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What better way to ring MLK Day 2011 then to talk about building community. Now community building comes in lots of shapes and sizes. It can be your neighborhood, a city, state and even a website. This post translates some the ideas of community building and outreach in real life and applies them to the web. The fact of the matter is, it doesn't really matter where you are. If people are gathering together to share a common interest or goal then my amazing readership - you are participating in a community. If you are working on a website, blog or even a neighborhood watch group take these little thought nuggets and try to apply them to what you are working on. You'll be pretty happy with what you find!
Here at Financially Digital, I can honestly say that I am feverishly trying to build a community around my blog. I'm not ashamed to say that I am constantly striving to be bigger and to increase the distance my digital voice carries in the financial blogosphere. I want to spread financial awareness and provide readers with a means to living a healthy financial lifestyle, it's what I'm passionate about. I know that I can't do it alone. The idea here today is to explore building your digital presence as building a community. Even at his worst Julius Caesar was beloved by the lower and middle class communities of the Roman Empire which was, demographically, almost all of it.
In the traditional sense and as a planner, creating a community around a cause isn't something that is foreign to me. Success of a digital community can be gauged by basically the three standards I would use to help foster a physical community: the strength of your belief system, engagement, and emulating the cultural identity.
1.) Strength of your belief system - Whether it’s a blog or an e-storefront your values should show through with absolute transparency. One of my beliefs is that I will always provide the highest quality of financial and business coaching knowledge. If your consumers (of product or information) can't identify with why you are doing what you are doing then why should they spend any time there. The key is providing a real value. It will be easy to spot those that have no integrity in their belief systems because we do it every day. How many Twitter spammers do you see trying to sell you something? I bet you wouldn't follow the link of a person or company that you didn't relate to on some level. My challenge to you is to revisit your belief system and if you don't have one sit down and really think about what you are passionate about and how you are going to handle keeping yourself accountable.
2.) Engagement - So you have your little piece of the interweb. Now how are you going to get people to see what you've done with it? When you do, how are you going to get them to stay? If this were an actual neighborhood what kind of community would it be if no one mowed their lawn or came out to visit, not really a community at all. It's human nature to want to belong to something and to belong. The better you present your community as a place where people can speak out, be heard, and be valued for their ideas greater the ownership impact. At the heart of it, successful engagement can be determined by the depth of the relationships within it. Building a digital community is the fostering of these relationships and the common thread holding everyone together is the wanton desire to share information so that others in the community can learn and grow from it.
3.) Cultural Identity - After you establish a belief system then hold yourself accountable to it and after your patrons begin to engage, there is one more piece to building your community. That is the development of its cultural identity. This concept is more than just the engagement of your patrons; they are now identifying themselves with your brand. An example of this would be Apple and its world of all things Mac. People start to identify with what being an Apple user means and the status that goes along with it. It's a brand that has a very specific way that it does business, through the development of apps people have a chance to take ownership (outside of consuming) in the brand and create an individual identity from it. Think of all the forums, blogs, and support websites that exist for Apple; if you are having trouble just throw something Apple related into Google and see what happens. This is what you are aspiring to create when building your empire, or at least this is what I'm shooting for. Having people identify with the culture of your empire transcends place, gender, race, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. People are coming back for the experience not just to see the next post that you put up or the latest sale items.
Those are the big three in building a community online in my opinion. I'm working everyday towards creating a culture that people can identify with and be proud of. There's no cheating your way around building a community which is why I like to identify with it. What you say, how you act, and what you produce all have an effect on the community you're building and how responsive the members of it are. If this inspires one blogger or internet marketer out there to challenge their beliefs system and work harder to carry on with a greater sense of integrity then this was a mission well done.