Community Only Means Something If You Keep It Warm

Chris Brogan and Dan Heath at IMS11

When Switch came out, I promoted the heck out of it, because I loved it. I got a nice little note from Chip and Dan Heath calling me the “mini Oprah.” A year or so later, I finally get the chance to meet Dan Heath, and of course, he remembers me because of this experience, and he kinda knows my name from around. At this moment, if I reached out with a reasonable request to Dan, he would probably give it some consideration because we only saw each other a few weeks ago. In a few months, that relationship will be a bit colder, simply because time has passed and it’s easier to lose that warmth between each other.

By contrast, I haven’t talked much with Keith Ferrazzi or Tom Peters lately. It would be a bit more work for me to feel like I could ask them for any kind of help. I’ve done some teleseminar stuff with Keith before, and I’ve met Tom once and been one of his “cool friends” before, but I would feel like we hadn’t really connected lately enough to do something without my warming that relationship up.

Community Only Means Something If You Keep It Warm

I received a letter from a woman asking me how best to use her LinkedIn profile to find her work. The question was interesting, because it sounded like she felt that the tool itself would help her get a job. No, that’s not the point. The point is that you’ve built a network where you can stay “warm” by contributing to the conversations and interrelationships of others in between your times of need, and often, so that you can be of service to them.

If Christopher S Penn or Julien Smith or Mitch Joel or C.C. Chapman or Whitney Hoffman ask me for something, I’ll do it right away. We stay fairly well connected. (There are hundreds of people in that list, but let’s not go crazy). You have a bunch of other names in your list. Maybe some of them aren’t even “real” friends, but you’ve had such a back and forth that you feel like you can ask something of them. That’s the goal.

Your own community is this, if you’ve done it right. Your blog, your email list, your Twitter stream, your whatever. It matters that you comment on their stuff. It matters that you notice when they get a promotion or change roles. It all matters. This is what makes it community. This isn’t really hard, but it takes work.

Smart Business People Know the Value of Communities

A few days ago, I attended an event for the automotive services industry (parts, body, service, etc) based on the ASRW, NACE, CARS associations event. I was fortunate enough to speak about the kinds of things I tend to speak about, but before I went up on stage, the great presidents of these associations talked about the importance of relationships, the value of listening, the warmth of tradition and heritage around their organizations. And for the first time in a long time at an event like this, I felt it. I felt like they meant it. Everywhere I went, people were eager to learn from each other, smiling and slapping each other’s backs, and excited to put in the work it requires to develop their businesses to the next level.

Most times, people hire me to talk about social media tech, but I end up talking about human business and how to amplify relationships. In this case, more than most, I felt like these people already understood the importance of their community (both their colleagues at this event as well as their customers), and so I talked more about the nuts and bolts of social media software. It felt wonderful, and I enjoyed the heck out of my time.

Keep Your Community Warm

If you’re not sure what to do in this regard, here’s a simple list:

  • Keep a list of people you’d like to connect with weekly (or even more often).
  • Contact them that often.
  • Talk about them. Ask about them. Comment about their posts or tweets or whatever.
  • Ask only 1/5 (maybe even 1/10) of the time for something for you. GIVE to them 4/5 or 9/10 of the time. Give what? NEVER ask them what. Just give what you think will help most, even if that’s just support.
  • Always keep your circle open, so that you can grow, and invite others into the experience. Closed circles only grow smaller.
  • Keep this passionate, not mechanical. It will always smell like it when you have to force this.
  • Be helpful, in every way you can conceive.

Is Community Valuable?

Community, that real sense of community, where people feel like they’re connected for some warm reason or another, is much more valuable than cash. You can find cash. You can’t find warm bodies who want to help, who genuinely want you to succeed. Those, you have to earn.

And every time you feel you’re slipping, you probably are. Spend a little more time nurturing your relationships. It definitely helps. Though, let me offer you a quick warning: If you spend ALL your time building community, that doesn’t pay any bills. If you think of community as a bunch of people gathered around a campfire, you have to remember that your business is the wood you gather to place on that fire to keep it roaring. No work, no community.

So warm it up, friends. Because that’s what you were born to do.

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