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.

Social and Search

Photo by Gerlos

Last week I was invited back to a panel at the ninth “Marketing to the High-End Bride” event, held at the newly-opened W Hotel in Boston — you can hear the audio and see some photos on the WeddingProf site. At the event, I finally got to meet Scott Smigler of Exclusive Concepts. I really enjoyed our conversation — both on the stage (where we disagreed about ghost writing but agreed on most everything else) and after the event. Scott’s organizing an upcoming event for SEMPO Boston, and asked what I thought about the intersection between search and social these days. Here’s my response — I hope to be able to share my perspective at the event — I’ll let you know as soon as it’s organized.

In Fresh Ground’s opinion, there are two approaches to social media: proactive and reactive. Proactive social media is content-driven, reactive social media is conversation-driven.

Either way, search is often a second thought — most practitioners take a “if you build it they will find it” attitude when it comes to social media and search. They figure that either way — by virtue of good content, frequent updates and a large community — search will just happen. This is partly true, but there’s still a disconnect between these two fields that can only be bridged through analytics and metrics: understanding the direct relationship between social, search and web traffic.

I think most social media people don’t think about the other way around — that search can drive social. This negative bias was reinforced recently when Facebook overtook Google in terms of site traffic sources. We perhaps need to be reminded that it’s still a two-way street, and that a stronger emphasis on search can still be very rewarding.

What do you think about this intersection?

Lee Sherman on Distributed Communities: Fresh Ground #5

In episode 5 of the Fresh Ground Podcast, Chuck Tanowitz talks with Lee Sherman, who runs the MintLife Blog. Lee brings over 20 years of editorial experience to Mint, including stints at and Worth magazine.

Chuck and Lee discuss how to create a content-driven marketing strategy, as well as the and differences and similarities between journalism and marketing. Lee shares some key numbers around Mint’s content-driven marketing strategy, and how to avoid thinking in terms of technological silos.

Some of the more interesting excerpts:

“I think that having a journalistic mindset has allowed us to create content that is compelling, and that leads to traffic, and traffic leads to conversions…”

“[At] the end of the day, we’re a software company, and we’re trying to get people to sign up and use a personal finance application… [You] always have to [keep] that in mind, but … building an audience through compelling content was key to our strategy….”

“[While] we’re very careful about protecting people’s privacy … we know a lot about how people are spending their money, and we’ve produced a number of infographics which illustrate trends in consumer spending, and those things tend to get picked up by other publications.”

“We would not have a publication called ‘MintLife’ if it didn’t actually bring in users.”

“[We] initially were thinking of building a community into the blog, but one of the learnings that came out of our discovery process … [was the] notion of distributed community…. Because of how people navigate to our content, the truth is that the conversation about our content is really taking place outside of [It’s] really taking place on Digg, on Facebook, on Twitter.”

“[We] embraced the notion of distributed community, and started to look at ways to bring the conversation into the blog. We haven’t fully gone down this road yet, but it’s a direction that we’re going to continue to go to, and there are tools like Backtype [and] Facebook Connect [to make this possible].”

About the Fresh Ground Podcast: Each week, we feature 10 minutes of insights from people driving change in today’s competitive business and media landscape. We talk about the evolving worlds of media, public relations, marketing and business, with a special focus on creating more social organizations.

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Our opening music is “D.I.Y.” by A Band Called Quinn from the album “Sun Moon Stars” and is available from Music Alley, the Podsafe Music Network.

Feeding the Love: Building Community at the Bake Sale

From Leah Jones via Flickr (

From Leah Jones via Flickr

In the early 90, just as my wife and I got started on our adult lives, my parents moved out of New York leaving me without a “base.” So every time I moved I had to get a new driver’s license and register to vote. Over the course of a 2-year period I had 4 driver’s licenses in 2 states.

That kind of moving can leave you disconnected from any community. I was in television at the time, which by nature is a transient environment, so aside from my wife, my work friendships and other community-related relationship lasted, at most, 8 months.

In the middle of this I landed in Newton Centre and found myself voting in the 1994 Senate race between Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney. Yes, the election itself turned out to be a fascinating story, but for me the biggest thrill was the bake sale.

You see, the bake sale is part of the fabric of America. This is when parents take advantage of the flow of people into the schools and offer up some grassroots fund-raising.

So when I walked into the Mason-Rice School in Newton Centre and sitting there was a parent

How can banana bread build community? Just taste it

How can banana bread build community? Just taste it

selling brownies, banana breads, cookies and other goodies hand-made by parents, the proceeds of which would go to helping the school itself, I gladly exchanged the little money I had in my pocket for the calories of sugary goodness.

So today, when you go vote, stop by the bake sale and pick up a goodie. And if you vote over in West Newton, grab a piece of my banana bread or date-chocolate chip bread.

One bite and you’ll feel part of my community forever.