Don’t Build a List, Build a Community

“Mom, Mikaela has Bieber Fever!” Connor yelled across the family room.

Without thinking I asked, “Is it contagious?”

Without missing a beat he said, “Not for me — but I think Delanie has caught it as well. Look in Mikaela’s room and see for yourself.”

The minute I entered the hallway and heard the angelic sounds of teen pop sensation Justin Bieber pleading with me to “never say never,” I knew exactly what Connor was talking about.

I opened the door to Mikaela’s bedroom and peered in. My beautiful five-year-old Delanie was dancing on her sister’s bed, a brush “microphone” in hand, singing every syllable along with Justin. And Mikaela — my soon-to-be-12-year-old — gazed into the mirror with a smile so big you could practically see her dreaming of becoming Mrs. Bieber.

As I stood there watching my girls, I counted no fewer than 57 pictures of JB around the room. Mikaela is not just on the list of Justin’s fans. She is part of the “I love Justin Bieber” community!

Later, reflecting on the experience, I could not help but note the correlation to business. In fact, Mikaela’s “Bieber Fever” reminded me of one of the biggest mistakes online businesses make.

Bigger Isn’t ALWAYS Better

  • “List Building on Steroids”
  • “Massive List Growth”
  • “Mega List Building”
  • “Build a List of 100,000 Names While You Sleep”

Statements like these are bandied about all the time in the Internet marketing world. But what the gurus doing the bandying often forget to tell you is that the number of names you have shouldn’t be your top priority.

The fact is, you can have a list of ten million names… but if they aren’t responding to your offers, they are worth nothing to you.

So how do you get your list to be responsive?

First of all, you need to stop seeing your list members as e-mail addresses… and realize that behind each name is a real live person.

Then you must focus your attention on engaging, enlightening, entertaining, and educating them.

When you manage to do all four, you’ll have the makings of a “community” that you can effectively market to — a group of like-minded people with similar challenges, wants, needs, likes, and dislikes.

Until you understand this, all the PPC ads, joint ventures, search engine marketing, media buys, direct-mail messages, banner ads, and dedicated e-mails in the world will not do you one bit of good.

The 10 Core Principles of Building a Community

1. Decide on Your Distribution Channel(s): Before people can join your community, they need to hear from you. You can create a blog, a newsletter, videos, webinars, teleconferences, and/or membership websites to get your message out to the people you are trying to connect with.

2. Give Value: Too many Internet entrepreneurs are afraid to give away valuable information. Instead, they give away useless fluff. Then they don’t understand why “their community” will not buy their products! Show that you are a “giver” first and the sales will follow.

3. Say It Loud/Say It Proud: When you communicate with your community, always take a stand. Don’t vacillate on issues. Make your heroes and enemies well-known.

4. Be Authentic: I know “authenticity” has become such a buzzword lately… but you have to be true to who you are. Don’t try to be your competitor, your best friend, or the person your mother wants you to be. Be you. If your message is not coming from your heart, your community will sense that you’re being insincere.

5. Create Disciples: A little TLC goes a long way. When you see someone in your community who needs special attention, give it to her. Over-deliver on EVERY promise you make. And always be willing to refund someone’s money — even if he asks for it after the “official” refund period has ended.

6. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Do not send any promotions or editorial content that you don’t believe in. Make sure you have checked out every product and person BEFORE you introduce them to your community.

7. Repetition: Communicating with your community once every four months just doesn’t cut it. I’m not saying you have to send them an e-newsletter every day. But keep in mind that the more value you give your community, the more committed to you they will be.

8. Walk the Walk: Your commitment to your community and your message should show with every step you take. Don’t say one thing and do another.

9. Perfection Is Overrated (and in most cases unobtainable): Don’t be afraid to show your flaws. We are all human. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Sometimes things don’t get done. Sometimes things fall through the cracks. Sometimes we make mistakes. When those things happen, don’t try to hide it. Explain… and move on.

10. Connect Others Freely: Two heads are better than one, and three are better than two. If you realize that one of your connections will make a huge difference in someone else’s life, make the introduction without expecting anything in return.

Adhere to these principles and you won’t just have a list of “names” to market to. You’ll have hordes of fans screaming to get their hands on everything you have to offer.

Seth Godin calls it a “tribe.” Dan Kennedy calls it a “herd.” I like the good old-fashioned term “community.” Whatever you chose to call it, realize how powerful it is to have this collective of like-minded people all devoted to YOU and YOUR message. Never forget that your group invests their time, money, and faith in you. A “list” of “e-mail addresses” can’t do that. But real live people can.

If you are ready to start building your community and you’re looking for specific, actionable advice from someone who has been successfully building communities for more than a quarter of a century (hint: me!)… , going on right now in beautiful Delray Beach. If you weren’t able to make it to the live event, you can still get the recordings — not just of me, but a dozen of my fellow expert marketers and business builders in action.

[Ed. Note: MaryEllen Tribby, ETR’s former publisher and CEO, followed her lifelong dream and started a new company, Working Moms Only, to help women balance work and family life. Keep an eye out for her columns in ETR on the challenges facing working moms, on marketing, business building, and more. And check out the Working Moms Only website and sign up for MaryEllen’s free e-letter, here. ]