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.

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.