Building Your Online Community

Gini Dietrich Chief Executive Officer, Arment Dietrich, Inc.

Posted on April 5th 2011

A few days ago, I recorded a podcast with Srinivas Rao for BlogCastFM (yet to be published). One of the questions he asked me is what new bloggers can do to find and attract readers and build community.

I used Drew Odom as an example.

Drew recently wrote a blog post where he used some Spin Sucks content. I received the backlink  and went over there to comment. He sent me a thank you note. Via email. It was personalized and written specifically to me. I make that point because some people have email automation set up to send you a note after you comment on their blog. I don’t like that.

What I liked about Drew’s email is he thanked me for commenting and asked me if the way he used some of our content was appropriate. And so began an online friendship.

When I began blogging, I did the same. I would send personalized emails to people who commented. In today’s age of 140 characters, those little things really count. And, without asking people to revisit the blog, it encouraged them to do so because they began to feel like they knew me…on the blog, on Twitter, on Facebook, and via email.

Mark Schaefer took it to a different level. He used to send handwritten thank you notes. Handwritten.  And it worked for him. He has a seriously engaged community.

While I no longer email thank you notes after people comment, I spend A LOT of time commenting to people both on Twitter and in the comments here. I also make it a point to visit all commenter’s blogs as often as I can.

It works. I always say social media, and building a community in general, is all about stroking other people’s egos and scratching their backs. If you do that, they’re much more willing to ask what they can do for you. And, in this case, visiting your blog and commenting is what they can do for you.

It’s hard work and not for the faint of heart. But it works. You can use Drew’s method or you can use Mark’s. Or maybe you have another method. If you do, share it with us!

Building Your Online Community originally appeared on Spin Sucks on April 5, 2011.


Gini Dietrich

Chief Executive Officer, Arment Dietrich, Inc.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich, Inc., a firm that uses non-traditional marketing in a digital world. The author of Spin Sucks, the 2010 Readers Choice Blog of the Year, a Top 42 Content Marketing Blog from Junta42, a top 10 social media blog from Social Media Examiner, and an AdAge Power 150 blog, Gini has delivered numerous keynotes, panel discussions, coaching sessions, and workshops across North America on the subject of using online technology in communication, marketing, sales, and HR. One of the top rated communication professionals on the social networks, Gini was recently named the number one PR person, according to Klout and TechCrunch, on the channels, and number one on Twitter, according to TweetLevel. She also can be found writing at Crain's Chicago Business, AllBusiness, and Franchise Times.
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Posted on April 5th 2011 at 5:11PM

Building a community -- whether online or off -- is necessary for success, but its difficult.  I read somewhere that the companies who use social media most successfully are social.  And I agree that being social, as you recommend, is really important for building a community.  Its also important to understand your visitors.  So, while you may no longer have time to send thank you notes for comments to your posts, its critically important to read each post so you understand what visitors have to say.

I also believe you should really watch your analytics, not just for the usual traffic building information such as where they're coming from and what keywords brought them there, but to really understand what they were searching for.

What you write also determines your ability to build community.  Posts should focus on them, not on you.  They should also provide value and fill a niche.  I've just started building a community at to help people learn to blog by watching a new blog develop with every step documented and displayed.  I involve visitors in every decision and have been fortuanate to have some very knowledgeable folks stop by to add or correct what I've been doing.  I hope this community continues to grow and support each other.


Angela Hausman, PhD

Assoc. Professor Howard University

Posted on April 5th 2011 at 7:13PM

Completely agree, Angela! We actually have set up goals in Google analytics around our visitors and, because I'm a stats geek, LOVE to see the movement. Really like the additions you've made to the original recommendations.

Posted on April 5th 2011 at 6:38PM

Superb Gini. Thanks for this post - great info.



Posted on April 5th 2011 at 7:07PM

Glad it was helpful, Pervara!

Nick Bennett
Posted on April 5th 2011 at 9:23PM

Nice post Gini, you're right, it's amazing how far some basic etiquette and consideration goes in building social communities. Reading your post reminded me of John W. Nordstrom, of Nordstrom department store fame, and one of his famous principles in the Nordstrom Way. 'Hire the smile, train the skill'

John W. Nordstrom obviously put a lot of value on 'good people skills and well mannered social behaviour'. Certainly the case if it was a founding factor in building his multi $billion empire.

I also agree on your point 'It’s hard work and not for the faint of heart'. It takes commitment to get through the knocks and turns that come with opening up to a social community, either for yourself or building a community for a business. And ultimately, as you discussed with Angela above, it it's as much about listening (in comments and in Google analytics ;) as it is in doing the talking. Building a social community is a two way thing and it's not a 'them' and 'us' scenario. It's a 'together' scenario.


Posted on April 7th 2011 at 11:15PM

I LOVE this comment Nick for two reasons: You quoted John W. Nordstrom, but mostly because I was having this very debate with Mitch Joel yesterday. After I wrote this, he blogged that it's not about the comments and some bloggers write just to write. Which I get. But if you're trying to build community as one of your blogging goals, it definitely is a together scenario. 

Posted on April 6th 2011 at 4:24PM

I've read things like these on many of the bigger social media blogs and always known it to be true. It seems an overwhelming task for a small blogger with a few readers commenting on the well established blogs sometimes. I often wonder if twitter followers who already have 20 thousand followers will have the time to engage with me or even see my mentions...

Posted on April 7th 2011 at 11:12PM

Hi Monique! I guess it depends on the blogger or tweeter. I know it's difficult for me to find new people to interact with on Twitter, but if you tweet me first, you can guarantee I'll respond. When I started out, I found people that were integral to our business and found a common language in order to approach them. It was a little intimidating at first, but it really worked. Some bloggers won't take the time and some will...just depends on their individual goals. My advice is to not be afraid to approach someone because they have lots of followers and find people whose thinking you like. I promise, in return, they'll want to learn more about you.