I was asked to give a keynote address on the subject of creating a community of fanatics. At the same time, Danny Iny asked me to write a guest chapter for his then upcoming book, Engagement From Scratch.
So here it is, unabridged and uncensored, the chapter from Engagement From Scratch entitled How To Create a Community of Fanatics.
Wheels Before the Car
This topic feels very alive and in-the-moment for me, simple because I’m in the midst of trying to manage a community of fanatics and I feel very much like a driver of a car with one missing wheel, speeding down the highway at 100 miles per hour.
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But it didn’t start that way.
The community of fanatics wasn’t supposed to be a community at all. But it turned into one…how?
Looking back, there are few fundamental principles that anyone could apply to their product, cause, brand, personality, etc. that if the right conditions are met, you just might end up with a community of fanatics.
Why would you want to?
Why would you want to create a community of fanatics in the first place? Here’s why.
- Those fanatically engaged members of your community are the ones that will market for you while you sleep.
- They will field technical questions from other members.
- They will fulfill your help-desk tickets.
- They will recruit other’s to do the same.
- They will…they will do all this for free.
It’s easy to stop there and see the benefit of getting others to do your work for free, but let’s follow this concept to its logical conclusion.
If someone is evangelizing on your behalf for free, that means they are not doing it for money. And if they are not doing it for money, they WHY are they doing it?
The answer is, they are doing it because they are passionate about you, your product, brand, cause, etc.
And when someone talks about you passionately and with enthusiasm, that enthusiasm acts as a cotangent and it infects everyone within an earshot.
This kind of enthusiasm CAN NOT be bought with money.
But if you follow the fundamental principles laid out before you, you just might get it for free.
It all starts with intention. It all starts with your intention, but not the intention to create a community.
You can’t spark a community by wanting to spark a community no more than you could start a fire by wanting to start a fire.
When Dan Cristo and I started Triberr -which turned into an amazing community of bloggers and is the reason Danny asked me to contribute to his book- we didn’t start Triberr because we wanted to start a community.
Community simply emerged.
What we did do, is we set out to solve the biggest problem 99% of bloggers have.
How do I get more eyeballs on my content?
That was the intention behind Triberr. No more, no less.
Currently recommended methods are bullshit.
- SEO takes too long by which time most bloggers have given up.
- Guest posting is a thankless, slave-like endeavor with no immediate payoff and requires prolonged and concentrated effort to yield minimal results.
Triberr works immediately and almost effortlessly.
Not only that, but it is the engine which allows you to cement your core inner-group of allies whilst building an audience of your own.
New bloggers who have had no traffic will jump to thousands of hits per post immediately after joining Triberr.
Since Triberr has opened its doors in March of 2011, we have sent 1 million blog posts, written by 10s of thousands of bloggers, and shared them via 10 million tweets, that were seen by billions of targeted eyeballs.
These numbers do not include shares done via Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, and StumbleUpon.
So, the first lesson in building a community of fanatics is to create a new, effective, unique and original solution that solves a real pain-point for your target demographic.
Which brings me to the second recommendation, and that is…
2. Know your audience
I’m a blogger solving my own problem.
There is an old marketing exercise where the goal is to create a customer avatar. This avatar is assigned gender, age, race, socio-economic status, locale, even name.
The point of this is to get into the mind of the customer in order to understand his/ her pain points, desires, passions, fears, etc.
When I conceived of Triberr, I also conceived of the ideal Triberr customer. Me.
Triberr is a free service, so, “customer” is the wrong word to use when describing Triberr community, but we’ll use it as a catch-all phrase. Moving on…
The avatar I created for Triberr is named Dino Dogan.
- He is a blogger.
- He is a good blogger who has had a hard time getting his content disseminated far and wide.
- I understand Dino’s fears.
- His frustrations.
- His pain-points.
- His passion.
- His desires.
And we’ve made Triberr to solve Dino’s problems.
Turns out, there are a lot of Dinos out there.
When we implement features for Triberr, we are simply solving our own problems. Both Dan and I are bloggers and we understand the blogger’s mind.
Which leads me to the next point, and that is…
3. Be a human
No one wants to interact with a brand, a logo, a picture of your dog, a cartoon, or worse.
Communities are people. And people want to interact with other people.
So, let’s cover some basics.
- Use your own picture (face, not a distant shot of you skydiving)
- Use your real name.
Using your real name has much deeper implications, but using your real, full name simply means you’re standing behind your words and actions.
Also, check your intentions.
Whenever communicating with anyone at any time, this is a good thing to do.
- Why are you saying what you’re saying?
- To sound cool?
- To cover up your mistake?
- To tell someone how much they suck and how right you are?
These are all bad intentions.
But if you’re intention is to be helpful with no expectation of outcome then those are some good intentions, my friend.
In short, a community will expect a certain level of service from a real human. Be that human.
Which brings me to the Customer Service part of the equation.
4. Customer Service
First, I have to thank the airline industry, telephone industry, and banking industry, for taking the customer service expectations down to a virtual zero.
Because of them, you get points just for showing up and being human (see point number 3).
I discovered a funny thing about customer service while working on Triberr.
- People don’t want to be lectured at.
- They don’t want to be told what they could/ should have done.
- They don’t want to be treated like a task on your list.
What they do want is this.
- They want to be acknowledged immediately. You don’t have to solve their issue right away, but they do want to know you’ve received their email and are working on it.
- They want to be treated like a human being, and not like a number.
- They want their issue fixed. That’s the bottom line. And the only thing that will fix their issue is if the issue goes away and everything goes back to being right.
This means you’ll be doing a lot of work. Which brings me to point number 5.
5. Have Fun
There is a lot of hidden meaning in that phrase, “have fun”.
First, it means that community building will be a lot of work. And work is –by definition- NOT fun.
The only thing that makes work fun is if it gives us some meaning beyond the daily grind. And meaning is a hard thing to come by, especially if you’re doing work for someone else.
If you’re working for someone else, you are carrying out someone else’s mission. For this, you will receive compensation.
You get compensated because you are giving up a mission of your own.
As it stands, you may not even realize that there is a mission crouching somewhere deep inside you just waiting to burst out.
You should find this mission and let it come out. Only then will work have meaning and it just might become fun as well.
Also, this applies to the community members.
Your community should have fun participating in that community. Why should it be a grind?
To accomplish this, Triberr uses many principles taken from game mechanics and psychology. For example.
Every member has a Tribal Stream which shows posts published by everyone in your tribal network. You can vote (thumbs up/down) on posts in this stream and if you do, you just might win a Bone. (this feature is no longer available but many like it are)
What kind of game mechanics is this?
Well, first, since the Tribal Stream is ephemeral (posts come and go) this gives an incentive for users to come back and check their stream several times a day.
This is one of the reasons why Triberr has catapulted itself to number 1,509 most visited US websites in few short months and climbing (based on Alexa info).
The voting system uses the same gambling mechanics as a slot machine. You don’t win a Bone every time you vote. That would become boring and monotonous and not fun very quickly.
Instead, you may win a Bone or two for every 5-15 votes you give. It’s randomized using a fancy algorithm and the voting has become a game all in itself as soon as we deployed it.
Being a member of community should be fun for all, otherwise, it’s work, and work sucks.
Positioning is shorthand. It’s an easy and quick way for me to figure out what you are or are not.
Think 7-Up’s marketing campaign when they used the slogan “7-Up. The Un-Cola”. You immediately know what 7-Up isn’t, which helps you figure out what 7-Up is.
David and Goliath is a very popular and powerful positioning strategy. Even now as you’re reading this, you probably pictured David (the small guy) fighting Goliath (the big guy) in your mind.
In fact, even though I wrote “David AND Goliath”, you probably didn’t picture David walking hand-in-hand with his best friend, Goliath. Instead, you pictured a conflict between David and Goliath.
That’s how powerful that small-guy vs. big-guy positioning is.
Speaking of Bible (David and Goliath is a story from the Old Testament), the entire God vs. Devil, the good vs. evil, is a story of Positioning.
The positioning story of Triberr?
1% of superstar bloggers receive 99% of the attention.
And attention = traffic. Attention = book deals. Attention = speaking engagements. Attention = business opportunities. Attention = money.
Superstar bloggers however, are not producing superstar content. Their content is safe, it’s boring, it’s rehashed, it’s stale and regurgitated.
Meanwhile, there are amazing small bloggers producing incredible content and no one is reading it.
Triberr’s mission is to bring eyeballs to that content.
I don’t think superstar bloggers and Goliath-sized media channels deserve the amount of attention they get.
Small bloggers are infinitely more creative and interesting.
That is the Positioning story of Triberr.
What Internet has done to democratize information, Triberr is doing to democratize attention.
I left out one enormously important component from this list. What is it?