Ten Ways to Build Strong Communities – Notes from Free State Social

Last week, three hundred people experienced an energy tornado at the Free State Social. Thanks to the hard working Ben Smith and Whitney Mathews, folks from Kansas, Missouri and points beyond spent a couple of days with social media geniuses.

These folks blew me away. Two days of cyclonic SM. If cities used this gale of ideas, our communities would be knit tighter than Mayberry. Here’s my top ten for cities.


Jeremiah, Ben, and Chris

1.       Brogan’s Be Nice Club. Shawna Coronado, green gardening guru and author, said that’s all the advice Chris Brogan, New Marketing Labs, gave her. Be nice. Not just a feel-good platitude; it’s the core belief of social. The seed in the center of the fruit. “Do Something.” Don’t wait for people to ask. Go find them. Then give them whatever they need, tools, ideas, words, to make it happen. Communities flourish with hyper-focused, big-hearted nice. Contagious.

2.       Blog early and often in multi-media. Make your posts short and fast (whoop, that’s advice I need!) Shawna says accessible words, shorter sentences and paragraphs, with personal touches. Then parlay one idea into two, three, even four posts, using texts, pictures, podcasts and videos. Mix it up. Ramsey Mohsen’s (Digital Evolution) video of the opening of the first downtown KC grocery story in recent memory attracted his most viewers and was picked up by the news media. Community videos tell the story of people and place.

3.      Live and die by your database. Chris says don’t just know their business address; know everything you can about who they are, what they like. Jeremiah Owyang, web strategist with Altimeter Group, says future growth is tied to CRM (Customer (for cities, say Citizen) Relations Management); his “New Rules” details strategies. Knowing people as individuals turns a city into a community. You can give them what they need. Connect people with common interests. That’s the magic of turning cities into highly engaged communities.

4.       I know the greatest (fill in the name). Promote other people’s stuff 12 times as much as you talk about yours. That’s Chris’s rule for stirring up a storm of connections. Twelve times! Here’s how it works every day. If we have two hours for social media, spend 30 minutes replying to others’ blogs, 30 minutes on twitter or another networks, and 60 minutes on your own blog. Half content, half networking. Communities who look after each other first forge long-term bonds.

5.      Propose boldly. PR expert Sarah Evans, Sevans Strategy, leverages would-be water cooler conversations into watershed promotions. Within two hours of Chicago’s rare earthquake in 2008, Sarah had tweeted and blogged a sensational story, “sounded like a train,” with fact links that landed her and her company on CNN and the front page of the New York Times. She of course sent her blog to folks she already knew from SM. Similar deal: Shawna sent a proposal to Mexico government for a green eco-tour and got a week’s vacation for her family. They were ready, at the right place, saw an idea, and submitted a proposal. Cities, communities, each of us can leverage our assets, be ready, engaged, and then ask. Miracles happen.


Sarah and Shawna, being good sports.

6.      Create something useful. Sarah invented #journchat that brings together experts on twitter for high speed conversations. Last March, she made a twitter follower list of Academy Award nominees that was picked up by news services globally. She is sourced regularly by big media. Jeremiah asks for people’s career changes and regularly publishes the list. Under his Freemium business model, he shares his major research as free reports. Zena Weist, H&R Block, co-founded the Social Media Club of Kansas City and generously introduces folks better than anyone I know. We connect to Sarah, Jeremiah, and Zena because they are unbelievably warm people who make friends readily and generously share knowledge. They create value that builds communities.

7.      New location rituals. Social media is rapidly invading our every move via rich touch screen mobile devices. Scott Raymond, Gowalla, saw a parallel in Samoa greetings. Not “how are you?” They ask, “Where are you coming from?” and “Where are you going?” Location is key. Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter Online, says Four Square helps folks track shorter ticket lines at stadiums. We have immediate local information from a trusted source. No longer are we traveling alone; we carry our entire network in our pocket, per Jeremiah. Every hungry traveler shares the same information as the native. Every city becomes our stomping grounds. We adopt new places; places would be smart to adopt us.

8.      The one-two punch: causes and money. The blog posts that say how to save money and also be green get far and away the most views, Shawna found. Good cause and frugal. For #beatcancer, Sarah helped raise $160,000 in three weeks! Ramsey hosts an annual Ugly Christmas Sweater Party that has raised thousands of dollars for KC charities. SM and causes are like peas and carrots. People grow enormously generous in strong social networks.

9.      Be the provocateur. Tony Botello’s contrarian views make his blog the highest read in Kansas City. Commenting on the Free State crowd versus the Hispanic community he writes for, “There’s a lot more laptops here than in my Westside meetings.” Shawna called her book “Gardening Nude” with a photo of her… yup, in her birthday suit. She catches our attention to sell books; I remembered her immediately on twitter, it works. Communities can distinguish themselves and attract others by creating a unique, memorable perspective.

10.     Where Do We Want This All To Go? Make It Simple. Chris’s last advice closes the deal. Figure out the GPS of your community, business, yourself. Can you say where your community is going? Do you know what you want out of your city? Where do you want it to be in 10 or 20 years? Is that where you will be? Give directions – make it simple.

Are you a community builder? How do you do it?


Free State Social has a blog, bios, and links.

Ben Smith @benasmith shared his pics.

Eric Melin at Spiral 16 posted an excellent recap.

Jeff Smith @jeffisageek gave insights and speakers videos.

John Kreicbergs @patchchord gave his excellent “firehose” synthesis.