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The Power of Online Communities


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An ebook by Angela Connor, Author of "18 Rules of Community Engagement (Happy About, 2009) Connect with Angela: @communitygirl,

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The Power of Online Communities

  1. 1. The Power of Online Communities Five Stories of Friendship that Shaped a Community By: Angela Connor AKA @communitygirl #powerofcommunity This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  2. 2. Table of Contents Introduction Story 1: Almost Evicted Story 2: A Fence of His Own Story 3: Yukon John Story 4: A Contest a Limo and a Night to Remember Story 5: When a Member Dies This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  3. 3. IntroductionOnline communities can be quite powerful. In many cases, people who would otherwisenever connect in person forge relationships and develop genuine interest and concern forone another. Ive learned first-hand that exposure to varying opinions within a communitycan provide new insights and broaden horizons in ways we could not have imaginedfifteen years ago. Ive seen participants in communities spend an amazing amount of timecontributing content and interacting with others and even expressing their gratitude forhaving the opportunity and experience.A community can serve as a second home. It can turn into a place where people findacceptance, camaraderie and support that may not exist for them elsewhere. Acommunity can provide an outlet for those who are immobile, alone, shut-in or down ontheir luck and simply need to be heard. This is a power that is often discounted,overlooked and misunderstood.I use the word "misunderstood" because organizations and their top brass want to put adollar sign on something that doesnt necessarily translate in those terms, at least not inthe conventional sense. Now before you get excited and push back, because you knowfor certain that you cannot place a dollar value on interaction and engagement and havewritten it off as immeasurable, please understand that I am not oblivious to the fact thatcompany initiatives must contribute to the bottom line. As a professional with many yearsin corporate America, I get that.But, if building community is important there is a need for a better understanding of theintrinsic worth of online communities and more importantly a mindset that allows us toplace value on such worth.I am going to share with you five stories that illustrate what can actually happen whenconnections are made within an online community. When complete strangers movebeyond casual conversation and develop genuine concern for their fellow members. It canchange lives. Ive witnessed it. If you dont believe there is value in connecting people Iencourage you to read these stories. They are all true, and unfolded before my very eyesright in the online community I nurtured for three years. I grew that community from zeroto more than 13,000 members, and though it has since been discontinued by thecompany I used to work for I still hear from some of the members today, and I know that itaffected lives, including mine.Angela Connor This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  4. 4. ALMOST EVICTEDOne late evening, a single mother posted a blog about a very personal predicament. Shewas soon to be evicted from her apartment and would likely end up moving back toSyracuse to live with her mother. She was not asking for sympathy. This is someone whowas a heavy blogger and friend to many and most already knew quite a bit about her andher young son. She was having problems with her child support checks because her ex-husbands account was consistently overdrawn. She had blogged previously about hersons father divorcing her years ago and how she had managed to bounce back from allthat to forge a decent relationship with him and his partner. On this particular night, shewrote: "SO in any event, unless anyone knows where I can come up with $331.25 bytomorrow it looks like Im bound for Syracuse."A well-known highly regarded influencer in the community posted a blog shortly afterencouraging members to come together and help her. His call for action resulted in a two-hour virtual fundraiser that yielded more than $500, which he delivered to her door thatnight. People contributed anywhere from $5 to $20 to support her. They wrote checks,paid him via PayPal and dropped off cash at his house in an effort to keep a roof over afellow members head.She posted a blog early the next morning titled, "Amazed." In it she wrote the following:Im overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of all out you out in GOLO land. I really do feellike I have a family and people that love me out there. It’s beautiful! Thank you all somuch. You have NO idea how much this means to me. I only wrote a blog because Ineeded to vent and really thought that I was going to have to move home... and now Imfeeling like I AM HOME. Thats the first time that Ive felt like that since Ive been inRaleigh. I LOVE YOU GUYS! I MEAN IT!After that, this particular member was very active in efforts to help others. She wasgrateful for the help and made sure everyone knew it. This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  5. 5. A FENCE OF HIS OWNWhen a member of the community came across a news story about a local disabledveteran who was going to lose his dogs because he didnt have the proper facilities tokeep them, she was deeply troubled. A dog lover in the community who was known forposting dozens upon dozens of photos of her own beloved dogs and who had found acommunity of fellow dog lovers as a result brought the story to the community in a blogpost. Through that post, she recruited and organized a group of ten people to travel to hisproperty and install enough fencing in to allow him to keep his pets and then some.Not only did she get fellow members on board, but those members recruited theirspouses who werent even members of the community. The proud veteran was sotouched by this gesture that he called me, the manager of the site and raved about thewonderful group of people who had taken up his cause and treated him like theyd knownhim all his life. Ill never forget what he said to me in that shaky voice demonstrating hisemotion: "I didnt even know these people, but not a single one of them ignited my spidersenses!"I’d never heard the phrase “spider senses” but quickly realized that was his way of tellingme that he felt safe welcoming them into his home and appreciated their kindness. Hecalled me several times after that, just to say hello and give me an update on his pets. This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  6. 6. YUKON JOHNOne thing the greater percentage of members in my community had in common wasgeography. The tagline was "Go Local. Talk Local. Share Local." It was associated with anews organization based in Raleigh, NC and the membership was largely local. That said,not everyone lived in the immediate area. Several highly active members were residentsof South Carolina, and others lived much further away but once called the area home.North Carolina was the common thread. They all cared deeply about the area and thosewho lived elsewhere still had strong ties to what’s known as “the Triangle.”One of the most famous locals lived in Alaska. He went by the name Yukon John and wasa breath of fresh air. Yukon offered different perspectives on many subjects and wasknown for posting links to Alaskas Arctic Cam, informing us of the upcoming heat wave oftwo degrees, (after several grueling weeks of 30 below) and reminding the communityhow things were when he was a resident. It was Yukon John who introduced Alaskagovernor Sarah Palin to the community in a blog many months before she was chosen asthe Vice-Presidential candidate. He thought she was interesting and smart and said in theblog that she should "be on our radar."When Yukon John indicated that he was coming home to spend some time with hisfamily, one member was moved to action and planned a get together. People wanted tomeet Yukon John and he wanted to meet some of the people hed been communicatingwith for more than a year.The event was arranged and the community had a get together at a local pub, welcomingYukon home. They took lots of pictures and posted them in the community. Yukon calledme before and after the event. He was sorry I couldnt make it and vowed to meet me thenext time he came back to town. He chronicled the night a few weeks later and postedmany comments on the profile pages of those who attended, thanking them for such agreat time. They even put him up in a hotel nearby. The man traveled from Alaska to seehis family and ended up finding a new one. This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  7. 7. A CONTEST, A LIMO AND A NIGHT TO REMEMBEROne afternoon I was given a set of concert tickets that could be given away in thecommunity. It was pretty late so I thought about holding on to them another day. Then Ithought about the fact that most people would need time to adjust their plans toaccommodate an unexpected concert so I decided to move quickly. I launched a contest,as I often did when tickets to concerts and other local events fell into my lap, stating thatI’d be awarding one lucky member four tickets to see the bands Bad Company and TheDoobie Brothers. The tickets would go to the 20th person to post a comment expressingtheir interest in attending. After a lot of virtual begging a winner was declared.I noticed in the comment thread that there were three people who desperately wanted tosee the bands engaging in some serious conversations about why.I wasn’t the only one who noticed.When the winner contacted me to accept the tickets, she told me that she would be takingthose three members along with her since they all wanted to go so badly.This was a group of people whod only known one another from the community, makingarrangements to go to a concert together. It was a very nice gesture, but I have to admit Iwas quite surprised. And it turned out that they did more than meet at a concert.The next day, the winner of the tickets posted a photo gallery chronicling their eveningtogether. It included a limo ride, awesome dinner and ticket upgrades that resulted in anight to remember and forged great new friendships.One of the three members the winner invited to come along showed up at the meetinglocation with a limo. Another purchased dinner and the other upgraded their tickets fromlawn seats to chairs with what they called "an amazing view." And to think, it all startedwith a simple ticket giveaway. This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  8. 8. WHEN A MEMBER DIESWhen a long-time, faithful, beloved member of my online community died, it was painfulfor many. It was unexpected and no one knew how to react. They started emailing andcalling one another, posting blogs and tributes and a few even called me directly.Some had met him. Others had not. The majority of those who had not were still affectedby his death. He was a major presence in the community. His name was Studweiser. Heblogged regularly and posted thoughtful comments on the blogs of others.He stood up for the underdog in debates and had developed close knit relationships withmany. I met him three times. Once at our one-year anniversary get together at Starbucks,a second time when he and another member came over to the office for a quick cup ofcoffee and a third time at a local festival when I was working the company booth. He andhis partner stopped by to say hello, and I introduced him to my daughters.Studweiser was only 30. He died silently in his sleep. This news shook the community toits core. Hed recently celebrated his 30th birthday and had invited some members of thecommunity to the party. Many had posted pictures illustrating the grand time.He even invited me, but I had to decline.His partner told me that when he started going through Studweiser’s cell phone to notifyhis friends, many of the numbers listed belonged to members of the community.These were not his life-long friends or college roommates but people who knew him froman online community. The outpouring of emotion shown by community members the daysafter his death was a true testament to the power of online communities. One memberposted an audio file of him singing, Redemption Song and his funeral was attended by agreat number of members. His memory is still with me today. This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  9. 9. The screenshot above shows the tribute to community member Studweiser, the day we learned ofhis death. This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity
  10. 10. In Conclusion The stories youve just read are not necessarily quantifiable in dollars and cents, but they are important. Communities bring people together. Communities breed loyalty. Communities can also affect the bottom line if you invest and allow time to make it happen. If you have a community that reaches people and touches them, it is of tremendous value. Its how you translate that value and align it with your goals and objectives that will determine its true worth. About Angela Connor Angela Connor is the author of "18 Rules of Community Engagement: A Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting with Customers Online." (Happy About, 2009) She is Senior Vice President, Group Director at Capstrat, a communications agency in Raleigh, NC, where she heads the social media and media planning and buying teams. Angela is devoted to helping brands successfully engage, and grow communities across the social web. She speaks at conferences across the U.S. on social media and community engagement. You can contact Angela via Google voice at 919-374-0627, via twitter (@communitygirl) or via email: For more on Angela, see her LinkedIn profile. This ebook is brought to you by: ngela #powerofcommunity