Reach Outside Your Fishbowl to Build Community

new crowd

Friend and blog community member Ed Shaz asked me why I thought my post about the magazine designers all using the plus (+) symbol was worth a digg request. I responded back that he certainly didn’t have to Digg it if he didn’t like it, and that led Ed to ask me why I bothered wasting a Digg request (which is sometimes viewed as offensive by a community) on such a post (which means that I presume Ed found my 24 pictures of magazines to be less developed than my typical post).

All this to tell you that finding new and engaging community members doesn’t come from sitting on your blog and writing great posts. It takes outreach, and it takes attempts to find disparate audiences that wouldn’t normally slip in to see what you’re doing.

Put another way, I know most of the social media types. I’ve had beer or coffee with most of them. They know I’m here. But maybe with that post, I might find a designer or two, or I’ll find someone who was intrigued by the observation at all (did YOU know all those plus signs were everywhere before my post?).

5 Ways to Find Community Members From Outside Your Fishbowl

  1. Go to Alltop and search some categories not related to yours. Read three to five blog posts on someone new’s blog, and then leave a pertinent comment or two. Subscribe to their blog via RSS feed and get to know them. Over time, your comments (if pertinent and left without spammy promotion of your site) will encourage a reciprocal visit or two or three. (I never said this was a quick fix).
  2. Go to Delicious and search for topics that are just outside your blog’s main subject, or that are at perhaps tangential. Do the same thing as step 1.
  3. Write posts about an industry vertical using your blog’s perspective instead of just writing about your main focus. If you’re writing a running blog, write a post like “Top 5 Runner-Friendly Companies in Seattle” or if you’re a food videoblogger, shoot an episode called “Election Day Dinners.” In these cases, make sure you’re using tagging and that you’ve claimed your blog in a search site like Technorati.
  4. Make the occasional dip into social bookmarking promotion. For my magazine design post, I actually dared to be a bit over-the-top and dugg, stumbled, reddit-ed (?), and put it up on Facebook. That’s the first time I’ve done that kind of thing in several months. Why bother (as Ed asked me)? Because I wanted outside-of-the-fishbowlers to come and see if what I was doing here stuck.
  5. Encourage the occasional guest post. Partly because I’m on deadline to finish a book, and partly because I feel that guest posts are a great way to raise awareness of other great bloggers (hat tip Louis Gray for that idea), I like to encourage guest posts. The side effect of doing this, however, is that THEIR audience will come and see their post, provided the guest author points them to it. Voila, instant new friends (potentially).

One key warning is that you have to try hard not to come off as spammy in these efforts. If you burn social capital to get a few more people into your community, what good is that? Ask yourself seriously whether you’re being humble and honest about your requess, and make extra effort to promote others unbidden during this same time. (I call this karma.)

It’s nice to grow organically, and your community deserves that. Dropping off a few hundred new RSS subscribers who haven’t been around, and aren’t regulars like Sue Murphy, Ginakay Landis, Ed Shaz, Steve Garfield, Zena Weist, etc, might be a bit jarring to the community.

One last thing: if you’re going to bother to try and build community, do ask them to stick around.

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Did That Explain Things Better, Ed?

And everyone else?

Photo Credit Phille Casablanca

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  • http://jburg.typepad.com/future jon burg

    Love the post, but have you written anything on “why you need to look beyond your own fishbowl”, highlight the positive aspects of diversity, or fresh perspective, of inspiration, insight etc?

    Because if these are not the benefits of looking outside the fishbowl, and one is blogging for a targeted reader, why SHOULD they look to grow a community that is not in sync with their brand? I don’t want my vacuum cleaner doubling as a showerhead… ever!

  • http://jburg.typepad.com/future jon burg

    Love the post, but have you written anything on “why you need to look beyond your own fishbowl”, highlight the positive aspects of diversity, or fresh perspective, of inspiration, insight etc?

    Because if these are not the benefits of looking outside the fishbowl, and one is blogging for a targeted reader, why SHOULD they look to grow a community that is not in sync with their brand? I don’t want my vacuum cleaner doubling as a showerhead… ever!

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Super great point, Jon, and I guess it depends on the blog. Mine’s mostly an idea center, so I’m here to give ideas. I count amongst my inner circle of friends a preacher, a small business expert / liquor store owner / cattle rancher, a former bouncer, a ninja, and a secret entrepreneur.

    I guess I never thought people wouldn’t find diversity useful.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Super great point, Jon, and I guess it depends on the blog. Mine’s mostly an idea center, so I’m here to give ideas. I count amongst my inner circle of friends a preacher, a small business expert / liquor store owner / cattle rancher, a former bouncer, a ninja, and a secret entrepreneur.

    I guess I never thought people wouldn’t find diversity useful.

  • http://www.debrareneebrown.com Deb Brown

    If you’re going to spread your love around – you will run into people like me. Smart, funny, but not hip to everything you are. I’d kill for a ‘beginners’ section, or referrals/links or something that can bring me up to speed about your universe!

    I think it’s important to: be well versed, follow side markets, and invite more people into your world. So I agree with your latest post.

    Thanks Chris.

  • http://www.debrareneebrown.com Deb Brown

    If you’re going to spread your love around – you will run into people like me. Smart, funny, but not hip to everything you are. I’d kill for a ‘beginners’ section, or referrals/links or something that can bring me up to speed about your universe!

    I think it’s important to: be well versed, follow side markets, and invite more people into your world. So I agree with your latest post.

    Thanks Chris.

  • http://www.greenlifesmartlifeblog.com Kimberly Lancaster

    When you haven’t even established your fishbowl it’s even harder to generate a community or bring a developed community into yor bowl. I feel like I am drowning at times trying to post and follow comments on topics as they relate to green and technology. I realize it is a slow process but it is hard to stick with when you question the rewards.

  • http://www.greenlifesmartlifeblog.com Kimberly Lancaster

    When you haven’t even established your fishbowl it’s even harder to generate a community or bring a developed community into yor bowl. I feel like I am drowning at times trying to post and follow comments on topics as they relate to green and technology. I realize it is a slow process but it is hard to stick with when you question the rewards.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Kimberly – I found your fishbowl: http://green.alltop.com/ . That’s where your other community members are. Spend your time hanging out on some of those blogs, making friends with people in the comments section, and it will come around to help your site out all the more.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Kimberly – I found your fishbowl: http://green.alltop.com/ . That’s where your other community members are. Spend your time hanging out on some of those blogs, making friends with people in the comments section, and it will come around to help your site out all the more.

  • http://robertworstell.com Robert_Worstell

    Diversity is the spice of life. It factually is how we keep learning – and perhaps why. Otherwise, we would simply be satisfied with the same ballgame being played over and over every Friday night, beverage in hand. Factory and cubicle life for all of us, doing the same thing over and over and over.

    Besides – maybe my fishbowl is more interesting than yours. Cows do in fact seek greener grass on the other side of that fence, not just because it’s taller – but because it has something that they are missing in the grass they’re eating: fact.

  • http://robertworstell.com Robert Worstell

    Diversity is the spice of life. It factually is how we keep learning – and perhaps why. Otherwise, we would simply be satisfied with the same ballgame being played over and over every Friday night, beverage in hand. Factory and cubicle life for all of us, doing the same thing over and over and over.

    Besides – maybe my fishbowl is more interesting than yours. Cows do in fact seek greener grass on the other side of that fence, not just because it’s taller – but because it has something that they are missing in the grass they’re eating: fact.

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    There’s a whole other caboodle that you didn’t mention, Chris. I can count on many fingers people who either I found or who found me, not from my blog or theirs but from a third party’s blog.

    For instance, I sometimes write comments on news sites like Mashable and ReadWriteWeb, let alone this or that smaller blog, and I’ve frequently received blog comments of my own, let alone direct email or Twitter messages, that stemmed directly from those third-party comments.

    I enjoyed reading the rest.

    As an aside, I love your inner circle example, Chris, of a secret entrepreneur. Does that mean he or she develops secrets or you can’t name names? *grin*

  • http://www.ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    There’s a whole other caboodle that you didn’t mention, Chris. I can count on many fingers people who either I found or who found me, not from my blog or theirs but from a third party’s blog.

    For instance, I sometimes write comments on news sites like Mashable and ReadWriteWeb, let alone this or that smaller blog, and I’ve frequently received blog comments of my own, let alone direct email or Twitter messages, that stemmed directly from those third-party comments.

    I enjoyed reading the rest.

    As an aside, I love your inner circle example, Chris, of a secret entrepreneur. Does that mean he or she develops secrets or you can’t name names? *grin*

  • http://Twitter.com/Ed Ed

    Wow.
    I wasn’t downing you Chris,
    I was looking out for you in private
    by trying to provoke the thought “If Ed’s thinking this, maybe others are too”.
    It served me personally in no way.
    Just trying to proffer an everyman reaction, because that’s what I’m good at, and you deserved my time.

    “…and that led Ed to ask me why I bothered wasting a Digg request”
    I never said you “wasted” a digg request.

    I didn’t understand all of what you’ve now clarified with dm’s, and this additional, appending post.
    Hindsight robs us of remembering accurately, what was
    understandable at a previous point in time.

    I respect that it’s rare for you to ask for a post to be shared through social media like digg.
    I share your stuff regularly, without petition, and
    take the time to do so thoughtfully
    {there is a big difference between someone sharing your posts a lot, and sharing them well.
    There are huge implications in ‘how’}

    It was appropriate timing to request that your existing readers point to you, out in the larger community,
    when yet another window shade has been pulled
    up at CB. But that only made sense to me after learning the trajectory you were on; hence my confusion, (there was no reticence to digg it as I trusted the value of your point before it was fully evident to me; we have to assume there are quality thoughts we as individuals don’t always grasp. That’s safe when the author is a trust agent.

    “Chris Brogan:
    There are many days when you will find critics, especially if your stage is well lit. Learn what you can from them, but stay focused.”
    from TweetDeck

    Chris my stick was for pointing out, not stirring.
    By all means, help your readers to ditch the fishbowl for an ocean.

    I was telling people the equivalent to
    ‘think outside the box’
    long before people had ever heard that phrase.

    I also counsel friends not to let negative
    voices derail them.

    Of course there’s a place for varied readers and voices
    here. That’s WHY the LONG TAIL WORKS.
    Which hopefully translates to even more quality
    thought exchange, and even prosperity for all
    as a result.

    Back to my focus:
    how I was giving a shit about you;

    But even trust agents need trust agents.
    Once respect of another’s voice is established,
    we can hear their thoughts as healthy considerations
    for us which our singular brains hadn’t had the time
    to get to, [let alone that we can't think it all ourselves].

    A trust agent then, is the same paradigm we’re all
    engaging every day; collaborative networking 2.0,
    but distilled down to a concentrate of creative
    wisdom we can trust at the speed of common sense.

    There is a difference between a thoughtful friend
    offering observations, and a serial negative spectrum critic distracting us from ulterior prejudice.

    I apologize for distracting you, and acknowledge
    that you didn’t ask for my advice on this.

    Respectfully,
    Ed

  • http://Twitter.com/NextInstinct Ed Shaz/NextInstinct

    Wow.
    I wasn’t downing you Chris,
    I was looking out for you in private
    by trying to provoke the thought “If Ed’s thinking this, maybe others are too”.
    It served me personally in no way.
    Just trying to proffer an everyman reaction, because that’s what I’m good at, and you deserved my time.

    “…and that led Ed to ask me why I bothered wasting a Digg request”
    I never said you “wasted” a digg request.

    I didn’t understand all of what you’ve now clarified with dm’s, and this additional, appending post.
    Hindsight robs us of remembering accurately, what was
    understandable at a previous point in time.

    I respect that it’s rare for you to ask for a post to be shared through social media like digg.
    I share your stuff regularly, without petition, and
    take the time to do so thoughtfully
    {there is a big difference between someone sharing your posts a lot, and sharing them well.
    There are huge implications in ‘how’}

    It was appropriate timing to request that your existing readers point to you, out in the larger community,
    when yet another window shade has been pulled
    up at CB. But that only made sense to me after learning the trajectory you were on; hence my confusion, (there was no reticence to digg it as I trusted the value of your point before it was fully evident to me; we have to assume there are quality thoughts we as individuals don’t always grasp. That’s safe when the author is a trust agent.

    “Chris Brogan:
    There are many days when you will find critics, especially if your stage is well lit. Learn what you can from them, but stay focused.”
    from TweetDeck

    Chris my stick was for pointing out, not stirring.
    By all means, help your readers to ditch the fishbowl for an ocean.

    I was telling people the equivalent to
    ‘think outside the box’
    long before people had ever heard that phrase.

    I also counsel friends not to let negative
    voices derail them.

    Of course there’s a place for varied readers and voices
    here. That’s WHY the LONG TAIL WORKS.
    Which hopefully translates to even more quality
    thought exchange, and even prosperity for all
    as a result.

    Back to my focus:
    how I was giving a shit about you;

    But even trust agents need trust agents.
    Once respect of another’s voice is established,
    we can hear their thoughts as healthy considerations
    for us which our singular brains hadn’t had the time
    to get to, [let alone that we can't think it all ourselves].

    A trust agent then, is the same paradigm we’re all
    engaging every day; collaborative networking 2.0,
    but distilled down to a concentrate of creative
    wisdom we can trust at the speed of common sense.

    There is a difference between a thoughtful friend
    offering observations, and a serial negative spectrum critic distracting us from ulterior prejudice.

    I apologize for distracting you, and acknowledge
    that you didn’t ask for my advice on this.

    Respectfully,
    Ed

  • http://resilienceatwork.blogspot.com Susan Kuhn

    I like your thought process of targeting “lateral” communities, e.g., designers, who are relevant to your core tribe. That is different from a beginner like me, who hasn’t yet found her tribe. Your strategy, though not articulated, was implicit + resonant + consistent on several levels; a master at work! You have even connected yourself to the + key! Every time I look + see it I remember your post!

  • http://resilienceatwork.blogspot.com Susan Kuhn

    I like your thought process of targeting “lateral” communities, e.g., designers, who are relevant to your core tribe. That is different from a beginner like me, who hasn’t yet found her tribe. Your strategy, though not articulated, was implicit + resonant + consistent on several levels; a master at work! You have even connected yourself to the + key! Every time I look + see it I remember your post!

  • http://personalbrandingblog.wordpress.com Dan Schawbel

    This can be very challenging Chris, especially if you don’t have any ideas for discussion. I think it depends how far out you reach. If you write a automobile blog and are reaching out to a veterinarian blog, things might get pretty cumbersome. If the blog outside of your current expertise is somewhat related, then it’s much easier.

  • http://personalbrandingblog.wordpress.com Dan Schawbel

    This can be very challenging Chris, especially if you don’t have any ideas for discussion. I think it depends how far out you reach. If you write a automobile blog and are reaching out to a veterinarian blog, things might get pretty cumbersome. If the blog outside of your current expertise is somewhat related, then it’s much easier.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Ed – I didn’t take it negatively. I took it as a way to learn. You had ideas that sparked my ideas and I posted. The reason I mentioned you in specific in my blog post (which clearly offended you) was that I’m grateful to have people like you who make me think.

    I think this is a “lost in translation” moment between us, as I’m not upset with what you said to me, nor was this post in any way an attack.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    @Ed – I didn’t take it negatively. I took it as a way to learn. You had ideas that sparked my ideas and I posted. The reason I mentioned you in specific in my blog post (which clearly offended you) was that I’m grateful to have people like you who make me think.

    I think this is a “lost in translation” moment between us, as I’m not upset with what you said to me, nor was this post in any way an attack.

  • http://www.edtechpower.blogspot.com Liz Davis

    Great post! I’ve just shared it with my network: http://edtechpower.blogspot.com/

    You are outside of my fishbowl and I really appreciate what you have to say. As an educator interested in social media, my lenses are often focused primarily on teaching and learning. However, I always find I can learn so much by reaching outside of my small universe. Thanks for the great suggestions on how to do it better.
    -Liz

  • http://www.edtechpower.blogspot.com Liz Davis

    Great post! I’ve just shared it with my network: http://edtechpower.blogspot.com/

    You are outside of my fishbowl and I really appreciate what you have to say. As an educator interested in social media, my lenses are often focused primarily on teaching and learning. However, I always find I can learn so much by reaching outside of my small universe. Thanks for the great suggestions on how to do it better.
    -Liz

  • http://www.louisgray.com/live/ Louis Gray

    Benefits of guest bloggers (or additional authors, period) are many:

    1) Highlights a new person and their site
    2) New articles and content on your site
    3) More chances for SEO, external linkage to your site
    4) More chances for social bookmark activity to your site
    5) They do their best work for you and try extra-hard so the quality is great
    6) They tend to engage with the comments judiciously
    7) They may link back to you to highlight their guest posts

  • http://www.louisgray.com/live/ Louis Gray

    Benefits of guest bloggers (or additional authors, period) are many:

    1) Highlights a new person and their site
    2) New articles and content on your site
    3) More chances for SEO, external linkage to your site
    4) More chances for social bookmark activity to your site
    5) They do their best work for you and try extra-hard so the quality is great
    6) They tend to engage with the comments judiciously
    7) They may link back to you to highlight their guest posts

  • http://resilienceatwork.blogspot.com Susan Kuhn

    Two additional thoughts:

    I am new; finding my voice through both inner writing work and social networking. Working at it from both sides. I think it is working. I feel inner clarity emerging + am gaining followers (@350 and grader score of 94 after @7 weeks at it). ALSO: Here’s a brand new way to identify tribe on twitter: visit http://twurl.nl/qoiwpx + search for keywords related (or closely related)to your topic;results come up in order of grader score.

  • http://resilienceatwork.blogspot.com Susan Kuhn

    Two additional thoughts:

    I am new; finding my voice through both inner writing work and social networking. Working at it from both sides. I think it is working. I feel inner clarity emerging + am gaining followers (@350 and grader score of 94 after @7 weeks at it). ALSO: Here’s a brand new way to identify tribe on twitter: visit http://twurl.nl/qoiwpx + search for keywords related (or closely related)to your topic;results come up in order of grader score.

  • http://www.sonnygill.com Sonny Gill

    Good points, Chris.

    Biggest word there is reciprocal. Making the effort and actually caring about a person’s post/blog goes a long way. Albeit online, you’re able to realize who is being real and who isn’t, which allows you to reciprocate some of those sentiments to the people who do care.

  • http://www.sonnygill.com Sonny Gill

    Good points, Chris.

    Biggest word there is reciprocal. Making the effort and actually caring about a person’s post/blog goes a long way. Albeit online, you’re able to realize who is being real and who isn’t, which allows you to reciprocate some of those sentiments to the people who do care.

  • http://www.spokane.wsu.edu Barb Chamberlain

    This is good advice for someone promoting a blog specifically. It would be great to see how the concepts extend or evolve if you substitute words like product, service or company for “blog”, where social media is not almost in and of itself the product, both means and end.

    You talk about reaching outside one’s typical circles to engage new audiences. The funny part for me on the magazine design piece happened when I wanted to share it with 3 designers I know, two of whom work on magazines.

    There is no way on your site to email the link directly to them, at least not that I could find after careful scanning in search of something labeled “Email to a friend!”.

    So the most direct social media of all–my personal recommendation of the content, to someone I know well and who is hand-picked as a receptive audience–is not one click away for me on the site.

    I’m working right now to spread the word about an idea submittal to Google Foundation’s Project 10tothe100th focused on what we’re doing in the health sciences at Washington State University Spokane, where I work. The most basic thing of all, while time-consuming, will probably produce the most results: going through my contact list and sending people emails.

    This isn’t spam to every single person. It’s more like what I did in sending the mag design link to designers: choosing people who will be interested because they’re my friends, because they support WSU, because they’re involved in health care, because they’re plugged into what’s happening in Spokane.

    I also applied the principle of getting outside the fishbowl, in choosing some people I don’t know as well (still with my criteria in mind so the email isn’t viewed as spam), in hopes that the ripples go off in a variety of directions to which I don’t have direct access.

    One of your tweets sent me to Shannon Paul’s item on a related topic that others may find of interest for its illustration of the ripple effect: http://veryofficialblog.com/2008/10/24/leverage-existing-social-networks-or-find-an-influencer-to-do-it-for-you/

    On your mag design piece, if you’d asked people to send the link to 3 people they know who would find it interesting, I wonder how many readers/subscribers you would have picked up?

    Another thing I like about the email-a-friend request is that what you’re asking them to do is to add value to an existing relationship, vs. asking them to do something for your blog directly (although I didn’t mind the request at all).

    @BarbChamberlain
    http://www.spokane.wsu.edu

    (If you’re interested in our Google Fndn idea, see the video at http://twurl.cc/6gx. There are links there to more detailed info.)

  • http://www.spokane.wsu.edu Barb Chamberlain

    This is good advice for someone promoting a blog specifically. It would be great to see how the concepts extend or evolve if you substitute words like product, service or company for “blog”, where social media is not almost in and of itself the product, both means and end.

    You talk about reaching outside one’s typical circles to engage new audiences. The funny part for me on the magazine design piece happened when I wanted to share it with 3 designers I know, two of whom work on magazines.

    There is no way on your site to email the link directly to them, at least not that I could find after careful scanning in search of something labeled “Email to a friend!”.

    So the most direct social media of all–my personal recommendation of the content, to someone I know well and who is hand-picked as a receptive audience–is not one click away for me on the site.

    I’m working right now to spread the word about an idea submittal to Google Foundation’s Project 10tothe100th focused on what we’re doing in the health sciences at Washington State University Spokane, where I work. The most basic thing of all, while time-consuming, will probably produce the most results: going through my contact list and sending people emails.

    This isn’t spam to every single person. It’s more like what I did in sending the mag design link to designers: choosing people who will be interested because they’re my friends, because they support WSU, because they’re involved in health care, because they’re plugged into what’s happening in Spokane.

    I also applied the principle of getting outside the fishbowl, in choosing some people I don’t know as well (still with my criteria in mind so the email isn’t viewed as spam), in hopes that the ripples go off in a variety of directions to which I don’t have direct access.

    One of your tweets sent me to Shannon Paul’s item on a related topic that others may find of interest for its illustration of the ripple effect: http://veryofficialblog.com/2008/10/24/leverage-existing-social-networks-or-find-an-influencer-to-do-it-for-you/

    On your mag design piece, if you’d asked people to send the link to 3 people they know who would find it interesting, I wonder how many readers/subscribers you would have picked up?

    Another thing I like about the email-a-friend request is that what you’re asking them to do is to add value to an existing relationship, vs. asking them to do something for your blog directly (although I didn’t mind the request at all).

    @BarbChamberlain
    http://www.spokane.wsu.edu

    (If you’re interested in our Google Fndn idea, see the video at http://twurl.cc/6gx. There are links there to more detailed info.)

  • http://www.iowaavenue.com LisaNewton

    I have so many people within my fish bowl, sometimes it seems a little overwhelming. However, I also wear many hats, from marketer to start-up to social community manager, so your post is enlightening.

    Could you expound a little more on this?

    “One last thing: if you’re going to bother to try and build community, do ask them to stick around.”

  • http://www.iowaavenue.com LisaNewton

    I have so many people within my fish bowl, sometimes it seems a little overwhelming. However, I also wear many hats, from marketer to start-up to social community manager, so your post is enlightening.

    Could you expound a little more on this?

    “One last thing: if you’re going to bother to try and build community, do ask them to stick around.”

  • michael

    I’m a new feed-subscriber.

    I found the observation intriguing, but maybe that’s just my personality. I have seen it in the past (Paste Nov’08 is sitting next me, with a +), but had never stopped to look at how wide-spread the practice was.

  • michael

    I’m a new feed-subscriber.

    I found the observation intriguing, but maybe that’s just my personality. I have seen it in the past (Paste Nov’08 is sitting next me, with a +), but had never stopped to look at how wide-spread the practice was.

  • http://www.freefor15.com freefor15

    I am doing my market research for my new blog and website I will be branding and loving your info

    hopefully one day I can be as influential and inspiring as you

  • http://www.freefor15.com freefor15

    I am doing my market research for my new blog and website I will be branding and loving your info

    hopefully one day I can be as influential and inspiring as you

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