Must Read, Social Media Strategy

Shortcuts Don’t Pay Off In Community Building

July 12, 2010

Today started out awesome – everything was on an even keel and productivity was high.  Around 1pm, I got this lovely message: “Welcome to the mailing list!” Wow, I didn’t realize I signed up for this, since I have no idea who this is or why I would want to know about their events.  This email came into my ‘good inbox’ – i.e. the one that usually just has ‘real’ emails.  I use my yahoo email account to sign up for mailing lists, webinars, etc. where it’s likely I’m going to be added to lists, so it’s rare that I get outright spam to the main account.  Being the good internet citizen I am, I promptly followed the instructions and clicked the link to unsubscribe.  No big deal.  So I thought.

Fast forward a couple of hours, and the wheels started coming off the tracks with this little ‘welcome email.’  Evidently the lovely people that set this up had it set so that every reply to the email was sent to THE ENTIRE LIST.  I’ve seen this before, and I knew what was coming.  First it was just one or two, then 3 or 4, and now it’s a total tidal wave of emails from pissed off people that not only didn’t sign up for this email list, but now they are getting all the angry unsubscribe emails too.  It’s like a snowball and once it picks up steam, it just has to run its course.  People don’t realize what they are doing by replying – they just want off the list.

Contrast this experience with another one I had just a couple of hours ago over at Sarah Robinson’s Escaping Mediocrity blog in her 30 days to Creating Irresistible Presence series.  See, Sarah and her community are some of the most incredible people you’ll run across on the web, and the conversation today was elevated even higher thanks to a really nice guest post by Chris Guillebeau.

I’m already a huge fan of Chris and his writing, but this post really was exceptional in that it started an incredible conversation in the comments.  If you check out the post and the responses, what you’ll notice is that there is a real, authentic, meaningful conversation occurring, which is what really matters, right?  It’s not about numbers or statistics, or how many people got blasted with messages – it’s about true engagement with people that care about the subject of the blog, and also each other. This is the kind of community that I choose to participate in, and I made several new connections over there just from this one blog post.

Meanwhile, back at the train wreck, the emails continue.  My personal favorite was this one:

Right on.  Do it!  Haha!  🙂

What do you think these guys accomplished by ‘opting in’ this mass of people to their mailings?  Did they gain anything meaningful or do they just have more people on their ‘opt in’ list now?  I’m always surprised when I see these kinds of tactics at this point in the evolution of the internet.  I guess I just think it’s way easier to build a list the right way, by offering something of value that people actually want in exchange for signing up.  Call me old school – that’s just how I roll.

If you’re ever tempted to take shortcuts to building a vibrant community, consider that all your efforts can be washed away easily if it’s not built on a strong foundation of trust and mutual respect.  You can’t just throw money or email addresses at it – you have to actually do the work to build trust.  Just think about the scenarios above – which company or individual would you trust if you got an email from them tomorrow?

Bottom line: Gold star for Sarah’s blog.  Colossal FAIL for @KingPopDesign.


  • Reply sarahrobinson July 12, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Wow Brandon – on oh so many levels! First, I am horrified a the King Pop Design list you've wound up on. I get tangled up in those too and getting OFF the lists is never easy. :-(Second – I am honored and humbled by your kind words about Escaping Mediocrity. I often say that I don't own my blog, the tribe does. And that stance has given birth to such an open, honest and incredible community. I am proud to be a participant. And I agree – Chris's post today was exceptional – even for him. :-)Yeah for community!!

  • Reply lisamilesbrady July 12, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Gold star for Sarah's blog. Here, here! :)Great distinction, Brandon. You can't take shortcuts in building authentic, mutually beneficial relationships. I suspect that your tribe really appreciates that about you as well!

  • Reply Brandon101 July 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    It's comical at this point Sarah – the pace of the emails has been on a steady increase all evening. Unbelievable. I've always really enjoyed your blog, and when I saw the '30 days' series, I knew I was going to love it. Even the title is amazing! 🙂 I started getting caught up on them last night when I ran across the really long post by Andrea and had to bail for the night, hehe. When I went back today to check out Chris's post, I was impressed by what he achieved with a relatively short post. Maybe that's why I like his writing so much – he really gets to the point quickly and seemingly effortlessly. Thanks for checking in – glad to have you here! 🙂

  • Reply Brandon101 July 12, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks Lisa! It was the comment thread that you were part of that got me really excited about the post over on Escaping Mediocrity. There was some pretty deep sharing happening there, and the whole discussion of connection with source really resonated with me. So happy we connected. Thanks again!

  • Reply Richard Allan Marti July 13, 2010 at 12:21 am

    SO True Brandon. There are no shortcuts to building relationships. Sarah Robinson has masterfully nurtured relationships and built a deep well of trust. Her "tribe" is not Sarah centered either. She is not only trusted, but she trusts the community to be self sustaining and mutually supportive. It is much like a close family. I am fortunate. I have met FANTASTIC people online and based my whole business on word of mouth.

  • Reply Joel Runyon | [BIT] July 13, 2010 at 2:10 am

    They got a lot of people pissed off…that's what they got :)However, they did get you to write about them…haha, and if they subscribe to the thinking that "there's no publicity like bad publicity" then they'll be excited (although they might want to check with BP before they get too celebratory).

  • Reply Brandon101 July 13, 2010 at 7:34 am

    I agree Richard – Sarah has done a wonderful job of nurturing some incredible relationships. I'm consistently impressed with not only her writing and ideas, but her willingness to allow others to shine in her community. Definitely an example for all of us! I'm glad we connected Richard. And yes, you are VERY glad you're not on the list. There were another 35 or so angry emails this morning. The tone is getting decidedly less polite as the hours roll by. 😉

  • Reply Brandon101 July 13, 2010 at 7:39 am

    Thanks Joel – I thought about that before I posted it, but ended up deciding that there was not much risk of anyone reading this blog running over to sign up for their stuff. 😉 I think the more likely outcome is that their domain will be blacklisted by every major ISP, so not only will their email list be worthless, but they won't be able to use any other email addresses on that domain to do business. Depending on who that government agency is that got caught in the fray, it could get much worse. Yikes!

  • Reply rwofford July 14, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Brandon, this is something that obviously hits home with you & I. (Brandon & I were involved in building brand communities together for a number of years). With the resources available to folks today (such as spam houses selling mass email lists), it's so easy to take the wrong route. I've got an an example of how these get out of hand as well… I am currently challenged by management with getting my own organization's message in front of "more" people. Knowing that building quality lists & two-way relationships takes time, I feel pressured that I am not being given the time required to do things the "right" way. I also know there are plenty of reputable resources that can provide the types of contacts we want, and given the right messaging–it is possible to use those resources in a way that can earn respect and generate quality conversation (and conversion). On the other hand, there are the "wrong" type of resources and the "wrong" way. (HINT: emailing a bunch of people and telling them 'Thanks for Opting In', when they clearly didn't opt in to anything isn't the "right" way). So, I did some research and found some companies with lists for rent / sale & decided to experiment. One of the companies is a multi-million dollar company that built their database through a community approach where every member uploads contacts, edits contacts with better info (and is rewarded), etc. Then, to juxtapose that resource, I remembered I had mysteriously received an email from another company indicating they could provide contacts in my industry, and thought–what the heck, why not reach out & see what they had to offer? (Now, I had already done some research on this company and found them listed as IP offenders & as being a known "spam house", so I wasn't expecting to really do business with them–I just wanted to see what response I would get). I replied to the email I got several weeks earlier with some sample demographics I'd like to target & asked for some sample data & pricing. I never received either. I never received another piece of communication from said company. However, what I DID start to receive was offers from dozens of other "companies", none of whom I asked for information from and none of whom were offering what I asked for or needed. My experiment proved my point that these types of businesses aren't even interested in providing the service the purport to offer–all they can offer you is a gateway to more spam. Oh & Brandon–harking back to our Umix days… to this day I am STILL trying to get off the many Miami club & restaurant lists I never signed up for, b/c they sold those lists time & time again to the next "it" venue.

  • Reply Brandon101 July 14, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Ryan, I feel for you man. You of all people know this issue inside and out. I'm always reticent to use any list services like that. So few of them are what they claim to be, and my own experience tells me that it's just not the best way to build a quality list. On the other hand, if there is a reputable service that offers to send a relevant message to a targeted list on your behalf to people that have signed up for such messages, that might be worth pursuing. Even then, there better be a real good offer to get them to convert. All too often, there is pressure to get immediate numbers, so the temptation is to just buy a list or some other shortcut. It just seems that the same money could be used to provide something valuable to those who sign up and genuinely want to be a part of your community. Otherwise, sheer numbers perpetuate the delusion that you're reaching more people. 'Reach' is worthless if nobody pays attention. I wish you luck with your situation. And also for getting off those Miami promoter lists. ;)Thanks Ryan!

  • Reply Tris Coffin July 14, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Their—amongst many— challenge ( @kingpopdesign ), if they'd adhered to double opt-in recipients would be difficult enough since the value of passive participation (eg. subscribing to email "newsletters" etc) borders on, if not defines, zero relevance these days. I find this is mostly due to the inundation of long forgotten mystery opt-ins for those who don't manage their subscriptions as well as you sound like you do, Brandon 🙂 I know I often have to purge my always – growing list of once interesting but now irrelevant inbound email news and updates, newsletters and other sundry subscriptions.Frankly, I would rather—and actually do—find it easier to manage these relationships via more efficient means like social media touch points. This allows me easy management of context, frequency, private vs non-private, relevance, and any number methods of fine-tuning the management of my data consumption. [could i sound any more gay?]My favorite part of this KingPopDesign debacle is the enticing message from the "CEO" that goes a little something like this:"Our MissionIn search of the latest in design and fine art community? Look no further, King Popular Design has a list of designer and fine artist. We specialize in enhancing business and personal lives with great design. Do you need an updated look for your new or existing business marking materials or overall interior décor? Well King Popular Design is the company for you. Take a quick look at some of our designs both fine art and marketing material to get a feel for our firm’s wide range of design styles. If we’re what you need for success please contact us at admin@kingpopulardesign.comThank You,William Floyd Owner-Operator, King Popular DesignDesigns Built for Royalty ™ "I now understand that "cease and dissist" letter I received about my intended use of my new brand tagline, "Design Built for Royalty." I guess I didn't see the ™.

  • Reply Brandon101 July 14, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Ok, the Design Built for Royalty bit was hilarious! Thanks for sharing that little tidbit. :)I know what you mean by the long-forgotten email lists, but I still definitely value email as a communication tool, and I tend to use email subscriptions to keep up with blogs I read and industry news – especially when things get really busy and it's hard to stay on top of all of the inbound content. I know that if something is in my main inbox, it WILL get read and/or acted upon within a reasonable time frame. I can't say the same for RSS, Twitter, or many other social tools – the fire hose effect comes into play. Basically, if I'm REALLY interested in something, I sign up for the emails so that I know I'll get the alerts. But as you said, I have managed my subscriptions pretty well. :)Thanks Tris – I appreciate the perspective!

  • Reply KingPopDesign November 20, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Thank you guys for all of your hard work. As CEO I too spend countless hours on projects that don’t make it to production. Look out for bigger head lines, Royal Flush Studios and the KingPopDesign family want seem so scamy in the years to come. The brand is real and the people involved are all passion creatives who work hard to release projects that change lives every day. Again thank you for you guys hard work.

    • Reply Brandon Sutton November 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm

      Wow.  Just wow. 

      I can’t decide if I should delete this as spam or leave it up for everyone to see. 


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