4 Tips for Building Better Community

The day before my talk at the Erickson Barnett on building community I sat down to put together some speaking notes.  When I got up, I noticed that I had written around 5 or 6 pages and it all centered around 4 points.  Well tonight I wanted to sit down and polish the thoughts into something that I could share with all of you.

First off, while I have experienced and lived these four tips for many many years, there are three gentlemen which have done an amazing job at helping me to articulate them, Gary Vayernchuk, Saul Colt, and most of all my dad. So… these thoughts are by no means original but pieces that I have pulled down from my experiences of hanging out with people who are a lot smarter than myself.

So the four tips are…

  • Step away from your computer
  • Find someone who LOVES your product and company to lead your community
  • Find your community and get to know them personally
  • Make love to your users

Tip 1: Step away from your computer

Seems like whenever you talk to someone about community, the first thing that they do is bring up some social media tool… blogs, twitter, or social networks.  Well let me get it out here in the open.  Building community isn’t a tool.  It’s not a campaign.  It’s not a piece of technology

If you want to build community, the best thing I could tell you is to step away from your computer and take a breath.

Community starts with it being a value within your organization.  It’s gotta be a value that you’re going to love your users.

Back when cell phones were the new thing, a friend of ours from church Bill worked at the Verizon Wireless store.  Prior to meeting Bill, my thoughts on going to the cell phone store had been on par with going to a used car dealership.  Well,  Bill changed that.  He took care of us.  He loved us so much that when we went to Verizon one day and found out that he had left for AT&T across the street, we walked out and switched to AT&T.  We haven’t looked back since.

Now he’s the manager of the store at AT&T.  You can really get a sense of how service and loving your customers… loving your community is something that has radiated down from the top throughout his entire staff.  Now you can’t go in there with out seeing tons of customers.  I wonder why… Bill and his staff love their customers!

Tip 2: Find someone who LOVES your product and company to lead your community

If you want a community, you’re going to need someone to lead it.  You’ll need a person that’s going to help tie it all together.  In a smaller company, this may be the CEO or one of the founders.  As you grow, it’s good to hire someone for this.  Hire a Community Manager.

This is a tough job but you need them.  They’re going to be out there talking with the world.  They’re not necessarily selling  but they’re making friends and raising the overall presence and awareness of the company. They’re helping to resolve problems and answer questions.  They’re also their to help solicit and analyze feedback.  They have the finger on the tap of what folks are thinking, feeling, and saying.

If you’re going to find someone who can do this, you need to find someone who’s going to love your community and your company.  Probably some of the best advice I’ve heard around this is that you should hire your most passionate user.

The fact that I was passionate about Clearspring and the problem that they were solving helped me get my job.  And now that I have the job, being passionate about our mission and users, is what keeps me going when the Red Bull wears off.

Prior to Clearspring, I worked at the Library of Congress and was assigned to develop a widget strategy.  I saw all these potential problems and places we’d run into issues.  Then a co-worker showed me Clearspring.  I was blown away to the extent Clearspring had a solution which solved all of the problems I’d be battling with.  I was so impressed that I became quite the passionate user of Clearspring.  I told my friends.  Well this got noticed by folks at Clearspring and the rest is history.

Tip 3: Find your community and get to know them personally

So… now that community is a core value of your organization and you have someone who’s the face of your company and leading the charge of the movement your creating, you need to go out, find, and personally meet your community.

Now, this can take many forms.  It can be online but it can also be in person.

Probably, the easiest and cheapest thing you can do is go to something like a Twitter Search or a Google Blog Search, put in the keywords for your company or product, and see who’s talking about you.  Go to something like Alltop and figure who’s writing about the issues that pertain to your industry.

Before you put your fingers to the keys and start responding to what folks are saying, just listen.   Figure out who’s who.  What are their backgrounds?  What are their motivations?  Who are their friends?

Once you feel like you have a handle on the situation, start responding.  It doesn’t have to be anything special.  Just respond to things like if you were talking to the person over coffee.  Be yourself.

In addition to online interactions with your community, I think some of the even better interactions that you can have our offline, in person.  My guys (and girl 😉 ) at FreshBooks are the best at this.  When they travel to different cities, they dip into the registration database and figure out who’s there.   They then email those folks and ask them to dinner, which they pay for.  The dinner isn’t to pitch them on something.  It’s not to tell folks about new features.  It’s just to tell their customers thank and to meet their customers face to face.  It’s about forming a relationship.

I’ve forged so many amazing relationships with customers and folks in industry over drinks, coffee, or lunch that I’d never be able to do over e-mail, IM, or the phone.  If your company doesn’t travel much, I’d recommend taking a chunk out of your marketing budget and start pumping the pavement.  It’ll be the best investment.

Tip 4: Make love to your users

Recently in NYC, I heard my buddy Saul from FreshBooks give a talk about how you have to make love to your users.  What he means is that you have to show them that you love them.  You have to show your users that you want to be in a relationship with them where together you work to build the best product or experience possible.

A few weeks ago I heard my buddy Gary Vaynerchuk speak and he told about an experience which I think matches this perfectly.  Gary runs a wine store in New Jersey.  Once on the day before Thanksgiving, a customer rang him up and told him about how she hadn’t received her wine and if she didn’t have it her Thanksgiving would be ruined.  So, what did he do?  He drove it out to her.  Did he have to do that? No but he did it.  That’s loving your customers.

When you give and give to your users… as Kathy Sierra would say, when you help your users kick ass, thats when they become passionate about using your product.

The key is that most people forget is that you first have to give, give, and give some more if you want to be able to get something back from your users.

I think about all the times that I’ve gotten an e-mail from someone and you can hear the panic in the e-mail.  Something’s not working the way it’s supposed to and they’re supposed  to launch their widget tomorrow.  This is an amazing opportunity to really show love to your users.


So, you have to make community a value within your company.  Then you have to identify a passionate user who’s going to be the face of your company.  You have to meet your community and then love them like they’re guests in your house or even your own family.

What experiences have you had with companies that have acted this way?  Please share.

SGN Turns Your iPhone Into a Wiimote for your Computer

Ok… so I didn’t really get the SGN iGolf and iBowl games for the iPhone.  I don’t get why you’d just want to play an Wii-like game when the screen is only your iPhone which you’re swinging around.  Now the technology makes sense.

SGN has released iFun. With this, you can tether your iPhone or iPod Touch together with your computer.  The game is on your computer but you swing your iPhone like a golf club.   After you swing, you’ll see the result on the screen of your computer… the ball flying throug the air on the golf cours.e

This is really impressive.  I can see how things like iGolf and iBowl were kind of first order projects to get to the bigger project which is iFun.  I can see folks coming together, all bringing their iPhones, and playing golf together.

Check out their video:

This is one of the first cases where I’ve real innovation on the iPhone platform.  I hope we’ll see more soon.

Have you played iFun yet?  What do you think?  Also… what is the most innovative thing you’ve seen thus far for the iPhone?

Heh… anyone up for a golf game?

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Relaunches Give One Get One Program with Amazon.com

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know how passionate I am about the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program.  The notion of giving kids access to the tools and information they need to learn and create is so exciting.  OLPC does this through their inexpensive XO laptop.

Check out this AWESOME commerical they just launched for OLPC. It tells the story of a OLPC user Zimi.  SO cool.

Well, once again, you have the opportunity to give a child in another part of the world a laptop and change the world by unlocking the world for them.

OLPC has re-launched their Give One Get One program. This time they’re doing it through Amazon.com  You can just make a donation of a laptop for $199 or donate one and get one for yourself for $399.

So, what are you waiting for?  Make a donation NOW!

Update: Here’s the video of Zimi from YouTube.

Prolonged Radio Silence Can Kill Your Community; Will Barack Obama’s Community Lose Its Momentum?

I was in NYC on Election Night.  It was CRAZY.  Everywhere you could see that excitement that Barack Obama had been just elected the next President of the United States.

But no 10 days later… the buzz of victory is starting to wane.  People voted… they supported the movement of Barack Obama because they wanted to be part of this rush of change that was going hit both Washington, DC and the country.

It’s been 10 days of complete radio silence from President-Elect Barack Obama on Twitter and it seems like every other major social media communications mechanism.

The question is… how are they going to keep the momentum going? People don’t just want to see him on CNN.  They want to feel some type of personal connection.  That’s one reason why people use social media because it’s much more personal.

Now… the incoming administration has announced that they are going be posting his weekly addresses on YouTube, which is awesome!  But… what about the time between now and when he get’s inaugurated?

The next couple months is a long time to let your vast community to go stagnant.  Will people just move on to something else?

I’d take this as a lesson for those of you who have a large community that you want to keep engaged.  You have to be regular.  People are fickle.  They have short attention spans.  You don’t want them to engage with you and then at some point just go on to something else because there was too big of a break in the action.

Updated 2:14pm: Well, it looks like the transition is going to start posting the videos now and not wait till after January 20th.  The video really contains no substance whatsoever but that’s a different discussion entirely.

Thank You!

I know we all have incredibly busy lives.  Everywhich way you turn, there’s something that’s asking for your attention.

I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for inviting me into your life and being a part of my community.  It’s been a huge blessing to me.  You all have given me more then you can ever imagine.

If you’ve been reading the blog and we haven’t met or talked yet, speak up.  I’d love to meet you, chat or at the very least exchange e-mail.  Drop me a line – justin@ clearspring.com

Please Nominate Clearspring & AddThis for Mashable’s Open Web Awards

Can I ask you all a favor?  Would you please take 5 minutes and nominate Clearspring and AddThis for Mashable’s Open Web Awards?  You can do it through the widgets below.  All you have to do is put in your e-mail address in the widgets below and click on the link in the confirmation e-mail when you get it.  It’d help us a TON!

[clearspring_widget title=”Clearspring” wid=”4918b43816785512″ pid=”491c6dcc1bb49441″ width=”345″ height=”340″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

[clearspring_widget title=”AddThis” wid=”491b45acbc46b323″ pid=”491c6ea701f7a095″ width=”345″ height=”340″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Live Streaming Tomorrow’s Erickson Barnett Event on “Tips on Building Communities”

Tomorrow, I’m speaking at this Erickson Barnett event on “Tips on Building Communities.” I’m really excited about it.  There are a few spots left. So if you want to go, you still have a chance.

If you can’t make it or don’t live in the Washington DC area, they’re going to be live streaming the event on Ustream.tv.

At 8:30am tomorrow, go to the following URL – http://www.ustream.tv/channel/erickson-barnett