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What Engages a Community? Your Story.

Today, I want to share two examples of how you can engage others. With everyone pouring into the online marketing bandwagon, looking for the ROI of social media, and web entrepreneurs popping up all around us, I wanted to focus on something simple, something powerful. That people are attracted to your story. Not your grand marketing pitch, not your slick presentation, but to your sloppy, down-to-earth, warts and all story.

Dan Blank The first story is of my friend Barbara, who has created a vibrant community of readers and writers.
The second story is of my friend Dipika, who has created a successful business by sharing her story.

Okay, let’s dig in…

Sharing Your Passion, Serving a Community

Something interesting happened last week to a friend of mine. Her blog received 22,494 comments over the course of six days. Not spam comments, but actual comments from real people, and the discussions they enabled.

How is this possible? What story did she break? None, except her own.

My friend is Barbara Vey, and her blog is Beyond Her Book on PublishersWeekly.com. The event last week was a celebration of the four year anniversary of her blog. That’s it.

But clearly, there is a story here. It is Barbara’s story.

Her blog shares her passion for books, authors and readers. The blog in many ways, is simply her story. I’ve written about Barbara before, and have always been blunt about her credentials for writing a blog for Publishers Weekly: she has none.

She’s just some woman from Milwaukee who stumbled into blogging four years ago. She’s not a writer, not a publishing insider, not someone who does this sort of thing.

But I suppose in reality, she has the best credentials of all: she is a READER, a lover of books and a lover of anyone else who reads books. You can’t go anywhere with her, without her approaching strangers and asking them if they like to read and what they are reading now. I watched her do this on a crowded New York City subway, breaking every unspoken rule about how to behave with New Yorkers in their crowded subways.

She has been planning this anniversary for months, planning content, building awareness, and getting people on board. She partnered with lots of folks to provide items to be given away. Among them were nearly 20 ebook readers and hundreds of books and other prizes.

Her blog is not about just providing content. It’s about relationships, discussion, passion, and extends into the offline world. She has folks from her Weight Watchers group review books for the blog.

This is how Barbara recapped the anniversary week:

“What we experienced here was like nothing I’d expected. Nobody did. It was truly a coming together of a community. The book community. The number of readers online was amazing and were absolutely absolutely thrilled when an author would join the conversation.”

Barbara’s story is still unfolding, one blog post at a time. And because of this, her story is now a shared story of a community of readers.

Share Your Story, Allow Others to Become a Part of It

In December of 2009, my friend Dipika was relocating with her husband Akira, and bringing their design firm along with them. They had built a nice business in Seattle, but had assumed that without a built-in network of clients in their new location of Durham, North Carolina, that this would be the closing chapter of the business, shutting it down to pursue other opportunities.

Just before they moved, an intern and a friend of theirs offered to create a video about Dipika’s company, a nice little piece that simply tells the story of how she and her husband work, and how they help clients. This is the video:

What happened as a result of this video revitalized their business. It framed who they were, and aligned it to the needs that others had. People, simply, loved hearing Dipika and Akira’s story, and wanted to be a part of it. They had clients reaching out to them and choosing their firm over competitors.

One lesson Dipika took away from this is:

“The more I do this, the more I realize it is more about a collection of people around you, and the moment they are in.”

That it’s about more than products and services. It’s about the community you serve.

She shared this story of when they were shooting the video:

“I remember telling [the filmmaker], I should really clean up the place. He said, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. You don’t want to make it too clean. The idea that unpolished could be okay was new. But really, unpolished is real. And that’s what people like. About the video, and when we meet to confirm it, about us, too.”

Sharing our stories is about sharing our journey. And that is rarely neat and clean, and it’s never finished. The key is to not just TELL your story, but to see how it aligns to the journey of others, so that your story becomes their story and vice versa.

After all, we are in this together.

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank | dan@danblank.com

  • Dan, the blog anniversary was a blast, but the party continues. A group of readers have gotten together to form a Facebook page called Friends from “Beyond her Book” Party. Readers and authors have joined and are keeping the conversations going. All are welcome to join in (even NY subway riders). A tribute beyond anything I could have imagined.


  • I attended Barb’s Blog Anniversary, and the greatest thing that happened for me, is I walked away with an amazing group of friends that ALL share my love of reading ! Her blog last week shows how there is still such a love for the written word πŸ™‚ Not only was it exciting to see the Authors stop by, but SO many stayed and spent time with us readers..this IMO made us readers feel closer to the Authors in a way that makes us a much more dedicated reader to their work.

    Last week is hard to put into words, but one thing it confirmed for me…there are many wonderful people in this world and Barbs Ainnversary week was a wonderful testament to that !

    • Kym – thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  • Debbie Kaufman

    Hi Dan,
    I was a part of Barbara’s blog explosion on her anniversary. The. Connection with readers has been tremendous. The one thing I keep heari.g the readers say in their after part connections on Facebook and Goodreads is how much they love talking to other readers who share their book passion.

  • Pam Asberry

    Yes, it was a great party; Barb is an amazing woman, truly an inspiration. Thanks for the recap and the thought-provoking post.

  • Minnette

    Thanks for this, Dan. What a wonderful approach. I was involved in Barb’s Anniversary Bash and the energy was just amazing… It was like going to the biggest party ever! Barb’s dedication to her readers and her authors is amazing… she has so many people she deals with every day and yet when she talks to you, she makes you feel as if you’re sitting down for a cup of coffee with your best friend.

  • Excellent post!

    I’ve found the same thing myself (on a more micro level) recently when I launched my new business, Content for Do-Gooders. I launched with a blog post about my volunteer trip to Thailand and how it changed my life. It ultimately is the inspiration for the work I do now: writing and marketing for social justice organizations, non-profits, economic developers, etc.

    You wouldn’t believe the response–the email love, prospect meetings and colleague back-pats that came from the launch. All very personal because the story is very personal.

  • Interesting stories. Although I think the voice for the story is the strength and the success.

  • Bitemeash

    I had a smashing time visiting Barbara’s anniversary party online ;o) It was incredible especially since I’m on the other side of the world, distance was not felt and it was special. Have already booked marked for next years party *grin*

    • I’m sure Barbara is already planning next year’s! Thanks.

  • Thanks for mentioning DK, Dan!

  • Chelsea Rafferty

    I also attended Barbara’s blog this year. It was my first visit but it will definitely not be my last visit. I was just lucky I was on my Spring Break so I could spend lots and lots of time hanging out with new friends and authors. This blog was so exciting to me because I always have a hard time finding new authors and not only did Barbara post new authors for me to read on her blog but I also got names from my new friends. I now have about 100 new authors to read/check out and to me that is just amazing. I’m sure it will take me till next year just to get through all the new comments. It’s always wonderful to meet other readers who do the same thing I do… slack off, read till their hearts content, maybe be behind in chores but darnit that new book you just can’t put down. I love the world I can live in when I’m reading. I’m really grateful I stumbled across this site, it was worth attending even if I hadn’t won anything. In the end I got a great new blog to read, new friends, and tons of new books to read and that is worth more than money can buy πŸ˜‰

    • Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Christina

    I also was there for Barbara’s bash. I had followed her blog off and on but never really commented much. This last week though was amazing. Talking with people, hanging out. It was so awesome to be there. I made new alot of new friends there. Got to talk to authors and that in itself was a true prize. It really felt like they cared and wanted to get to know their readers. I loved it, talking to new authors, and others that I knew. It was just so awesome talking and playing around with them. I’ve enjoyed last week and I’m in with the group on Facebook. I’m so glad that I’ve been able to stay in contact with the friends and authors. I know I’m just repeating what others have said but it was awesome to be there. To talk with so many people and it makes it even better now.

  • Barbara is an amazing lady!!! We’ve met up at Comic-Con and RWA and I’ve witnessed her passion for books and reading… It’s inspiring!!! πŸ™‚ And I attended the blog anniversary too… So amazing to see so many people participating!!! The internet can really shrink the world and bring us all together… πŸ™‚