The simple secret to building community


Originally published in the Human Business Works Newsletter. Subscribe here.

audience or communityEarlier this month, I wrote a post about Audience, Access, and Advertising on my blog.

I pointed out that the first two, Audience and Access, were two dials on the new machine of building your business, and that advertising was no longer the first and primary effective tool for this for most of us.

Let’s dig just a bit deeper on how to go about building value for an audience and work on how providing access to your customers and prospects helps business.

Audience and It’s Secret Better Half 

To gain attention for whatever you seek to accomplish, you might have the goal to build an audience.

When we talk about audience, they might gather for you in many ways. You might be growing an email newsletter, or you might have a blog, or maybe you have a radio show, or a TV show. You want to attract people to whatever it is you have to say, so that you can then encourage them, educate them, convince them, sell to them, whatever that goal might be.

How do you get them there?

Audience building is one part self-promotion, one part creating useful and/or entertaining content (and we can interpret this one very widely), one part repetition (for getting an audience together once is rarely a win for anyone), and then we come to the parts that aren’t as often a guarantee.

1. Interaction

If you interact with people, they respond much better. No matter what your method of delivering a message (playing guitar, juggling, writing a blog, interpretive dance), the audience reacts much more powerfully when they feel that you’re talking WITH them, not AT them.

How do you do this?

I’ve seen performers in Cirque du Soleil do it with nothing more than an eyebrow wiggle. Just SEE them. And in the digital sense, that might mean commenting back to their comments, it might mean writing back when you get an email. But make as much of your “act” two-way as possible.

2. Inclusion

People love to participate, if they feel like a participant and not a lesser underling. Lose the word “fan.” If you want people to make video remixes for your song, call them “directors and movie producers.”

Grant them the respect their participation deserves. If you have people reading and replying to your blog, call them your colleagues or your allies. They are not your fans. And lose “you guys.” Never, EVER, EVER! say “you guys” again.

Say we.

3. Empowerment

The ultimate in audience magic is to give people the power to run off and do their own thing based on how you helped them. The difference between a company that shows me how amazing their barbecue grill is versus a company that teaches me how to make spiral cut hotdogs for my next cookout is vast. Don’t you think?

Now, for one last little secret.

IF you want the most powerful kind of audience, work to make them a community.

How? One hint: you can be the “leader” or the “firestarter” of the community, but if you don’t empower others to run it themselves as well, it won’t get there.

People love to feel like they belong. Help with that one note and you’ll see growth.

Access – The Biggest Difference

In no universe should I be able to reach out to and speak with Sir Richard Branson. I shouldn’t have been one of two interviews granted by Steven Pressfield. I shouldn’t have been able to meet Fritz Henderson and hang out for a half hour with the (at the time) Chairman of General Motors.

But in this new world, the people who are succeeding are those who understand and make use of access.

And you MUST think about this in two directions:

  • Gaining access to others
  • Granting of access to those who want to reach you

Tips for gaining access

  1. No matter your need, access works much better if it benefits the person granting it. Branson wanted exposure for his new book. Pressfield wanted me to help spread the word that he doesn’t do interviews for his nonfiction books. Henderson wanted to understand listening technology for GM. Consider that in how you approach someone.
  2. Access is a game of brevity. Asking a complete stranger to dinner is a 2 hour experience rarely works, unless said stranger is completely unbooked. Asking someone to coffee or beer is 10-20 minutes and you hear yes more often.
  3. Access granted via a third party (I introduce you to Branson, for instance) is only the toe-in-the-door. You still have to do all the other work.
  4. Access for your own gain rarely works well. Do much more for the other person. Seek help once for every 3-4 times helping others.
  5. Manners, manners, manners. Use your “thank you” powers after access, and not to spam someone with your dumb business needs.
  6. Finally, remember that you are every bit as important as the person you’re meeting. Never treat them like a deity. The richest and most successful people in the world are still people, complete with fears and idiosyncrasies.

Tips for when people want access to you

Note that this sounds a bit grumpy and a bit protective. It is. I’ve put this together through years of learning, and by learning, I mean, by years of painful mistakes.

  1. Be a strong gatekeeper. If you can’t spare the access, politely decline. If you can accomplish something via email, do that instead of phone. If you can do something by phone, do that instead of meeting in person. Your time is gold. You can feel guilty all you want. It doesn’t return your time.
  2. If someone requests something unreasonable, deny the request. Politely. But do so. Flat out ignore absolutely stupid requests.
  3. Remember that sucking up to the big guys gets you nowhere. Growing the next generation gets you an army.
  4. Access doesn’t mean letting your sycophants fawn over you. It means being accessible to help others. Never ask for anything in return for this help, either. Give freely where you can. It comes back.
  5. Your encouragement is copper. Your advice is silver. Your understanding and actually being present is gold.
  6. If you’re granting access, turn off all outside distractions. If a billionaire who owns an island can stay present with me during my interview, you can deal without your phone for 15 minutes.

There’s So Much More 

I’ll stop for now, but I hope this was useful to consider. If you want homework (Julien is really into giving homework), I’d recommend you do the following:

  1. Write down a list of 3 people you want to connect with in the next 3 months. Start the process of finding a connection to them and practice the above.
  2. Find a way to help 3 people by granting them access. Practice the above tips.
  3. Commit to interacting more with people online, be that on your blog, on their Facebook wall, etc. See what happens differently than when you lurk.
  4. Find ways to include others in your plans, not because it helps you, but because you can empower THEM.
  5. Write down what the community you’d want to belong to (or ONE of them – we all belong to many) would look like.

What do you think? Are you game?



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