work” and “It’s not feasible”.

In the end, Homer eventually goes back to his original name. I’ll attribute this to a necessity of having the episode end where it started, rather than a lack of confidence.


5 Ways the Corporate “Ladder” Is More Like Rock Climbing

Written by Katherine Eckenfels and Erin Mooney

We have all heard the phrase “climbing the corporate ladder.” Many believe career advancement looks like clear-cut rungs that lead straight upward. However, sometimes this path can be a wall full of different options and problems at varying levels – kind of like rock climbing.

      • You learn the art of maintaining balance.
        Picture this – you’re 20 feet off the ground, legs spread as far as they can, holding onto little knobby protrusions coming out of the wall. Sounds like life, right? Let me explain. In order to stay on a rock wall and progress upwards, you have to be balanced. Sometimes this means looking like a starfish, other times one leg is balancing out the opposite arm. Clinging to the wall drains your energy and makes it more difficult to make headway. Similarly, it is crucial to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Exercise, family and relaxation rejuvenate your mind and body and enable you to kick butt at all of those areas in life.
      • You embrace the challenge.
        Coming at the wall or your career with a positive attitude is essential. You need confidence that you are going to get to the top, crush that project, or get a promotion from the onset. Starting a climbing route you’ve never done or going into an interview can be daunting. Resolving to get to the top no matter what will wake up your desire to continue when it gets really difficult. Remind yourself how badass you are. Also – it’s totally normal to sweat.


      • You will fall.
        You’re climbing a route that you’ve been working on for weeks. No amount of chalk can make your hands stop sweating. You’re tired and losing your grip. Then, a poisonous thought enters your mind— “I can’t do it.” Just like that, you fall. Life is full of setbacks and failure. The symbol of a ladder, however, suggests that you start your career from the bottom and work your way up. Easy right? Well, sorry to burst your bubble but this isn’t Utopia. At some point you will fall. Maybe you’ll lose a big pitch, or maybe you’ll accidentally hit the ‘reply all’ button. Whatever the misstep be, learn to embrace the climb and everything that comes with it. Because the real success comes from the moment you get back up.
      • You build trust.
        Climbing isn’t just about you and the wall, there is also the person at the other end of the rope to make sure you don’t die. (Unless you’re climbing solo, then you’re just plain crazy and let’s be honest you probably will die.) The best teams are those that trust each other and believe in their teammates abilities. In most career fields you have to work with other people, and sometimes those people are the ones that help prevent you from falling.
      • You learn to solve problems.
        In rock climbing each route is called a problem. There’s never one easy way to get to the top and it may take a while to figure out a solution. If you’re in the creative field you can probably relate. When you hit a wall, the best thing you can do is take a step back and get a different perspective. Where did you get stuck? What are all the potential next steps? Once you’ve assessed the situation, you will be well on your way to climbing the top!

Erin transferred from the EMA office in Syracuse to join the Boston team. Katherine and Erin quickly discovered they shared an interest in rock climbing. The two joined a climbing gym and learned to belay together. Now the climbing spirit is spreading through the Boston office.


Our Mysterious Obsession with Podcasts

image via Gimlet Media

image via Gimlet Media

My commute recently doubled in length and I’ve found myself dangerously close to banging my head against the steering wheel every umpteenth time I hear T. Swift’s “Bad Blood” on the radio.* To avoid head trauma I’ve traded in my top 40 radio station for a safer option: Podcasts.

By now, even if you don’t listen to them, you have probably heard about the rise in podcast popularity and the endless listening options right at your fingertips. Maybe you’ve even experienced severe FoMO if you are part of the population that has yet to jump on the “podwagon.”

Confession: FoMO was one of the main reasons why I tuned into Serial last year. I needed to know why everyone was talking about it and wanted to add to the ‘guilty or innocent?’ debate (even though I’m still extremely torn). But I digress…

Which brings me to my most recent listening-binge: Mystery Show. If you’ve listened to Starlee Kine’s series, you can answer the following questions.

How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal?

What happened to that NYC video store that was renting out movies one day and disappeared the next?

Why was Britney Spears reading a virtually unknown book in 2008 after her very public breakdown?

Why is someone driving around LA with an “ILUV911” vanity plate?

Who is Hans Jordi and how did his belt buckle (adorned with a tiny golden toaster) end up in a gutter?

Now if you find yourself reading these questions and asking yourself, “who cares?” you’re not alone. I was skeptical at first. I figured the answers to these questions will not get me far in life, much less help me at trivia night. But when faced with two hours in the car I thought I’d give it a shot…

Confession (#2 if we’re keeping track): I listened to all five Mystery episodes in less than a day. Mysteries, by nature, spark your interest but it takes real storytelling technique to keep listeners engaged. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but what I will share is that I flew through the existing episodes so quickly not so I could hear Starlee crack each case, but because I couldn’t get enough of the way she told each story.

The only real criteria she has for taking on a new mystery is that it’s something that can’t be solved online. Why? Well for one, that show would be really boring. But it also forces her to go out, meet new people, have conversations and share those stories from others she meets when she’s trying to get to the bottom of a case.Many of the best parts of the show don’t even relate to the resolution—they’re the digressions. (There was a segment during the Britney episode where Starlee calls someone in customer service at Ticketmaster. I’ve never been so enchanted by a call center conversation. This probably sounds ludicrous, but you’ll know what I mean when you hear it.)

Starlee will be back with more episodes, which I’m hoping happens sooner rather than later because I CAN’T TAKE THE SUSPENSE. Maybe in season 2 she’ll crack the real case behind the Perry/Swift feud so I can sleep much more soundly at night…

Once you’re done with Mystery you can satisfy your podcast craving with other favorites from HBers.

All Songs Considered

“When I was in high school, I was obsessed with discovering new music. When I wasn’t studying, I was going to concerts and downloading albums just to see what was out there. Well today I don’t have the time to do all of that research, but I do have this podcast. The crew behind All Songs Considered is a group of energetic music enthusiasts who expose listeners to a gamut of genres as new tunes and artists emerge throughout the year. The podcast also features artist interviews and short concerts.” – Catherine

The Energy Gang

“The Energy Gang is produced by Greentech Media and offers a deep-dive into current energy and environmental topics including opportunities, challenges, technologies, politics and market forces. If you’re involved in the energy space you should be listening to it and if you’re just interested in learning more this is the place to start.” – Julia


“While we all have opinions about what works and doesn’t, it’s great to hear economists analyze the data on issues ranging from gun control to health food, the flu vaccine to whether who we elect as president really makes any difference.” – Nicolas

Inside the New York Times Book Review

“Each week, the NYT puts out a podcast on the books it reviews in that week’s Book Review section. However, calling this a podcast about books doesn’t seem to do it justice. It’s actually a series of interviews with authors and reviewers on a handful of different topics. I listen religiously because this podcast is a great way to not only gain in-depth knowledge about a topic in a brief period of time, but also to consider how authors effectively communicate about those topics to make people care/read/listen.” – Catherine


“If you’re interested in starting a company, you need to listen to StartUp. In the first season, host Alex Blumberg, former producer for This American Life and co-founder of Planet Money, shares the real, unfiltered, brutally-honest highs and lows of starting a company. Listeners are privy to the behind-the-scenes conversations with family members, investors, potential business partners and more, that provide the most realistic depiction of what startup life is really like.” – Julia

“You should start with the first season, which documents the startup of StartUp. From harsh investor meetings to arguments on how to split equity and brainstorming about how to attract more listeners, both the StartUp seasons are full of great stories for anyone who ever wanted to start or run a business.” – Nicolas

Stuff You Should Know

“Stuff You Should Know is run by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, two funny guys who research a topic and banter about it. The subject matter is always interesting and they always find ways to weave jokes into the discussion.” – Katherine

TED Radio Hour

“You like TED talks, who doesn’t? But, who has time to listen to full talks or sort through the myriad of topics. TED Radio hour gives you 4 or 5 talks per week on a given topic with both key bits ‘from the TED stage’ as well as one-on-one interviews with the speakers providing a greater level of depth and insight. I recommend ‘Growing Up’ and ‘Getting Organized’ to start.” – Jonathan

The Week Ahead

“Every Thursday, The Economist comes out with it’s The Week Ahead podcast. I listen to this one because unlike other news-oriented podcasts, it’s not reactionary. Its hosts preempt the major global events that will be occurring in the next week and tell you what you need to know (what to expect, who’s involved, what the consequences might be, etc). This makes me feel better informed about the news as it’s happening. AND, it’s always nice to hear from a news source that’s not based in the US.” – Catherine

*For the record, I have no bad blood with Taylor, but I can only hear “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes” so many times before 9 AM every day.


#HBerTakeover: Get to know the names, faces and personalities behind HB

Check out how our HBer’s live their daily lives – whether it’s standing on the sidelines cheering for the QB, mastering the Bo Staff as a black belt, or kicking back with Brad Garrett on a Friday night…HBer’s never have a dull moment.

Over the course of the next six months, the HB team will show our followers what happens in our lives, both in and out of the office.

Each week, a different HB team member will take over the HB Instagram. Think of it like an all-access pass to HB and our people (with a Valencia or Hefe filter for special effects).

Check out some of our photos posted so far @hb_agency or #HBerTakeover!



What I Wish I Knew 20 Years Ago


Next month, Catherine Ahearn joins the HB PR department as an account coordinator. While this isn’t Catherine’s first job — she comes to us with experience working as a freelance editor — her new role prompted me to consider things that I wish I had known earlier in my career. It has taken me four employers and two decades to refine this list.

Pick a mentor, or three. In my nine years at HB, I have recognized that while all individuals bring a range of capabilities to the table, each of us have few specific skills that shine extra bright. Dawn, for example, can quickly assess a situation and immediately pose three questions that drive directly to the heart of the matter. While I work to channel my inner Dawn when asking questions, I try to emulate Christine and Molly when listening to the answers.

Know yourself and optimize accordingly. Anyone who has spent a workday with me knows two things: I am not a morning person and every day, like clockwork, I enjoy a 3:30 Diet Coke. Thanks to this combination, I often dig into a new project at 4:00 and come up for air around 6:00.

Get out of the office to network and learn. The magic doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Expose yourself to new ideas, perspectives and people as often as possible. A conversation at an alumni event or a fundraiser could lead to new business, or a fresh idea, for you, your client and your company.

Set goals to move forward. I like to walk; it’s fun and as they say, time flies when you are having fun. At the office, a month can whiz by and you haven’t moved the needle on an important, but not urgent project. Measurable goals ensure that I keep my eye on all important tasks, not just the biggest, and keep putting one meaningful step in front of the other.

Attitude. Attitude. Attitude. In the words of Cher, “If I could turn back time…” for a redo of the months that I wasted with a tainted attitude about my work environment (clearly, this predates my time at HB). In past chapters of my career, I found myself frustrated and let this attitude influence all aspects of my life. As corny as it sounds, “think happy, be happy.” Check your attitude and that of colleagues. Have a co-worker whose negative vibes form a toxic cloud? Help them turn that frown upside down. And be aware if you are bringing the toxins. Sometimes we get in a rut and never even realize it. Empower a colleague to be brutally honest with you. The HB Way, our company doctrine, guides behaviors internally and externally. One of my favorites is “we hold each other accountable.”

You need to ask. Speaking up — about your career path, a client challenge, a company practice you don’t quite get — is really the only good way to get answer. But before you ask a question, do your research. Do not make a move without checking with your friend and ally, the internet. Come across an acronym you don’t recognize? Not sure how to calculate something in Excel? Can’t get your video editing software to work? You will be surprised how much online content, including video, can help you move forward.

Any words of wisdom for Catherine as she embarks on a new adventure here at HB?

The Marketing Time Capsule – What has a place in the future? What should remain buried in the past?

In middle school I was given the easiest homework assignment ever – write a letter to my future self.

Years later, the summer before I went off to college, I received the note from the middle school me. With no recollection of what I wrote, I opened the letter to find myself gushing about my favorite boy band (no shame in admitting it, I was a huge ‘N Sync fan), my best friends and family, and what college I planned on attending.

I laughed when I read the questions I asked myself. Are Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake still together? Do you still hang out with your best friend Rachael? Where are you going to college?

Now that I’m a professional in the marketing and communications field, I re-read my letter through a different lens, and made a few conclusions my grade school self would not have thought of:

  • Trends don’t last forever. It’s still hard to conceive that ‘N Sync no longer rules the airways.
  • Relationships matter. Friends and family are as critical to me now as they were years ago. Even my best friend from more than a decade ago is still my best friend now.
  • Predicting the future is hard. My life and career path could have gone in so many different directions. The influences that brought me to where I am today were unknown to me, and I’m sure a different decision or two in the past would have changed me (though I’m very happy where I’m at now)!

FutureM will debate the future of marketing as we perceive it today. Topics range from digital marketing, mobile technology and social media measurement, as well as debating whether or not traditional marketing as we know it is dead.

But do we really know what the future of marketing holds? What are current hot marketing trends that will be obsolete in five, 10 or 20 years? Which marketing practices have staying power? Advertising? PR? Digital? All of the above? Or none of them? And what does the future hold that we just can’t accurately predict right now?

Share your thoughts below. Maybe your idea(s) will become a discussion topic at HB’s UnPanel at FutureM. Or maybe it will go into some sort of marketing time capsule that some future version of ourselves can enjoy years from now.

30 for 30: Lessons on life on a birthday milestone

Last week, I turned 30. Holy crap. Needless to say, I haven’t figured out much. However, I’ve learned enough to build a goofy list of tips to share. Here goes!

1. You can only have so many passions. You can’t do everything. Stick to 2-4 passions and really immerse yourself. And, yes, they can change over time.
2. Read as much as possible.
3. Stay in shape.
4. Get rid of your stuff. You can focus more on your goals and passions with less clutter and belongings in your living space. Now if I could only convince my wife…
5. Value sleep.
6. Enjoy an expensive bottle of wine from time to time.
7. Buy small – cars and houses – instead of large.
8. Vacation is for vacation. You can either work during your entire vacation, or not at all. Nothing in between.
9. Take care of your wardrobe.
10. Eat a healthy breakfast everyday. Better yet – eat multiple healthy meals everyday.
11. Mow your lawn.
12. Take pride in your manners. Please and thank you go a long way.
13. Spend money on books, not television.
14. Attend as many weddings as possible. They are the height of human emotion.
15. Keep a clean house.
16. Tell your parents you love them.
17. Store an extra toothbrush and toothpaste at work.
18. Embrace new technology offerings. Don’t complain about the latest feature or change on Facebook; test it and own it.
19. Challenge your loved ones and co-workers to be better.
20. Invest in a pet project outside of work – write a book, design a web site, or shoot photos.
21. Take up golf. Doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow… but it’s a lifetime sport that helps develop a sense of hard work and accomplishment.
22. Learn the basics of cooking.
23. Visit DisneyWorld at least once. It’s the happiest place on Earth.
24. Introduce yourself to your neighbors.
25. Walk with purpose.
26. Birthdays are overrated – offer unexpected gifts to friends and loved ones.
27. Volunteer.
28. Learn to solve problems creatively as well as analytically.
29. Drink the leftover milk in your cereal bowl.
30. Marry an amazing person. Thank you, Cheryl.

Reaching into the Political Machine – A Powerful Visit to DC with The Alliance

Each year my visit to DC with The Alliance for Business Leadership turns into the single most impactful event I participate in. I invariably come away with a sense that the individual can impact government and as business leaders, we are duty-bound to participate.

A moment with John Kerry at The Alliance for Business Leadership (DC Photographer Marty Katz)

This year’s top thoughts:

  • I’m humbled by The Alliance’s membership — not the C-level titles, but the brain power, thoughtfulness, deep understanding of the issues and commitment to partner with government to ensure that business can do well and do good at the same time.
  • I left surprised by the focus, expertise and passion that government workers bring to the table:
  • Todd Park, co-founder of AthenaHealth, former CTO of Health and Human Services (HHS) and current CTO for the whole government, mesmerized a room-full of CEOs with his entrepreneurial spirit and tales of bringing government resources into the hands of existing and new businesses. [Read more…]

The Power of Story

On a daily basis, we listen to presentations filled with engaging facts and mind-blowing statistical data. Most of the bulleted data points get lost in the sea of facts thrown at us over a 45 minute period. When this is over,  you might ask yourself–what the hell just happened?

Non stories may provide important information, but stories have a unique power to move people emotionally and move them to take action. If you don’t believe me, take a look at Tell to Win by Peter Guber, a book about purposeful stories that serve as powerful calls to action. Think about when you watch a great movie. You watch and listen intently for two hours straight, sometimes more. Not talking, commenting, moving or worrying about the world around you. You’re fully engaged in the story. What if you could engage your customers and prospects in this way?

Last week, I attended the Mckee Story Seminar in New York city. Four intense days of listening to Robert Mckee speak about the principles involved in the art and craft of story design.

Here are some key lessons from McKee’s seminar, that all writers – in business or not – could apply to their stories:

  • Writing a story is an art form.
  • Quality story structure demands creativity; it cannot be reduced to simple formulas that impose a rigid number of mandatory story elements.
  • Write alternate scenarios for each draft.
  • Never repeat yourself – it gets boring.
  • Trash something if it’s not great.
  • It’s all about turning points.
  • Characters need to experience things they have never experienced before.
  • Conflict is to story as sound is to music.
  • Don’t write what your audience expects.

If I listed everything, I’m sure most of it would get lost in a sea of facts. If you want more information on any of these bullets, or to learn more about the McKee Story Seminar, call me. Nothing beats a conversation.