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April 23, 2008

Building Communities in Social Media

By Li Evans

Wendy Piersall started her blog as a hobby, the blog was an extension of her business, a tool to compliment it.  Within three months, Wendy’s eMom's at Home blog became its own full time job.  She had to rethink her strategy about the business.  Within 2 years Wendy had a thriving community on her hands, with thousands of readers and subscribers. How did this happen?

Conversation.

Communities thrive on it, we humans crave it.  Unless you are a hermit or a person on a religious quest that requires seclusion and not speaking, we seek out human interaction.  We want to hear other people’s thoughts, we long for interaction to know if our own thoughts are in line with common thinking or if we are out of line, or are we rebels (with or without a cause).

Communities are nothing new.  Communities bond upon a single or a few commonalities.  It was how this nation (the United States) was formed, a common bond of the wish to have freedom of religion.  Later on for immigrants coming through Ellis Island, the bond was the dream of a better life.  It is no different even with all of our gadgets, speed and technologies, we as humans still need to bond, and it is why we seek out communities online.

Wendy’s community grew and thrived because she fostered a great conversation.  She listened and she also conversed with her audience – she never spoke "at" them.  She constantly listened and she participated in the conversation, always keeping in mind “what would her audience get” from each conversation she would invoke with her blog posts.

Wendy was also wise enough to realize the conversation wasn’t just going on, on her blog.  There were other blogs out there having similar conversations that she felt helped or contributed to the conversation.  Wendy wisely not only sought them out and commented about on their blogs she included them in her own conversation as well.  By doing this,  she was eventually pulling in their audiences to participate in the conversation.

Now a little over 2 years later, realizing that what started out as her “hobby” has grown into this enormous community and her original thoughts for the blog my limit the potential for the conversations growth, Wendy reached out to her community.  Wendy asked and the community overwhelming responded and now eMoms at Home is opening to an even wider community by becoming SparkPlugging, focusing on the entrepreneurial community.  Wendy's own blog is getting renamed to Sparkplug CEO, as well.

When you recognize that a conversation is happening and you embrace it and foster it, a community can grow around that conversation.  Hard sells, preaching a message, and advertorials just don’t work, those methods do not foster and grow communities.   You really have to have a love, a passion for your conversation, you have to care about it, if it is going to even have any shot at succeeding in this new online social world. 

It’s why companies who really do care about what people think about their brands, or their products or services succeed in overwhelming ways in social media.  If you only care about selling a soda (think Sprite Sips on Facebook ), or getting people into your store (think Walmart Flogs) you likely won’t get very far since your conversation is only one way and isn’t really genuine.  However, if you are like Wendy, or BlendTec or even Lionel Menchaca from Dell, your community grows at astounding rates.

The key to building communities?  Conversation and realizing that as much as they involve speaking to someone, building communities involves a lot more listening and understanding.  So, stop and think – are you preaching or are you conversing?

I said yesterday that Mack Collier inspired me to love Blogging again.  Wendy also inspired me about communities and she made me excited about the potential of building a great community. To read about Wendy's presentation at SEG's Unleashed Conference for Small Business Marketing, check out David's take on Wendy's session.  Hop on over to SEG to get all the coverage of what happened at SEG's Unleashed Conference in Houston.

You can also find Wendy on Twitter, Mack on Twitter and even me on Twitter, too. Why not start a conversation with us?  :)

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Comments

You are SO awesome! Li, you were one of my favorite people that I met at Unleashed. Thanks SO much for this super-sweet writeup.

And I can say that you inspired me as well - to get a little more serious about my photography hobby. See?! We make a great pair!

(PS - I've been around a total of 2 years with eMoms/Sparkplugging, not three)

Glad I could inspire you as well! :)

I fixed that three year to just over two years... it was 4 a.m. when i was tweaking this post, I think my brain was fried! LOL

Building online communities is very important...it can help you easily get the word out regarding your site..^^..it is also a good way of meeting people with similar interests with you..that way you can exchange ideas and opinions regarding your common interests..^^

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