With my 25th wedding anniversary rapidly approaching (yipes), my mind has naturally been on relationships. Thinking back to all the advice we got leading up to that summer day in 1986, it occurs to me that some universal principals apply to building any great long-term relationship – with family, friends, colleagues and maybe even brand fans. Different kind of engagement, I know, but work with me here as we adapt a few of those key lessons to community-building.

Lesson 1: Don’t rush into it! Think before leaping into the community pool. By definition, establishing a relationship takes care and nurturing to live up to its potential. Be brutally honest with yourself about your organization. Are you truly interested in building a long term relationship, or are you more of a serial one-night stand type? No judgments here. A series of campaigns that are sexy, exciting and short-lived may just be a better fit. In other words, if you don’t have the time and resources to sustain a community, then don’t do it until you are ready to make a commitment.

Lesson 2: Spend quality time together. Time is one of the single most critical investments a brand makes in building a successful community. Brands must be truly present – sharing exclusive content, answering questions, providing feedback, and so on. Obvious, right? But surprisingly, not a given. Like any good relationship, you can’t just ‘phone it in.’ This is especially important in the start-up phases of the relationship but should continue for the life of the community. Much of what compels a consumer to engage with you is the opportunity to get to know and interact with the brand they are passionate about.

Lesson 3: Relationships are a two-way street. In running a great community, you’ve got to maintain the right balance. Contribute to the conversation without dominating it. Ask for feedback and return the favor by sharing key responses. Be aware of what’s going on throughout the community. Guide, assist, participate but don’t be overly prescriptive. Each community has its own rhythm and a cadence that works for its members. And as it grows, ideally ownership for the health and well-being of the community is shared between the brand and the membership.

Lesson 4: Little things matter. Often the focus is on the big gestures – the major events, contests, campaigns. But in reality, it’s the day-to-day that speaks volumes. At Community 2.0 this spring, the community management team at ScotTrade reinforced that with their very practical and effective approach to building relationships with nearly 50,000 fans. A few pieces of advice: Be welcoming – let them know you’re happy they’re here. Get to know your members, especially your VIPs. Keep it interesting. Acknowledge contributions. And remember, a simple thank you goes a long way.

Lesson 5: Nobody’s perfect. Even the most avid fans will run into issues. Listen – and react appropriately and quickly. Let them know they’ve been heard and what you can (or can’t) do. Ignoring a problem won’t make it disappear; in fact, it can exacerbate it. If something in the community isn’t working for the members, then don’t hold on to it – it’ll just become unnecessary baggage and you risk killing community momentum. Be genuine and authentic; don’t try to be something you’re not. It’s key to building trust, the backbone of strong relationships.

So netting it out, communities – like any successful relationship – don’t just happen, they take work. But speaking from experience, the return is priceless. So, are you relationship material?

Cheryl Treleaven
Cheryl Treleaven

Principal

Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.

Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.

Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.