Creating A New Kind of Community with @tamcdonald

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Meet Tim McDonald, Community Manager at Huffington Post.

I met up with Tim at his office in New York, in the AOL Building, and he shared his perspective on what it means to create a community around a brand. Strategic organizations understand that community – and conversation – is the new method of transmission for brand messaging. Why? Because the most authentic story always comes from the customer. Today, branding isn’t about broadcasting – it’s about engagement. Find out more about how Tim and the Huffington Post create that kind of brand engagement, every day.

(An excerpt from “BulletProof Branding“, available now on Amazon.)

Tim McDonald: I think any community is going to have some diversity to it, to be sustaining and healthy.

I have really changed my thinking on this over time. Communities can come in different sizes and in different compositions, but the biggest part around [community] is that you can’t try and force too many people and lose the core element of what the community does – which is the common thread that attracted all of those people in the first place. In other words, the original magnet that drew everyone together.

If I look at the concept of community within Huffington Post, it’s very broad because we have over 70 different verticals. So the people that are interested in politics aren’t necessarily interested in sports. And the people in sports aren’t necessarily interested in science. The people in science aren’t necessarily interested in parenting issues.

And so, we might have some crossovers in communities but each one is its own unique subset within the greater community and they might not want to have anything to do with one another. So really I think it’s to identify what the community is there for, and then make sure you are delivering something of value to them to make them want to stay.

Tim McDonald Community Manager Huffington Post and Chris Westfall

Tim McDonald, at the AOL Building in New York.

When I say “value,” I don’t mean you have to go create coupons, offer discounts or give freebies away. Often when you start incentivizing true advocates of your brand, you desensitize them because now they feel that they should be compensated for everything they do.

Chris Westfall: So the knowledge exchange is its own reward?

TM: Right, it’s an emotional thing. It’s not transactional.


CW: You mentioned earlier about how you can turn a community into brand advocates with making it a “one-click-away” model. Can you explain that model?

TM: It’s not that you can turn your whole community into brand advocates… but there are certain people within your community that you can actually turn into brand advocates. And the one concern, the one fear that organizations have is that they say, “Well, this is great but how can I have these people go out and spread my message for me when I can’t tell them what to say?” But the whole thing that you can do is – if you want them to share stuff – use the KISS method. “Keep it simple, stupid.”

They [the audience of brand advocates] don’t need to think about what message they are going to share, they are just going to share by clicking the button. You already have a pre-populated tweet with the words that you want to go out, you’re not making them stop to think, you’re making it as simple as you can for them. They push [the button] and your message is going out. So it’s all about just keeping it simple, and [if you do it right, your audience of potential brand advocates] views it as, “You’re helping me out. You’re making it easy for me now. You’re giving me pictures to download. You’re giving me content that I can just click and share on my social networks – you’re not making me do any work for you.”


BulletProof Branding by Chris Westfall

Find out more about how to create a community around your brand, and turn loyalty into revenues, with advice from BulletProof Branding.

You can read the rest of the interview with Tim, and gather insights from other world-class brands, like Cisco, Cargill, IBM and more. Create a strategy that goes beyond social, and learn how to create the conversation you want around your marketing message.


Feature image from melloynk, used under creative commons. Some rights reserved.


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