Does Community Live on a Spectrum?

This is post #5 in my 365 Day Writing Challenge. Want to follow along? Subscribe here.


The word community is thrown around a lot.  If you ask 100 people what community is you’ll likely get 100 different answers.

In the context of business the term community is used a lot to describe a lot of things. I’ve talked many times about the difference between an audience and a community. I’m often the first to call someone out when I feel they’re calling something a community that isn’t.

Where the lines get blurry is when you have a group of people who are interacting on an ongoing basis, but aren’t really forming any relationships, a sense of belonging or a sense of identity.

Without these things, is a group truly a community? A lot of people try to draw a line in the sand and see it as a yes or no situation. I myself have looked at it as black and white many times.

But maybe that’s not right. Maybe it isn’t such a clear distinction.

Maybe Community Lives on a Spectrum

If that’s true, it’s less about what is or isn’t a community and more about the level of community that a group is experiencing.

Consider a few scenarios:

  • Say you have a group of people who have a common interest but aren’t interacting, forming relationships, feeling a sense of belonging and have no shared identity as part of the group, then it is a weak community.
  • Say you have a group of people who have a common interest and are interacting and helping each other, but the community feels purely transactional and there’s little sense of belonging and identity, perhaps it’s still a community, just not a very strong one. 
  • Say you have a group of people who do feel a sense of belonging and shared identity, and are clearly exhibiting all the elements of a sense of community, then you have a strong community.

Let’s Look at it in the Business Context

There are a lot of companies who use the word community in many different ways. We often tell them they’re wrong, that what they have isn’t community at all. But maybe they do have a community, it’s just a really weak one.

Let’s take a few scenarios again:

  • Say you have a blog and newsletter with a lot of followers but none of those people are interacting with each other or feeling a sense of belonging. You have a very weak community. 
  • Say you have a support form where members are actively helping each other and answering questions, but they don’t really feel a strong sense of belonging or identity, then the community is mainly transactional. It’s a weak community. Still a community, just not a super strong one.
  • Say you have a group of customers who regularly meet up with each other for events, who identity as a member of the group or as a lover of the brand and who feel a strong sense of belonging amongst the group. You have a strong community.

Inactive vs Transactional vs Emotional 

If I could simplify the spectrum into three distinct, this would be it.

1. Inactive: No interaction, only consuming (aka an audience)

2. Transactional: Interaction for extrinsic value

3. Emotional: Interaction for intrinsic value

If you have a lot of people listening to you but they aren’t interacting with each other at all, what you have is an inactive community. The good news is, communities are built on trust and influence, and if they’re listening to you that means they have some level of trust. So this can be the start of a community.

There are a lot of business support forums, groups and events that are much more transactional than emotional. The members are there mostly to get the value they need, like an answer to a question or an introduction, and then they leave. They don’t form any bonds with other members.

That’s okay! It’s still super valuable and can create a lot of value for both members and the company.

The thing is they typically aren’t very sustainable, take a lot of facilitation and the value stops at the extrinsic level. Members haven’t adopted a social identity, so they won’t be motivated to improve or grow the community.

Then there are some businesses who have been able to built a community on the emotional level. In this case, members are getting the transactional, or extrinsic value, but they’re also getting something much more valuable, a strong sense of belonging.

It’s these communities that can last for decades. It’s these communities that make people not just like a brand, not just love a brand but actually integrate the brand into their identity.

In any strong, truly successful community, you’ll see that value exchange. There are the common examples of this like Apple and Harley Davidson whose success can largely be attributed to their ability to form a sense of identity around their brand and mission. There are also less talked about examples like Yelp, who formed the Yelp Elite to unite and reward their most loyal contributors. The core members of Reddit identify so strongly with the community that they’ve stuck around for years and there’s an extreme emotional reaction when the culture is threatened.

Here’s another mind blower…

Every Healthy Community Usually Has all Three Levels!

There’s almost always a core group of people who feel a strong sense of belonging and are highly committed to the community. Then there’s a middle layer of people who are participating and may feel like they’re a part of the group, but not as strongly. Then there’s an outside layer of people who are just consuming, not really participating and are largely inactive.

And they’re all part of the process. You need to get people to listen to you in order for them to know about the community in the first place. Then you need transactional, or extrinsic value, to convince them to join. And only after they’ve joined can they start to form a sense of shared identity and feel a sense of belonging.

To visualize it, every community looks something like this.

Should the ultimate goal for every business be to build a community that reaches the emotional level? I’m not sure. I think a lot will strop at the transactional level and be happy with that. But they’re missing out on a lot of value.

The Two Questions to Answer Before Building a Community for your Business

This is post #4 in my 365 Writing Challenge. Subscribe to follow along.

When someone asks for advice for how to build a community for their business I always start by asking the same two questions:

  1. Why is community valuable to your business?
  2. Why is community valuable to your potential community members?

I think those are the most important two questions that a business has to answer and you need to understand what we mean as business owners. And it’s scary how often they don’t even think about it before they start building their community.

Why is community valuable to your business?

At the end of the day you’re building a business and your community has to achieve your business goals. So before you start building a community you have to understand exactly what those business goals are. You have to read more reviews like wishpond automation review in building your own business in the future. To make sure that the business you’re building is insured just visit civil contracting insurance gold coast and they will provide you and your business the insurance that you need. If you still aren´t sure how to start up your business, then check out this franchise investment faq.By FTC definition, when you set up a franchise, you’re providing a common trademark (generally speaking, your brand name) for all of your franchisees to use. If you don’t wish to start a franchise, one option is to allow a person to open a cookie-cutter version of your business, under their own name. This is called a “business opportunity” or a license.

As a licensor, you don’t have to comply with the same federal disclosure requirements as would a franchisor, which makes the legal documentation and the sales process less complex – at least at the federal level. That said, a biz op, as it’s commonly known, will need to comply with a patchwork quilt of state laws (as well as some state franchise laws) in 26 different states.

The main drawback, though, is that you won’t be able to build a valuable common consumer brand this way. That can put you at a significant disadvantage when competing with franchisors, who can use advertising to promote a common brand. But if branding is not important to you, this is certainly a viable option.

A second option is to simply license your trademark, which is quite similar to what a franchisor does, you can contact the team at to get more information on the best franchise services. But here’s the difference: By definition, a franchisor also must provide “significant operational support” or exercise “significant operating control.” When you’re a trademark licensor, you can’t provide such assistance or control – such as training programs, operations manuals or management advice – or else the FTC will likely deem you to be operating as a franchisor.

Where will community fit into your business? Will it drive acquisition? Product feedback? Support? Customer success? Content?

Take it further. How will you tie community back to the bottom line? How will it drive revenue or reduce costs?

Get as specific as possible before you get started, not after.

Why is community valuable to your potential members?

A lot of companies will figure out the value that community can bring to their business, but they completely forget about whether or not a community will actually be valuable to their customers.

Communities are built for motivations, not outcomes. If your members aren’t actually motivated to interact with each other and contribute, they won’t create the value that you expect for your business.

Do you truly understand your potential members? Do you understand their sense of identity? Do they feel isolated? Where are they going to connect with people like them?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions and you have no idea if a community will actually be valuable to the potential members, your top priority should be to figure it out. Start conducting interviews, send out surveys from a recommended site, research existing communities… learn as much as possible. You should be able to form personas of your potential community members that will help you form a clear hypothesis for how they’ll participate in the community.

Now Align those Two Value Points

Now that you understand the value that your community will bring to your business and the value that your community will bring to your members, do those two things align?

If you want your community to create content for your website, but the way they want to communicate is in private, the values are misaligned.

According to Green bits, if you want your community to give you product feedback but they have no interest in doing that, your value is misaligned.

Align the value to your business with the value to your community members and you’ll be on your way.

Breaking Down the User Engagement Cycle

Originally posted on The Community Manager.

A lot of business experts will tell your company to “engage” people and “build community”, but what does that actually mean?

It’s important, when hearing advice like this to ask “why?” and “to what end?”.

The why, for me, has always been to create a positive emotional connection with users, resulting in a user experience that exceeds a simple matter of supply and demand.

If someone were to build the same exact product as you, it’s the community that would keep your users around.

With that goal in mind, after years of experimenting with different forms of engagement, I realized that there’s a logical flow of engagement that all communities take.  This flow, when done right, results in finding your product market fit and organic growth.

It’s called…


A lot of people think about it in a straight line… like this:

User to Product –> User to Brand –> User to User

That’s wrong.  It’s a cycle because ultimately, the goal is to improve the product and user activity.

The focus on improving engagement between users (step 3) should have the goal of improving engagement between the user and the product (step 1).

Let’s break it down so you can see how it’s cyclical…

Step 1: User to Product: People get value out of your product and they want to come back and use it again.

Step 1 -> Step 2: User to Brand: Because they like your product and keep coming back, they develop an emotional connection to your brand.

Step 2 -> Step 3: User to User: Then because they feel an emotional connection to your brand, they begin to connect with other users who share that emotional connection.

Step 3 -> Step 1: User to Product:  A userbase that is highly engaged with the brand and with each other makes the product more valuable (community as a feature), uses the product more often, and provides you with a clear product roadmap based on real users’ needs.


So… the Community Manager should have two goals:

1. To facilitate the cycle because 99.999% of the time,  it won’t happen naturally at first.  If a community isn’t automatically forming, the CM should be reaching out to users, engaging them with your brand, and then connecting them with each other.

Note: If your product really sucks (doesn’t solve a problem or fulfill a desire), this is pretty much impossible.  

2. Educate the product roadmap until the product is so engaging in itself that the cycle occurs naturally. That’s what product-market fit looks like and that’s when you can start to scale your business.


Lets dig in a little deeper into each phase…

1. User to Product (Engaged Userbase)

In order to build a community, your product needs to solve a problem or fulfill a desire.  If you’re providing a product that people actually enjoy using, they’ll feel engaged with that product.  How engaged people are with your product will depend on how much value they get out of it.

A well designed product with an intuitive user interface that creates value and keeps people coming back will create an emotionally engaged userbase.

2. User to Brand (Engaged Audience)

Once someone is engaged with your product, you’ll want to get them engaged with your brand.  This can happen in one of two ways:

1. Your product is so good that your users automatically feel engaged with your brand.

2. Talking to people.  You can talk to people through social media, through customer service by being very responsive, through events, emails, phone calls etc.

If you get in the habit of having genuine conversations with your engaged users, you’ll be able to create an engaged audience.

3. User to User (Engaged Community)

Now you have an engaged audience of people who feel an emotional connect with your brand and product.  Time to start connecting them with each other.  You can do so using conversation platforms like forums, facebook groups or build something yourself.

This too, may happen naturally.  Again, 99.999% of the time, it won’t at first.  You have to facilitate it.

By creating an emotional connection between users, they no longer perceive themselves as just a customer.  Now, they’re a part of a community that they care about.  You’ll have yourself a community of highly engaged users with a strong emotional connection with your brand, helping guide your product toward organic growth.


“If the goal is to build an amazing product, why not just focus on product?”

Apple is a terrible example for a lot of business cases because their products are perceived to be on such a different level, but the reason they’re on that level is because they’ve reached the point where this cycle is happening organically.  It only took them a couple decades and almost going bankrupt to figure it out.

So yes, technically, you can focus 100% on your product without manually facilitating any “user-to-brand” or “user-to-user” engagement.  But they can only help you reach the organic cycle faster and more efficiently.

Now go! And build something epic.

Understanding the Difference Between Internal and External Community Building

Photo cred: Amato Luis

Originally posted on TCM

A very important distinction for a community builder (or someone looking to hire one) to make is whether they’re focused on building internal communities or external communities.

The way I see it, you can build an internal community within your existing userbase, customers or audience.


You can build external communities which aren’t part of your internal audience.

Still confused?

Here’s a simple example:

Say there is a company that sells sports equipment.  There are two ways they can approach community management. On the other hand, concerning property selling, Arbor View Properties is a great help.

1. They can work to connect their customers with each other online and offline through their online platforms and by hosting live events offline. This is internal community building because they’re connecting people around their brand and vision. This community is tied directly to the company.


2. They can build existing communities.  Perhaps they can host a weekly happy hour for sports fans, including tournaments from TVG, or create a fan page for recreational athletes.  This is external community building because they’re connecting people through a common interest, not the brand. This community is loosely tied to the company, but really focused on a common interest.

Internal and external communities are both valuable.

Internal communities are valuable because:

1. A strong internal community is your support system.  It’s a group of people who believe in your brand, and will defend you.

2. Your community members can drive their own networks to your community, resulting in more customers or users.

3. You can call on your internal community members for feedback on your product, testimonials and ideas.

Internal communities can be built into your product in some circumstances, if your product includes a conversation platform. is a great example.  People can chat within and so users can connect and interact with each other.  When you create the right dynamic within your product, internal communities develop on their own.

Twitter is another good example.  Conversations take place within the twitter platform, so internal user communities develop on their own.

External communities are valuable because:

1. You can create awareness and leads.  In the case of the example I gave before about a sports equipment company, by connecting people with each other through their love for sports, those people will relate that back to the company because the company facilitated the relationships.  They’ll then become more aware and confident in the brand.

2. You can learn a lot.  Sometimes it’s really important to get feedback from people who haven’t already used your product.  You can pick up on trends, and identify new opportunities by talking to people in external communities.

3. They’re less work to maintain.  Really, if you’ve done a good job, the community will be self-sustainable.  The community members will drive discussions, and bring their own networks into the community.

You can also engage with existing external communities instead of building them from scratch.

There could always be overlap. The people in these external communities may also be part of your internal community.  The goal is really to convert external community members who are loosely tied to your brand into internal community members, who are closely tied to your brand.

With external communities you don’t want to inject your brand into it too much.  You don’t want to be forceful.  Build the community around a common interest, and because it was your brand that brought those people together, they will naturally relate the experience back to your brand like from heating services ogden ut which got their reputation by building quality heaters.

With internal communities, the people are already connected to your brand, so focus on enhancing that relationship.  Make the power users and best customers feel special.  If you do this properly, they’ll help you build your community further.

Are you building an internal community or an external community?  Which one do you think is more important?

My Next Big Leap: I’m Joining Zaarly

Photo cred: Feel Mystic

It’s time for my next big leap.  Today is my first day at Zaarly as the Director of Product Marketing and Community.

I can’t even explain how excited I am for this opportunity.

While Zaarly is an idea that will be extremely difficult to build into a reality, if we can make it happen, it will have a huge impact. The chance to be a part of something like this only comes once in a lifetime.

What will I be doing?

While product marketing is a very common position, my actual role is pretty unique.  I’ll have the opportunity to apply my experience in three areas: community, marketing and product.

Essentially, I will be working to make sure that all three areas are well aligned, building a strong community, and translating the needs of that community into the product.

So I get to focus on the specific things that I love.  Connecting people with each other and building an amazing product for them.

On top of all that, the Zaarly team that I’ll be working with is epic.  My brother from another mother Shane Mac and I will be working directly together along with Adam Hofman, Eric Koester and the rest of the squad. I also have the amazing opportunity to work with Bo Fishback, who has become an amazing friend and mentor over the past few months.

They’re all good, genuine people, who hustle their ass’ off and put a lot of focus on being honest and direct with each other.  I thrive in that kind of environment.

As far as location, I will still be living in NYC while occasionally traveling to Zaarly’s other locations, and to the cities where Zaarly is growing.

…and now for the big question

What about BlogDash?

I’ve thought a lot about how I could potentially phrase this part.  I’m just going to be completely honest.

This was hands down the hardest decision I’ve had to make in my career.  I poured everything I had into BlogDash.  It’s my baby and it’s all going SO well.  We’re getting customers every day, we’re getting more and more traction.  It has all the signs of a good market fit in the making.

I was not looking for a new job.  Things just seemed to align in a really weird and powerful way with Zaarly.  When it comes down to it, this was an opportunity that I just could not pass up.

I think about what we did with BlogDash.  We did a lot of things right and plenty of things wrong.  I know that I have a lot to learn as an entrepreneur, and I strongly believe that my experience at Zaarly will fully prepare me for my next endeavor.

I did everything I could to make the transition easy for my partner Marc, and the rest of the team.  Marc has been extremely supportive of my decision.  I can’t thank him enough for the amazing opportunities he’s made possible for me over the past couple years.

Will I still be involved in BlogDash?

Yes but to what extent is still undetermined. I will likely be stepping back and assuming the role of an advisor.

I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and where the site is going.  It has a real opportunity to make a positive impact on the media relations space, and we will do everything we can to make sure that that vision becomes a reality.

I’m confident that the rest of the team will be able to get through this transition, and we’ll continue to build BlogDash into a successful business.

The other stuff…

As far as my other side projects

My involvement in u30pro, TCM and Ask Summit will continue as normal.

I can’t thank all of you, my friends, family and readers for all your support these past few years.  It’s been an insanely awesome ride since I first started this blog and got involved in the social web space.

If you have any questions at all regarding this announcement, you can reach me at spinks at zaarly dot com.

Let’s do the damn thing!