Your Email List is NOT Your “Community”
Oh yeah, I said it.
And I’m thinking that comment may just get me some hate mail from bloggers or business folks who spend a lot of time engaging with the folks on their email list.
Buuuuut…hear me out on this one…
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a pretty big blogger. He was telling me a story about the readers of his blog and referred to them as his community. As soon as that one word was mentioned, my face got hot and I noticed I wasn’t listening to anything else he was saying.
All I could hear was my internal voice screaming…your blog readers do not constitute a community!
Now,I tend to have a pretty strong “whatever works for you” attitude about everything, but obviously, I had a very strong opinion about this.
So, I decided to write about it.
According to a simple Google search, a community is defined by the following:
And here’s another dictionary search…
You’ll notice the parts I’ve highlighted mention something similar…that community involves “living together,” or “living in the same place.”
It’s this little detail that I believe separates a true COMMUNITY from, let’s say, your “list” or your “following,” or your “fans.”
I believe a true community exists when interaction is possible between its members.
That’s the juice! That’s where all the dimension happens.
I have an email list. And I get so much pleasure out of the email replies I get back when I send out something that resonates. I appreciate and love that interaction.
And I have a Facebook page. And a personal Facebook profile. Both of which are extraordinary ways for me to connect with friends and fans.
But for the most part, these interactions are two dimensional. I talk to them. They talk back to me.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that.
But it’s not a community.
A community is when the 10 people who comment on my post on Facebook can exist in a place together that allows them to talk to each other. And not just within that post, but within a PLACE, a habitat that encourages this interaction.
A community is when those 10 people can talk to each other and get into conversations that don’t even include me!
I grew up in a small town in Arizona. Big Catholic family. We went to church every Sunday without fail. And our little mission we attended had a tremendous community.
During mass, the priest would speak to us as we participated in the deeply entrenched rituals. We would speak back to him when the time was appropriate to respond. And sometimes, as was part of the mass, we would shake hands and “give peace” to our fellow church-goers.
But then, mass would end and lots of hugs, pinched cheeks and kids running around would commence. I would find out how Nina Pat was doing, talk to the ladies making the pancakes and enjoy the homemade menudo with friends. This was when COMMUNITY was happening. This was where the community existed!
Community in the online world works the same way.
During one of my recent podcast interviews with Jamie Walker, Founder of Fit Approach, a community with over 4,000 members, we discuss how “community” has become a bit of a buzzword and what we think community really is. And we both agree…
A Community is not your email list. It is not your fan base. It is not your followers.
It’s when all those people get together!
A Community is dynamic.
A Community is an ever-evolving organism of like-minded people.
A Community can exist because of you, but will exist beyond you.
So how do you translate your followers into a true community in the online world?
1. Establish a Home:
One of the best places, in my humble opinion, to “house” your community is within a Facebook Group. It’s a free platform that allows people to join and begin interacting with each other. A forum. Information can be shared, ideas can be sourced and relationships can be made all within the virtual walls of a Facebook Group.
2. Invite Them:
The awesome folks who follow you, are on your email list and who are fans of yours are doing so because they value you. They love what you’re doing and they want to be kept in the loop! Just imagine if you told them you were going to have an open house at your home and you wanted them to stop by and hang. Of course they would come to spend some time with you! But just think of the additional value they would get meeting everyone else at the party! As the definitions above state, these folks have similar interests and characteristics, so of course they’re going to get along and like each other! How awesome would it be that YOU can be the one to provide the value of others to them?
3. Be There and Be Present:
If you’re the one hosting the party, you have to be there. Being active in a community forum like a Facebook Group depends on you being there and being present to what’s going on. What conversations are happening, “policing” so you can ensure that everyone has a good time and gets value out of being there and ultimately overseeing what’s going on.
4. Lead Them:
This looks different for every leader and for every community. In the Biz Women Rock community, I am a very hands-on leader. I’m in my group every day, I’m commenting, I’m posting, I’m connecting people. But in the Tampa Bay Business Owners, our local company’s group, me and my husband who run the membership organization are not nearly as active. The conversations are very member-driven. Both methods work, as will yours, whatever that needs to be to fulfill your community culture. Whatever that ends up being, it’s your job to be seen as the leader, to let your community know what’s going on, to look out for their best interests and to know what kind of dynamics are happening at “home.”
5. Be Ready for Constant Evolution:
Unlike an email list or a fan base, a community is dynamic (definition = characterized by constant change, activity or progress). And it’s dynamic because of the interaction, because people are existing in the same space. Anyone who has ever brought their fan base together for a conference or a concert can attest to this. So embrace the change and roll with it! This is not the place where posts can be automated all the time or you can always discuss only what you want to talk about. Because the group changes. The community evolves. They’re alive and that requires you to be plugged into that.
Should everyone who has an email list or a social media following establish their own community? No, I don’t think so. It’s an entirely different way to interact with your fan base that may not be needed (or wanted) by everyone.
Do I believe that you should give up emailing your list or drop your other social media activities and just focus on building out a Facebook Group or a community forum of some kind? Absolutely not!! Those are all massively important ways for you and your brand to continue growing!
Do I think building community is one of the most powerful ways to deepen your brand and ultimately, your ability to make a massive impact on the people who love you and what you’re doing? Damn right I do.
This is paradigm-shifting stuff. This is the next evolution of social media and online interaction.
This is you leading a group of people who believe in what you’re doing, can congregate in a safe space around that idea and can be inspired and given the tools to do whatever it is they’re inspired by you – and others in the group – to do. This is a revolution, baby.