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.

You’ve Cat to be Kitten Me: A Quick Lesson on Cats in the Media

I recently switched desks, moving to another section of the office.

As I broke a sweat hauling a bookshelf, client folders, pictures and knick-knacks to my new space, I realized how much of my stuff is cat-related.

Cat butt magnets.
My day-by-day tear-off calendar.
A sticky note dispenser.

(Mind you, these things were given to me. Okay, except the cat butt magnets.) But it isn’t just the tangible “stuff” that’s cat related, it’s also my social media feeds, news sites, emails, TV news segments, GIFs and more.

We all know that dogs are America’s favorite pet. But, IMHO, cats are the ones that are dominating digital media… search algorithms and Google crawlers aside. Nearly two million cat videos were posted to YouTube in 2014 alone, resulting in almost 26 billion views. That year, cat videos received more views per video than any other content category.

For example, since being posted in 2007, Keyboard Cat has received more than 48 million views (and counting) on YouTube. These countless hours of watching cat videos have led to some interesting research.

In a survey of nearly 7,000 people, the Indiana University Media School measured the relationship between watching cat videos and mood. Overall, participants reported fewer negative emotions such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness after watching cat-related online media than before. They also felt more energetic, and the pleasure they got from watching cat videos outweighed the guilt they felt about procrastinating (#preach).

These views, videos and memes eventually led to the world’ first CatCon, held in Los Angeles in June 2015. Modeled after ComicCon, the “cat convention” attracted 12,000 people that year. This year, the crowd topped 30,000, plus 162 cats.

In the media, cat-related stories tend to go viral. Per BuzzFeed’s “Beastmaster,” the average feline story gets almost four times the viral views as canine. That’s not even going into the social media behind it.

Hashtagify reports #cat having a popularity score of 76.2 (never fear, #dog is right up there at 75) on Twitter. However, it looks like cats aren’t spending as much time on Instagram. On the platform, #cat has a mere 124 million posts, compared to #dog’s 147 million.

hashtags data by

So, what’s a marketer to do with all of this information?

  1. Cat content works – well, really anything furry and cute works. Users can’t resist liking and sharing animals on the internet. Even in terms of B2B social media, don’t be afraid to break through the clutter with furry content. A cat GIF is sure to spark more engagement and produce more smiles.

  1. Cats are your competition – there are thousands of memes, GIFs and videos out there competing for attention. Use this as a way to challenge yourself to think outside the box when it comes to your strategy. At EMA Boston, we do our best to surprise people. This GIF was sent agency-wide to express this idea… it’s the perfect example.
    1. Animals trigger the emotional appeal of your brand and there is a direct connection between sales volume and the emotional connection your consumers have toward a brand. Build a friendship with your audience by using good humor or a soft story – remember this Super Bowl commercial?



    1. Millennials love cats (or cat content). If your brand is looking for a way to reach millennials, a good cat-themed campaign may do the trick. According to a survey by Mintel, 51 percent of Americans in their 20s and 30s have cats. Just sayin’.


    1. Marketing can be fun, people. Do we need another super-serious graphic filled with stats about the user journey or decline in white paper consumption? If you enjoy your own company’s marketing, guess what? Others probably will too.


    1. As the winter grows darker and colder, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder – Google it) begins to kick in, start watching cat videos. It’s cheap therapy. In the meantime, enjoy this cute picture of my feline friend.


PR Pitches Are Valuable Real Estate

In the spirit of effective pitching, I’m going to keep this post short and sweet. PR Knowledge

Communication is expressed in different forms. I get that. So why try the same communication approach across channels? Specifically, why do some pitches reaching journalists’ inboxes start something like, “Hi, XYZ. I hope your day is going well. I wanted to talk with you about …”

“I hope your day is going well.” – Let me tell you why that’s wrong.

The potential ROI of leaving that line in does not surpass the risk you take leaving it out.

Every word in a pitch is real estate, from the subject head to a signature. The value of that real estate is dependent on the order the journalist would read the pitch. Meaning, your email subject is the most important. It’s the first impression and what will get that person to delete or open.

The second most important copy is the first two sentences of your pitch. This is where the journalist decides whether they delete or keep reading. Chances are if you’ve got them to read that far, you might actually have a shot at closing the deal or at the least a response.

So why waste this valuable real estate on an insincere-looking greeting? Do you “really” care how this reporter’s day is going or do you care if this person will cover your client?

I asked my Twitter friends to chime in on this today and had some thoughtful feedback from a few journalists. Mitch Wagner, editor in chief of Internet Evolution, said “It’s a courtesy. It’s fine.” He followed up to clarify, “Pitches are entirely impersonal. I assume they’re generated by bulk email software. And I’m fine with that.”

While conceding that the greeting is a waste of real estate, Senior IT Reporter for Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin, followed up with “…the ‘hope you’re well’ doesn’t really bother me so much. There are tons of worse things.”


So the basic point here: While it’s not always considered a rookie mistake to include a warm greeting in your pitch, you’re wasting valuable real estate and potentially lowering the value of your pitch.

Seven Years Later, Has Twitter Peaked?

Is Twitter dying?Seven years ago today, Twitter was born. For many of us in PR, this would be a life-changing occurrence.

When Twitter first hit the scene, most of us thought it was trivial, myself included. Early adopters quickly learned the possibilities of Twitter. So what started as a place to share thoughts and make friends evolved into a platform to advance causes, social statuses, and any other agenda you have.

So do we have a seven-year itch? Is Twitter dying?

While I’m sure there are user statistics out there and someone knows the definitive answer, I’d like to share some anecdotal evidence of a shift in the Twitter user experience that may hint to a crescendo that has already taken place.

I was unfollowed by an influencer on Twitter today. Normally this is no big deal. However, this unfollow is part of a trend that I’m noticing with my Twitter friends.

Everybody knows that person that started out on Twitter years ago with the rest of us. They built their following over time, organically, engaging with their community, growing their clout. Fast forward to 2013 where perceived online clout is easier to get than ever before. It’s no longer enough to follow and be followed, and I can hardly argue with that.

As Chuck Tanowitz pointed out a few weeks ago, listening and search on Twitter is more important than direct follows. Smart influencers see that and are taking advantage of this to increase their perceived online clout – furthering their personal brand.

Where an influencer may have once followed thousands, or perhaps even tens of thousands, with a following to match; they’re now purging their friend count down to less than a thousand. I’ve even seen cases where they’ve gone down to zero and slowly built back up to a couple hundred.

So why should you care?

Perceived clout can help drive real clout

We’re all guilty of it. We discover a new person on Twitter that interests us. Naturally part of our judgment whether to follow that person rests on their follower:friend ratio. It’s a context clue, almost like what we use when we judge a person at a social event – Is this person friendly? Who else in the room are they connected with? What are they wearing?

More people will seek a higher Twitter follower:friend ratio because they will be perceived as having a higher influence. This is important for journalists and others seeking online authority.

Unfollowed but not forgotten

I get unfollows all the time. I don’t take them personally. It’s rare that someone I would consider an influencer unfollows me so when it happens I ask for feedback. Was it all of my curse words? Did I offend? Was I boring?

“I’m still listening” is the response I often get. In order for that influencer to increase their perceived, and ultimately, real clout, they unfollow a bulk of their Twitter friends. They do this to increase their follower:friend ratio. They are still listening.

We are now in lists and in columns on a dashboard of some influencers. You are no longer followed but not forgotten. This makes what you say and how you say it more important than ever before. Search is king in the Twitter of 2013.

So is Twitter dying? In my humble opinion, at least here in the U.S, yes Twitter has peaked. In people’s quest for clout, they’ve taken the fun out of using Twitter. It’s now a productivity tool. Happy anniversary Twitter. Thanks for all the fun times. It was nice knowing you.

Twitter Search and the Joys of Hashtags

twitter bird.jpgI’ve noticed an increase in engagement activity on my Twitter feed recently, and many of the most engaged users are not even my followers. While we’ve known for a long time that growing your follower count shouldn’t be a primary goal of any social program, it’s becoming increasingly clear that — similar to “Likes” on Facebook Pages — your Twitter follower count is essentially a meaningless metric.

Listen to the advice of anyone who works regularly in the Twitterverse and you’ll hear about various tools designed to help you make your experience more productive. Hootsuite comes up often for its ability to run multiple columns of both pre-selected lists and searches, as well as its ability to easily schedule tweets. Another is SeeSaw, which lets you visually track topics and hashtags then curate that information. Lists and searches dominate my personal Twitter experience and I don’t think I’m alone. Tools to manage these are much more valuable than any tool aimed at growing your followers.

CoupFlip logoHere at Fresh Ground we worked with CoupFlip, a secondary market for daily deals. CoupFlip buys deals from people who bought them and aren’t going to use them, then resells those deals. Of course, deals have expiration dates, so timing is important. A key factor that the founders told us as we started the project was that they needed to be in front of buyers close to the time of transaction.

Our program focused on various components, including a hefty dose of media relations, but a small part focused on Twitter search patterns. We researched the most-used hashtags around deals and then created a program to target the right audiences.

By focusing on regional tags as well as those around #dailydeals CoupFlip sold out all the deals we offered up. The tweets themselves were pretty simple, strategically written and well-timed.

While the CoupFlip Twitter account didn’t have a huge following, we never really needed it, search created the right kind of engagement.

Twitter, of course, understands this, as it’s offering up ads based on people’s hashtag and search habits. If you’re a regular list user you’ve probably started to see these sponsored tweets around.

I’m not sure if Twitter is going to start releasing the search data in the way that Google offers up keyword analysis, but one can certainly inform the other. Keywords that people use to search on Google are likely to be the same keywords people use to set up their Hootsuite search columns. Twitter is starting to work more closely with certified partners, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this data becoming more prominent through those tools.

Then you need to look at how you use Twitter to inform Google search. Yes, I know that tweets are not currently part of the Google search stream, though they are part of the Bing stream. However, there are tools like Twylah which aim to help use Tweets to increase your branding and search results. A good example is on the page of Twylah founder Eric Kim.

The key here is to not just see Twitter as a chatroom, but as a place to create a branded experience that targets the right people. With a little thought and planning, you can meet your core business goals, and not just your Twitter follower goals.