The Challenge that is Building a True Online Community

by Marcus Sheridan

It’s about 1am and my eyes are starting to water. Furthermore, my brain is essentially a wasteland of disorder. Yep, it’s time for bed, but before that, a few quick thoughts on this thing we call “building an online community.”

A Simple Offer

You see, about a week ago I decided to send out an email to my TSL newsletter subscribers (read it here). The subject of the newsletter was focused on the continual problem I see with business blogs and their extreme failure to use proper and effective blog titles to get maximum results.

After I discussed this critical strategy with readers, I decided to make an offer—something I only do on occasion but is 1000x better than playing around on Facebook or watching my Twitter stream when it comes to truly understanding the community of readers and businesses that comprise The Sales Lion.

The offer, in short, was this: If any readers had not experienced exceptional growth and results on their company blog, then they could send me the URL(web address) and I would take a look and offer feedback (via email) as to what I could see they were doing wrong…..FREE.

I wasn’t sure how many folks would respond to my request, but I knew it would be worth it—for a variety of reasons—most of which I’ll soon explain.

The Results

Within 30 minutes of hitting “publish” on the post, over 100 responses had come in. Over the next few hours, another 100 or so arrived as well.

Yes, I had bitten off more than I could chew.

Today, 8 days and many hours later, I’m just finishing up on the final 10% or so that I’ve yet to respond to.

Some folks would look at this and call so much time spent giving away “free” advice to my community of readers a stupid thing to do.

But for me, the value of this little offer has been profound, and I’ve listed the benefits here:

1. I have seen a mountain of repetitive mistakes businesses are making with their blogs. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to be writing about each in depth.

2. I’ve had at least 75 back and forth conversations with readers I’d never previously chatted with. Many expressed incredible testimonials of how my eBook or how the content herein has changed their life and business. All these interactions, as you might imagine, have been profoundly rewarding.

3. I now see very clearly the types of businesses that are reading my blog and newsletter, as well as the types that are not—thus showing me some gaps I need to fill.

4. More than ever I have my finger on the pulse of this industry on a global level. Instead of being the guru that talks about this stuff but has literally lost touch with the real world, I’m getting a tremendous feel for the best and worst business blogs have to offer.

5. My tribe of loyal friends and supporters continues to grow– something that is critical if I’m ever going to get where I want to be.

It Ain’t Easy

You may have noticed I didn’t mention anything about attaining new clients from this little adventure. Well, the truth is, I did obtain new clients as a result of this, but that’s not why I spent 20+ hours looking at all these blogs. It was much deeper than cash rewards.

My point in saying all this is that “building a community” online doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s not easy.

It doesn’t come from automation, expensive tools, or new mission statements.

And it certainly doesn’t occur by having a few “like” or “tweet” buttons on the side of a blog post.

Nope, it has much more depth than that, which is also why few businesses and blogs are ever able to achieve it.

Your Turn

In your opinion, what’s the hardest aspect to building an online community if you’re a business? Also, can you think of a company, large or small, that does this well? As always, your thoughts matter, so don’t hesitate to leave them below.

 

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Ross Walker September 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Mark,

You asked “hardest aspect to building an online community if you’re a business?”

I would say building that first level of followers / friends / fans (FFF) . The first 20-50 is easy with employees and family. I think the hardest (maybe because I am not kwon for patience) is from 50 – 200. After that I feel like the snowball really gets rolling, but that first nudge is rough.

Thanks again for the great blog/podcasts.

Ross

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 10:18 am

Ross, love your point here and it’s spot on, and something many bloggers never quite understand.

Appreciate it bud, and keep pushing…

Marcus

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Mitch Mitchell September 20, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Good stuff Marcus.

It’s interesting when I think about it. I have 5 blogs, but only one has developed into much of a community. The one blog I’d always hoped would build into a community is one I’ve been writing for 7 years, and I think the subject is one that many people probably can’t relate to. And that’s okay because I have gotten some business from it here and there, but I always thought that maybe that one would work well for whatever reason.

NO problems though; one out of five isn’t all bad. lol

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

Nope 1 out of 5 ain’t bad at all my friend!!!

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Jason Diller September 20, 2012 at 10:23 pm

That’s a lot of site audits.

—————————-
“””5. My tribe of loyal friends and supporters continues to grow– something that is critical if I’m ever going to get where I want to be.”””
—————————-

Dude, you’re already where you want to be, aren’t you? If I told you two years ago when we first spoke that you would be doing what you’re doing…you would have been pumped! Goals change I guess…

I’m trying to get to where you were 6 months ago.

Must.

Keep.

Blogging.

Hope all is well my friend. :)

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 10:02 am

Good question brother. Honestly , I’m not there yet because I guess w growth one’s vision is expanded…and the potential within seems greater than ever.

Dude, we need to have a chat soon…I’d really like that.

Marcus

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Ryan Biddulph September 21, 2012 at 12:57 am

Hit the cyber pavement hard. Build a community by engaging and detaching from outcomes. Thanks for sharing your prospering experience Marcus.

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 9:58 am

I’ll like how you put that Ryan–detaching from outcomes.

Yep, that’s exactly it.

Appreciate it brother!

Marcus

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Matthew Stock September 21, 2012 at 12:58 am

I think building a community is somewhat overrated for a brick and mortar industry like basement waterproofing. I’ve seen an explosion of traffic, but only a few comments per blog. Doesn’t look like River Pools is much different.

Now for internet marketing companies like TSL and my new venture, I do see some value. But it seems that most of these communities consist of other internet marketers. They don’t pay the bills. Customers do. IMHO I think the best way to reach them is thru targeted niche blogs, like mine below.

Am I missing something here? Does more comments = community building?

Isn’t building a paying client list priority #1 counselor?

One of us needs to catch up on sleep, just not sure who!

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 9:57 am

To answer your question Matt, you may want to consider how you and I met and what made you decide to contact me in the first place. To me, you were a part of the community, but the hidden one.

In fact, that’s where your email list becomes so important. These 200+ email responses were all businesses. Some were ideal clients, some were not. Either way, they fall in the silent community that doesn’t comment, but does sit back, read, and react. Both parties have value, no question.

As for River Pools, yes, few comments indeed. But thousands of readers. So again, it’s there, just behind the curtains.

Make sense?

Marcus

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Danny @ Firepole Marketing September 21, 2012 at 9:09 am

Amen, Marcus.

I hear all the time that it’s “too much to give away for free”, but you and I both know that this is exactly the fuel that drives our businesses – both the relationships with our audiences, and our own awareness and understanding of what they actually need.

So yes, absolutely – this was a golden experience to have gone through, even if it was a bit exhausting (I can imagine!) – well done! :)

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 9:53 am

Danny, great seeing you brother and I hope you’re well.

You’ve been a phenominal example to me Danny of someone that is willing to pay the price and time towards establishing those relationships.

Appreciate you man,

Marcus

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Laura Foley September 21, 2012 at 9:15 am

The most difficult thing for me is that as a sole proprietor it’s very hard for me to fit all of my social interaction, admin, prospecting, and actual work in the span of my day. I know I need to blog more and I keep on plugging away at it. But hey, if you can do it with four kids, a whirlwind schedule, and your paying gigs then I can do it with two kids and no travel plans in the immediate future. If only I could learn to be productive at 1:00 am like you are…

Thanks for all you do and all you give back to the community.

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 9:51 am

Everyone is different Laura, and I think if you’re pushing yourself hard, but maintaining the right balance, then that’s great. But as for late nights…try the elliptical then writing technique ;-)

Have a great day,

Marcus

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Ryan Hanley September 21, 2012 at 9:17 am

It ain’t easy bein’ greasy homey…

If you want to dent the world you have to be willing to do things that others see as pointless, fruitless, purposeless, or valueless when you know in your heart you’re making a difference.

I have a feeling you’re not going to leave a dent in this world Marcus. You’re going to reshape it…

…and it’s amazing to watch.

Keep it up dude.

Hanley

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 9:49 am

You’re incredibly kind to my Hanley. Seriously man, thank you for that….and if I can live up to a smidge of what you’ve said I’ll be doing alright ;-)

cheers brother,

Marcus

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Linda September 21, 2012 at 9:19 am

Good afternoon, Mr Sheridan.

I sincerely hope your brain is feeling better :)

What I can’t figure out is how I managed to miss the newsletter with the invitation on!
Is there somewhere that I should have signed up for it, but haven’t. Point me there now, please, Sir!

For me the hardest part of building an on-line presence is – like many people – getting readers. But maybe the fruits of your research will enlighten me on where I’m going wrong and why I’m unable to generate any interest. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have identified.

Kind regards,
L

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 9:48 am

Hi Linda! And thanks for stopping by. To subscribe to the newsletter, just go to the ebook form/page and enter your email, and you’ll be added to the list, which only goes out once every two weeks.

I’ll take a look at your blog but make sure you read the newsletter (link found in this article) about titles, because I’m pretty sure you’re like most in making that mistake.

Talk soon,

Marcus

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Linda September 21, 2012 at 10:35 am

Thank you, Sir.
You are most kind and indeed I’ll have a look now at the link.

L x

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Linda September 21, 2012 at 10:51 am

Hmm… it says I’m already subscribed. Must have been on autopilot delete when the newsletter came through! Too many 1:00 am finishes and 4:00am starts!

L :(

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Harriet Cabelly September 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

Hi Marcus,

Can I still take part in your offer of looking at my site and getting some feedback? I’m blogging for almost 2 years with very little growth. I recently did an ‘updo’ to my site. I post once or twice a week and do interesting monthly interviews which I love. Not sure what I’m not doing to continuously keep getting the same lack of engagement.
If it’s too late for your offer, I totally understand. I hadn’t seen the newsletter offer till your post today.
All the best in your continued success and tremendous impact you’re making.

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 9:44 am

Sure thing Harriet. Give me a day or two and I’ll let you know. And thanks so much for stopping by :-)

Marcus

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Harriet Cabelly September 21, 2012 at 11:02 am

Really appreciate it. Thank you for your time.

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Ben September 21, 2012 at 10:00 am

Great article as always Marcus!

I feel networking is a critical factor for growing a community. It’s easy to become “selfish” when owning a blog. Getting jealous when people comment on other blogs and not their own. But the fact is, you have to be apart of communities that are not your own in order to grow yours.

From your own experiences you know exactly what I’m talking about right!

Well written Marcus!

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 10:29 am

No question Ben. It’s pretty hard to be a social recluse and build a vibrant community. Good stuff bud!
Marcus

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Deb Prewitt September 21, 2012 at 10:00 am

I have an on-line business http://www.bluetwigstudio.com and 2 blogs, one connected to the business and one more personal that I had before I started the business. They are both quite small blogs and I am slowly growing them. I know it takes time for most of us. My biggest problem is getting more comments and engagement on the blogs. People will tell me they read my blog and like it, but I get few comments. Sigh!

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Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

I understand Deb, I do. Btw, have you read my post on getting comments? It’s shown in the popular post sidebar and you might find it helpful.

But keep in mind too that comments don’t necessarily equate to blogging or business success, and I’ve met many bloggers who had many comments but a failing business at the same time.

Good luck!

Marcus

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Jeevan Jacob John September 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

The hardest part, Marcus?

Oh, yes.

The hardest part is when we realize that community building is not really about us, when we realize (And act upon that) that community building is about spending time with your readers and building relationships with them.

Sure, in the short term, it may not add up to much, but in the long term, it all adds up.

The relationships.

The trust we gain.

And the satisfaction we get – by helping others.

Oh, I wish that every company realizes this and acts upon it (then again, if that happens, the competition will get more fierce :D).

It’s a great thing you did there, Marcus (I am just sad that I missed out, anyways good :D).

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Ruth Zive September 21, 2012 at 11:49 am

Well Marcus, I’m not surprised at the outpouring of interest – your feedback and insights are top notch. And what your experiment proves is that blogging and social media is ultimately about building relationships, engaging your stakeholders and solving their problems. I suppose that overlooking this is the #1 mistake that business make with their blogging and social media efforts.

Great to be back visiting – lots of changes over at my site/business….check it out!

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steve werner September 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I am going to go with getting readers and fierce competition.

I feel like I write some pretty compelling stuff.

I might have to become more of a problem solver than story teller

thanks

sw

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Margaret Adams September 21, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I’m one of the newsletter subscribers who took advantage of Marcus’s offer. Thank you again for your observations.

It’s so useful having a different pair of eyes looking at one’s site. It’s even more useful when the person is an expert in the field of content marketing.

Great offer! Thanks again.

MA (One website has already been changed; I’m mapping out the changes for the second.)

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Gordon Robinson September 21, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Hi Marcus,
I am just starting out buiding my site – I promised myself I would write a new blog each day on a topic related to online business or something related to making money online and starting a business from home. Thats were I am headed.

I have written about 60 blog posts to date and have had a few visitors but not a huge amount of engagement!

Any advise for a newbie blogger on what to expect …. I have read through your posts … must say I have aspirations on your site ;-)

Thanks for all your great info!!

Gordon
http://www.workwithgordon.com/blogging/

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Caleb September 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Marcus – I just came to your blog from…gosh, I already forgot where! Reading your background about moving from a service business to online parallels my journey, even down to using Hubspot.

The point in your blog is great. Reminding managers of my businesses to continually engage their customers from different approaches is both my largest challenge (delegation) and the best way to build a loyal customer base.

Wonderful offer (free) as a call to action to unstick some people from seats!

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Jordan J. Caron September 22, 2012 at 3:09 am

For me the hard part is trying to stay focused on one task or method for growing my community at a time. To my own fault I overloaded myself with content and knowledge the last 12 months. During this span I’ve followed 12 different marketing & blogging blogs and read over 15 books.

As Chip and Dan Heath say, the curse of knowledge has gotten me! I have so many different ideas but not enough focus to implement them. Although I’ve never been great at sticking with something for long and executing a plan.

Another thing that is a challenge for me is not getting discouraged. Writing what I think is great content on golf and seeing little traffic improvement and very few email sign ups can hurt.

However I’m just a blogger trying to push my “brand”. No product or service to sell yet. I do plan to monetize with a golf coaching program which I want to roll out by January.

I know it’s all about pushing through and staying up beat. A few months back I remember Chris Brogan did a post about his rise. He said it took him close to 8 years to receive his first 100 subscribers.

Marcus,

Thanks as always for your work and thoughtful posts. I’ve cut my following back to just two people and you are one of them.

Cheers!

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Wade Balsdon September 22, 2012 at 6:55 am

I must echo Ryan’s sentiments. I was excited to recieve your feedback regarding my site Marcus. I was talking about you to my wife this morning just saying how I like your style, integrity and confidence. You keep inspiring me. Thanks a ton.

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Ralph September 22, 2012 at 10:32 am

Hey Marcus,
I am one of those guys you replied to and thanks for your feedback. I am not a business but I may want to be at some point so building a community now is very important to me for the future.

Practical, realistic and relevant content is what I get over here and the solid advice in the form of real experience goes a long, long way.

Keep on keepin’ on, sir.

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Joyce September 25, 2012 at 4:38 am

Having church teams work together on some smaller projects like the ones listed here will strengthen your church and prepare your church teams to handle tougher projects, such as helping the community rebuild after a natural disaster.

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Anton Koekemoer September 25, 2012 at 6:45 am

Hi Marcus,

Personally – Building a network is easy when using spammy techniques etc. – But the quality of the community will suffer and won’t be targeted – Building a legitimate network with authoritative users that actually offers value in terms of relationship and engagement is a whole different type of ball game. Keeping the user interested is also something that has be worked on and takes a lot of time. Great post – Thanks for sharing the valuable insights.

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Jon Birdsong September 27, 2012 at 11:23 am

Marcus,

Just checking in. Last time we talked, I downloaded your book and read it. There was some awesome info in there and tons of new strategies I’m using. Also, talked to Dharmesh of Hubspot about how awesome your book is at Dreamforce.

Keep writing, I’m loving everything.

Best,
Jon Birdsong

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Sanjib Saha September 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Hi Marcus,

Never build a community with some immediate ulterior motives. You may succeed initially but will lose out in the long run. This method will never help you in building relations among the community.

Regards,
Sanjib Saha

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Cliff Pollan September 30, 2012 at 6:30 am

Marcus – Great post. You are a great example that building community takes passion and a real desire to learn, share and teach. Those need to be #1. The outcome is that business will grow.

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Marcus Sheridan October 1, 2012 at 9:08 am

Appreciate that Cliff :-)

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Bill Layton September 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Hi Marcus, and great post! I have two clients I am helping with community building right now. The toughest is in an industry where use of the internet is pretty variable and probably mostly via Mobile Phone. We’ve been mulling a survey of the industry locally but stalling out on how to hit it…

Thanks!

Reply

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