You Can’t Have a Community Without People: A Chat With Liz Strauss
If I were responsible for giving the Sprit of the Blogosphere Award, I’d give it to Liz Strauss. Our speaker Andy Sernovitz put us in touch. I had a really lovely chat with her yesterday and came away with a renewed vigor for blogging. That’s usually how I know I’ve had a great conversation with someone.
One of the things that struck me during our chat was that “online community building” is becoming a buzz word, kind of like “synergy” or “paradigm.” She told me a story about a corporate marketer who told her that he was going to build a community on his company’s website. She asked him what he would do to get the people to come there and how he would work with them. He kept returning to the “community” angle, and she kept asking, “but what about the people?”
Liz has an astonishing number of comments — tens of thousands, in fact — on her blog. She’s very proud of this. She hosts open comment nights and spends inordinate amounts of time getting to know her readers. She explained to me that the secret to good blogging is understanding that your posts should be conversation starters rather than statements. The only way to really engage with people is to leave your posts unfinished.
About halfway through our conversation, I started feeling guilty. I realized that I didn’t spend nearly enough time engaging with the commenters on any of the blogs I write for. I asked her, “how do I make sure that my commenters understand that I do care about them when there just aren’t enough hours in the day?”
“You just did,” she replied. “You show up. You read what they’ve written and you make sure they know you were there.”
The moral of this story is that the business buzzword of “online community building” doesn’t really cover what needs to happen when a company sets out to build a community around their brand. Many corporate marketers seem to be approaching the issue with an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. But if you want to have a successful online community, you need to step out from behind your role as company spokesperson/spin-doctor and actually talk to people. Talk to them like you talk to your friends. Be yourself.
This mentality — which represents a real paradigm shift, not just a buzzword — will be a subject of renewed focus at the conference this September. We’ll be talking about technology and numbers and ROI to be sure, but we’ll also be talking about the real power of social media: the people that use it.