The Seven Principles of Community Building

One thing that was reaffirmed in BlogOrlando: Though technology continues to change, marketers need to change more. The keys to success don’t lie in technology, rather in the approach marketers take with the rapidly changing media forms. The focus needs to shift from controlling the message to serving the community.

shelskeynote This was clear throughout the day from Shel Israel and Chris Heuer’s keynotes through individual sessions on blogger relations (Tom Biro), business blogging (Dave Parmet), and communities (Jake McKee). Communications and PR is about building relationships with the community as a whole, and individual members.

After New Media Nouveux, I wrote Think Liquid, which was an overarching post addressing the future of social media. Within in it seven principles of community based marketing were outlined. Following BlogOrlando (photo from Sheryl Heyl’s Flickr collection), the principles referred to in the post seemed prescient. Marketers need to adapt community-based principles if they want to be successful. So here’s a recap and an expansion of these principles.

The Seven Principles

1) Do not try to control the message: Command and control is dead. Social media experts have been touting this for years now, but it still seems to be relevant issue. Though must folks out here get it, businesses are still struggling with relinquishing control. Let’s put it in the context of a relationship — which is the core of traditional PR and again, now with social media marketing.

Two-way communications are the heart of any relationship. Controlled relationships are considered dysfunctional on an individual basis, and from a large community standpoint, authoritative or dictatorships. Since social media is inherently two-way, a controlling entity that enters the community will be met with anger, distrust, and either rebellion or deaf ears.

2) Honesty, ethics and transparencies are musts: How can you have a relationship with one person or many if you don’t behave well? This isn’t about baring trade secrets or intellectual property. It’s about basic human relations, and creating a strong foundation for long-term, two-way mutually beneficial relationship. Think about the golden rule here.

3) Participation within the community is marketing (Heuer): Just creating content is not enough. That’s still a one-way mindset. Get out there into the customer’s realm. Comment and contribute to larger community groups and social networks. Read customer and related blogs (or vlogs and podcasts), and interact with the writers.

In short, your organization cannot become respected by the community unless it is actually part of the community. The Dell approach is a great example of this. Not only does Dell host blogs and community sites, it is actively engaging the community on its turf.

4) Communication to audiences is an out-dated 20th century concept (Rosen): An audience is a 20th century mass communications approach. Audiences receive one-way communications — movies, radio broadcasts, speeches, etc. Thanks to social media the audience talks back, forcing organizations to address them in a conversational, two-way manner.

Some people feel the difference between an audience and a community is splitting hairs. However, there is a tonal difference. One is command and control oriented, and the other engaging and community-based. The long-term results should be self-evident with a much more active discussion.

5) Build value for the community: This is a strategic principle. When looking to “market,” know your community. It is only by listening, reading and understanding them that you can serve them with valuable information. Building value for a community means a core decision to create content for them.

6) Inspire your community with real, exciting information, not corporate propaganda: Understand your community has problems, and you have some answers. Creating content for them does not mean give them a press release. It means give them Great Content, fight for their interest, and deliver great content that talks to them and their concerns. Don’t waste their time with BS product details, or an occasional press release, and instead remember that your job is to build intrinsic value.

7) Intelligently manage your media forms (RSS, frequency, etc.) to build a stronger, loyal community: Intelligently creating content to build a community means making it easy for community members to come back. Create calls to action, manage your RSS feeds intelligently, make them obvious and accessible. And don’t let them lie fallow. Create content on a schedule so readers’ expectations of regular updates are met.

Related Content:

Word of Mouth Marketing Association Code of Ethics



  • Geoff,

    Good post and a wonder primer and reminder for all of us. I agree: The tools are useful; great content is a must. I do have to think more about the nuance between community and audience. For now, the first sounds like social media jargon; the second like marketing jargon. But since we all understand that the latter doesn’t mean mass communications but instead relates to targeted communications, I think I prefer the old term. (By the way, just because we know what something means, doesn’t mean we practice it, and that is the real problem no matter which word we choose to use.)

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  • Great post … I particularly like points 5 and 6. It is easy to get caught up in recycling news or announcements without adding any real value to your community. And once that happens, the community dissipates rather quickly.

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  • Great article, very well said. The seven points are very clear and concise – I’m definitely going to pass along to a few folks :-)

  • Great article. I am a pastor at a large church and I oversee small groups with in the church and work on creating community in such a large church (8000+) I love these seven principles. How do you see these priniciples playing out in live social sectors such as churches and schools

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