Episode 440

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Humans are hardwired to belong, and the desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves is in our blood. Whether we connect over shared values, a favorite sports team, a hobby, or even just from living near one another, we can find community and belonging all around us.

These days, many of us are finding community online through social media and spreading our social nets wider than ever. This leaves a huge opportunity for agency leaders to build their own online communities to help others learn and share their experiences about business leadership, entrepreneurship, or any form of thought leadership in which they excel.

Online communities should, first and foremost, be a way to bring people together with shared goals and interests, but the benefits reach far beyond that. With enough time and care, they can become robust sales and networking tools that do the prospecting work for you.

But it’s not for everyone, and that’s ok.

In this week’s solocast, I’m doing a deep dive into the ins and outs of creating online communities, building an audience online, and how to make sure you’re doing it all for the right reasons. With enough patience, online community building could become your agency’s secret sales weapon that provides perks and benefits for the people in it.

For 30+ years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. He started his career at Y&R, worked in boutique-sized agencies, and then started his own (which he still owns and runs) agency in 1995. Additionally, Drew owns and leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small to mid-sized agencies on how to grow their agency and its profitability through agency owner peer groups, consulting, coaching, workshops and more.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

online communities

In This Episode:

  • What is a community, and how does it relate to work?
  • The difference between an audience and a community
  • Online communities do the selling for you
  • B2B brands have less competition in creating online communities
  • Asking yourself the who, what, where, and why before starting a community
  • How communities make biz dev easier for agencies
  • Being a safe harbor for people as a community leader
  • Community building isn’t for everyone
  • 3 questions to ask yourself to determine if you should build a community or an audience
  • How to build an online community and spread the word about it
  • Having a community is a long game — have a growth plan

“We feel physical pain when we lack that sense of belonging. That need to belong is embedded in our neurological circuitry.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“What's really cool about a community is when it’s mature and has been built up for a while, and the community members feel comfortable with each other, even when the teacher or the coach isn't there, learning is still happening.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“You can’t create a community to monetize it. Yes, you may monetize it, but that can’t be the main reason why you create a community.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“It is tough to build an audience or a community of everybody. Why? Because there is no common connective tissue, no common thread, no socially significant characteristic of place, norms, or values.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
“The role of the community creator is to inspire the members to care as much as you do about the building, growing, and protecting of that community.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Drew:


0 (0s): Hey everybody, Drew here. You know, we are always looking for more ways to be helpful and meet you wherever you’re at to help you grow your agency. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve produced this podcast for so long, and I’m super grateful that you listen as often as you do. However, there are some topics that are better suited for quick hyper-focused answers in under 10 minutes. That’s where our YouTube channel really comes in. For quick doses of inspiration, best practices, tips and tricks, head over to youtube.com/the at sign agency management Institute. Again, that’s youtube.com/the at sign or symbol. 0 (40s): And then agency management Institute, all one word. Subscribe and search the existing video database for all sorts of actionable topics that you can implement in your shop today. Alright, let’s get to the show. 1 (54s): Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of the money you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast, presented by a White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies are getting things done, bringing his 25 years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan. 0 (1m 28s): Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build Better Agency. This is one of my solo cast. So as you know, if you’re a regular listener, every fifth episode, I bypass having a guest. And we just talk. We talk about something that’s on my mind, something that I’ve been talking to a lot of agency owners about, or something that I wanna make sure is on your mind as you plan for the year ahead for your shop. So before we do that, a couple housekeeping things. First of all, as you know, with every solo cast, we give away a free seat at one of our workshops. So the way you get into the drawing for one of the free seats is you leave a rating and review for the podcast wherever you happen to download the podcast. 0 (2m 16s): So it might be Apple Podcasts, or Google or iHeart or wherever it is that you access the podcast. Leave us a rating and review and then take a screenshot. The reason I ask you to take a screenshot and email it to me is because most of you have a username that I don’t recognize. So you know, if it’s a, you know, the Patriots suck 62, I don’t know who that is, I might agree with you, but I don’t know who that is. So take a screenshot, send it to me, and then we will put your name in the drawing. Here’s the cool thing. Your name does not leave the drawing until you win, so sooner or later you’re gonna win. 0 (2m 55s): There’s just not that big of a population of people who listen to this podcast. Even, even if we get, you know, 15 or 20,000 downloads an episode, not everybody is taking advantage of this, or not everybody is in the US and can travel to the workshops. So you got a pretty good shot. So again, leave a review, take a screenshot, send it to me at Drew at agency management Institute dot com, and you too could be a winner of a workshop, just like Kaitlyn’s study is from South Street Marketing. Kaitlyn turned in a review in 2022, late in 2022, and Caitlyn, congratulations, you are a winner. 0 (3m 39s): So we’ll reach out to you and let you know what you need to do to get that free workshop seat for you. Okay? All right, one last thing. As you know, because we’ve been talking about it for a while, the Build a Better Agency Summit is coming up May 21st and 22nd in Denver for the first time. We’re excited to host it in our, in our hometown city, and we have some amazing speakers. So one of the, one of the speakers is actually a dynamic duo. So we have Pam Slim and IP attorney, Sharon Toric. So we have IP expert, Pam Slim and IP attorney, Sharon Torric. And what they’re gonna talk about is how do you monetize your intellectual property? 0 (4m 23s): And so what they’re gonna really get into is, you know, many agencies have IP that we don’t recognize, we actually have, or we haven’t identified how valuable it could be, and even more so we are not sure how to get it out of our head or out of our team’s head or our hard drives and get it into a saleable form. So what Pam and Sharon are gonna walk you through is, first of all, how do you figure out what IP is valuable and how do you sort of go through the sort of inventory of the things that you use, the tools you use to identify what IP you have? 0 (5m 6s): And then once you identify what it is, the question is how do I capture it and in what format would I be able to monetize it? And even more so how do I scale that monetization? Might I license it or create certifications or workshops? And of course, if you’re gonna go to all this effort to create this content, you certainly wanna legally protect your IP and your assets. So Pam and Sharon are gonna walk you through all of that. They’re both dynamic speakers, super smart. And I think you’re gonna find it’s not only very valuable But it, very actionable. I think you’ll leave this session with a to-do list to really think about how else you can diversify the revenue of the agency. 0 (5m 51s): And Pam and Sharon are gonna help you do that. So super excited about that and many other things. If you have not registered for the summit yet, please go and grab a ticket before we sell out. Head over to agency management Institute dot com. In the very upper left corner of the navigation, it says BABA Summit, build a Better Agency Summit. Click on it, click on the registration button, and boom, you have a ticket to come see us in Denver in May, again, May 21st and 22nd. We would love to have you with us. Okay, with all of that said, I wanna talk to you today about the idea of building a community. And so we’re gonna talk a little bit about what a community is and isn’t, how it’s different than an audience, and why you might consider building either an audience or a community and and what that looks like for you. 0 (6m 42s): So as you know, I wrote a book with Steven Wener called Sell with Authority came out in 2020. and that was really all about how to, how to leverage content and be a thought leader and authority, a subject matter expert, and build an audience and attract right fit clients through that audience with your content. So this idea, this idea of building a community is really building on that concept and sort of taking it a little a little further. So the reality is that we are all built to belong. Belonging is a fundamental human need that everybody has. 0 (7m 25s): And you know, there have been all kinds of studies that have sort of shown what that looks like. You know, we’re all very familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So if you remember at the very bottom, it’s physiological needs. We need food, we need water, we need warmth, we need rest. And then the next one above that are safety needs. We need security and safety. And then the third one on that pyramid is belongingness and love needs. So it’s intimate relationships, it’s friendships, it’s peer groups. That’s the first psychological need. And then it goes on to say, talk about esteem needs and self-actualization, But. It is an a very clearly identified core need for us as human beings that we need to belong. 0 (8m 11s): Beyond that, there are all kinds of studies. So there was a 1995 study done by psychologist Roy Bauermeister and Mark Leary, the paper, in case you wanna read it, is called The Need to Belong Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation Just trips right off the tongue. But anyway, that study and that paper talked about our fundamental need to form and maintain lasting and significant relationships and how it’s rooted in our evolutionary history. And it was really born from the time when we needed to be a part of a community just to survive, whether it was hunting or staying warm or having shelter. 0 (8m 53s): So it’s sort of baked into our DNA to need to belong to a community. And then there was a 2003 study, which they, this was really a cool study to read. They took MRI images and they looked at parts of the brain. Technically it was the anterior cate cortex, but that part of the brain is affected when we experience two different kinds of pain. One is social exclusion when we are left out and we don’t belong. And the other is actual physical pain. And one of the things the MRI images showed was that our brains process those two kinds of pain in exactly the same way, in exactly the same place. 0 (9m 41s): So in essence, what that study proved is that we actually feel physical pain when we are not, when we don’t have that sense of belonging, when we are excluded or we are shunned or we are isolated for too long. So that need to belong is actually embedded in our, in our neurological circuitry. So it’s, it is emotional need, it is a survival need, but it’s also a physical need for us as that study showed. So then there was another study, two guys, DC and Ryan stated that they called this the concept of self-determination theory, but they stated that there are three fundamental psychological needs that are essential for our physiological growth, integrity, and wellbeing. 0 (10m 34s): And those three fundamental physiological needs are, or sorry, their psychological needs are competence, autonomy, and being connected to others. One of the things that I found sort of interesting about that is when I think about entrepreneurism and I think about what an entrepreneur needs to be successful, you know what I think about competence? We have to be good at what we do. It’s really hard to be a successful business person if we’re not good at it. We need autonomy. We, that’s one of the reasons why we’re entrepreneurs, right? We want to do it our own way, and yet we can’t do it alone. So we wanna be in charge and we wanna have a lot of control over what we do and how we do it. 0 (11m 18s): But the truth is that if we’re not connected with others, we can’t possibly be successful if we are not connected to our team, if we’re not connected to our community, if we’re not connected to our clients or prospects. And so I find it fascinating that those same three essential needs for all human beings are exactly what we need to be successful entrepreneurs as well. So the bottom line to all of this is that human beings are meant to belong, are meant to be connected, are meant to be in community. I think we all know that sort of intrinsically, we certainly saw it during Covid. We all felt it during Covid that we felt that sense of longing. 0 (12m 1s): I just read an article the other day that was talking about that adults, particularly American adults, that was the study that it was, are reporting that they are lonelier than ever before. That that coming out of Covid, that they really haven’t found a way to get sort of reengaged in community, in belonging, and that they, and that they miss it. They feel that physical pain, that emotional pain from not belonging. So the reality is that for most of us, we belong to many communities. When you think about what community means, it’s a much broader concept than it’s not really your neighborhood or your city. 0 (12m 42s): Could be that, certainly some of the communities we belong to. But we belong to a community of our family, especially our extended family. We belong to a community built of our friends. We belong to communities where we have a shared experience. It might be the kids we grew up with, or college friends or work friends. Many of us belong to a community where we share beliefs. So that might be a political organization where we share beliefs and we advocate for those beliefs. It could be a religious organization, it could be a passion project for us. And we also belong to communities where we have shared interests. It could be hobby or many of us belong to professional organizations that are tied to our interests of the work that we do, but everybody belongs to multiple communities. 0 (13m 33s): So let’s talk a little bit about what a community is or isn’t. So a community by definition is a social unit with a shared, socially significant characteristic like place, neighborhood, a set of norms or beliefs. So again, it could be a political organization or it could be a sports team, or it could be something else that brings us together. It is, it could be culture. So it might be, you know, I have a, a good friend who’s Greek and he belongs to a Greek association. It could be religion, it could be values or customs or common interest and or worries or identity. 0 (14m 17s): So any of those things can knit people together in this social unit that is socially significant because of this shared characteristic. So when you think about it from work point of view, you’re like, Drew, this is fascinating, but what did it have to do with my work? Well, it has everything to do with our work. So when we think about work, we as leaders in our organization, whether we own the agency or we’re on the leadership team, we help contribute to, and in some cases create community. We, we talk a lot about creating culture inside our organization. And so our team is a community. 0 (14m 58s): We might have community with our clients where we are sort of the touchpoint for all our clients, but maybe they’re all in the same industry or they speak to the same audience. Or we may be the common thread, we may be the social, the social connecting glue for that group. We often are in community with our colleagues. So that would be professional organizations like a MI. And we have the opportunity to create community with prospects. and that was really one of the things that Steven and I talked about in Cell with Authority was how do you create connection? How do you create a relationship with people you don’t know? 0 (15m 39s): And in fact, sometimes you don’t even know they’re out there. You know that somebody’s out there, but you don’t know specifically who’s out there. So how do you create relationship around that? Well, you create it by, by being a subject matter expert or an authority or a thought leader and sharing your knowledge and your content, which builds an audience. And if you want to, you can really develop that audience into an actual community. We’ll talk about the difference between those in a second, but we have the opportunity to create a lot of community if we want to. So let’s talk about the difference between an audience and a community, right? 0 (16m 19s): So an audience that’s where we, the thought leader, the subject matter expert, the authority we’re, we’re the teacher in the front of the classroom and the audience subscribes to what that teacher has to say. Let’s take a quick break. Hey everybody, just wanna remind you before we get back to the show, that we have a very engaged Facebook group. It’s a private group just for podcast listeners and agency owners that are in the AAMI community. And to find it, if you’re not a member, head over to facebook.com/groups/baba podcast. So again, facebook.com/groups/baab podcast. 0 (17m 2s): All you have to do is answer a few questions to make sure that you are an actual agency owner or leader. And we will let you right in and you can join over 1700 other agency owners and leaders. And I’m telling you, there’s probably 10 or 15 conversations that are started every day that are gonna be of value to you. So come join us. Alright, welcome back. So I’m talking to you and I’m sharing with you what I know, what I think I’m bringing guests on to teach you, but for the most part, it’s a monologue. You’re not really, you may be talking to me right now, but I don’t hear it, right? So it’s a monologue. I’m talking to you and you are absorbing the information and you’re staying focused on me, the teacher. 0 (17m 45s): And when I’m not here, when there is no new podcast episode, nothing happens. The students, the audience isn’t really connected to one another and they don’t have a relationship with each other. They just have a relationship with the teacher or the subject matter expert with me right now in a community, there’s still a teacher or a coach or a leader who teaches, but now it’s a dialogue and now other people are chipping in and participating as both the student and the teacher. And what’s really cool about a community is when it is mature and when it’s really been built up for a while and the community members feel comfortable with each other, then what happens is even when the teacher or the coach isn’t there, learning is still happening. 0 (18m 40s): So I think about the Facebook group that we’ve created for podcast listeners and agency owners, and there’s, you know, 2000 agency owners in that group. And there are conversations going on all day every day. And there’s no way that we at a MI can participate in all of those conversations. And so what happens often is someone will ask a question or share some information, and then there’s a whole conversation happening amongst the members. And everybody shows up both to learn, but also to do some experience sharing and to teach what they’ve learned that maybe it’s something they learned in one of our workshops, maybe it’s something they learned from their own experience. 0 (19m 24s): But learning is happening even when we at a MI, the teacher, if you will, when we’re not present. So that’s, that’s what happens when an audience turns into a community, is now the community is sort of self-regulating the teaching and the learning and the sharing with or without the subject matter expert or the teacher. So let’s go back to that definition of community. So a community is a social unit with a shared, socially significant characteristic like place set of norms, culture, religion, values, customs, common interests or worries or identity. 0 (20m 10s): So let’s look at a MI and the, and the community that a MI has created and let’s identify some of the things that that community sort of holds true. So the first one is most people, I would say 95% of the people inside our community are agency owners. So the first thing a community member would say is, I am an agency owner. Well, that’s their identity. So that’s one socially significant characteristic that they share with most of the other people in the community. Second thing they would say is, I’m an agency owner, probably an accidental business owner. I’m an agency owner who wants to learn how to be better to, to the benefit of our clients, our team, the agency itself, and me and my family. 0 (20m 54s): Well, those are that person’s values. And again, one of the things we see in our community is that that is a common value or goal of many people who spend time with AM i’s content in the Facebook group coming to workshops or in peer groups, things like that. So beyond that, they’re gonna say, you know what? I’m an accidental business owner. Honestly, sometimes it’s a little scary and lonely out here. Mistakes are expensive in all the ways, money, emotion, people. And I don’t wanna make mistakes. I wanna be with other people who get it, who will help me get it and will help me get it without judgment or competition. 0 (21m 36s): So that’s the common interest or worry part of that socially significant characteristics. So at at the a MI community, we check a bunch of those boxes of those characteristics that make it a community. So as we’re thinking about this and you’re thinking about building an audience for your agency, I want you to think about, do I want to build an audience or do I want to build a community? And if I built a community, who would I build it for? Right? So, and the reason why you would do this, why you would build an audience or go further and build a community is because it’s the way agencies sell. 0 (22m 18s): Today, we’ve talked over and over again about how often much of the sale has happened long before you even know a prospect is out there paying attention to you. They’ve been on your website, they’re following you on social media. They might be talking to people you’re connected to on LinkedIn