Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of the Chicago-based integrated marketing communication firm, Arment Dietrich, lead blogger at Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of the weekly podcast Inside PR.
Gini has spent nearly a decade building a "rabid" (and envied) professional community: her audience is large, loyal, and engaged.
She makes it look easy, but building a solid online community is quite a challenge.
Today, Gini explains how she got to where she's at today and offers some insider tips for professionals of all trades and social media levels.
How She Got Here
Time! Building a solid professional community doesn't happen overnight.
For Gini, it just kind of happened as the result of hard work in other areas.
In 2006, her team didn't give their blog much attention. In fact, it was more of an afterthought. Social media engagement wasn't a big consideration back then.
In fact, her web team was unorganized and lacked direction. They had no solid editing process and no chief content officer.
When the recession hit, Gini had to make some uncomfortable choices. She decided the best thing to do was take over her own blog and social media presence.
Gini started writing just two blogs each week and she was essentially starting from scratch.
So how did she get to this point? By reaching out.
Gini spent a lot of time interacting with folks on social media. She would reply to every comment she received while commenting on others' content left and right.
She figured if someone took the time to comment, the least she could do was reply.
And it worked: eventually, people started paying attention to her.
Gini didn't start her blog intending to attract over 40,000 followers and build an active community.
It has, however, been a nice side effect.
1. Be Bold
When Gini was just starting out, she would share as much as she could whether it be her own content or valuable content from others.
People like to hear recognition for their work, so don't be afraid to comment, tag, and reach out to key people of interest. They might even follow you back.
Early on, Gini wrote a somewhat controversial blog about wearing jeans to paid events. Some loved it while others hated it. Either way, it attracted the attention of some high-profile names in her industry.
2. Get Personable
In real life, meeting professionals and building communities is an anxiety-riddled experience for just about everyone.
Thanks to social media, you can develop relatively personal relationships with seemingly out-of-reach people. We all want communities of people who enrich our lives by providing value.
Strike up conversations, comment where your input can make a difference, join professional groups.
Show your audience you value their presence by rewarding them. Gini likes to offer one special follower a popcorn basket each month. Not only does it make people feel good, it helps with referrals, too.
3. Care About What Others Think
Building a large community is one thing, but how do you encourage engagement? The short answer: care about what they think.
Keep in mind, this doesn't mean you have to please everyone all the time. Offer different points of view and encourage respectful debate or communication. Gini says this is something significantly lacking in professional discourse.
At the same time, you want to offer your community significant value and excellent content. You can't do this without asking what they think.
Gini recommends just straight up asking: have your followers fill out surveys or develop your own method. She even used her survey results to build referrals, connections, and solid backlinks. Win-win!
4. Take Risks and Adapt to Change
Building communities is a dynamic process. What works for you as a startup might not necessarily work when you reach 50,000 followers.
At some point, responding to each and every comment becomes virtually impossible. However, you still need to keep building your community and attracting followers, right?
As such, develop a plan that works for you and be prepared to take some risks. Social media is ever-changing, the same tactics that worked ten years ago don't work anymore.
Gini once tried launching an online membership course. It flopped but she didn't give up.
She asked her followers what they wanted and eventually developed a one-off webinar with great success.
Finding Your Community
No matter what your professional trade is, you can build a solid community.
Remember to offer your audience valuable content and resources. If you're starting from scratch, keep reaching out. Develop online relationships with key people of interest in your field or anyone who seems interested.
You might eventually carry those relationships over into the real world, too, through cards, gifts, or other rewards. Let people know you care about their needs and you want to offer value to their lives.
Be prepared to think outside the box and possibly step outside your comfort zone. Building an online professional community doesn't come without risks. Just remember to learn from your mistakes and move on.
Whether you're a lawyer, journalist, or marketing expert, you can build an engaged professional community. It just takes some hard work and determination.
ABOUT GINI DIETRICH
Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communication firm. She also is the founder of the professional development site for PR and marketing pros, Spin Sucks Pro, and co-author of Marketing In the Round.
Gini is the author of the PR and marketing blog, Spin Sucks, which is a 2012 Cision Top 100 Blog, the 2010 and 2011 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. And she is co-host of Inside PR, a weekly podcast about communications, social media, and where they all meet and intersect.