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Old-School Thinking on Building Fierce Loyalty [Day 10 – 28 Days to BFL]

February 10th, 2012

This is Day 10 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Yesterday, my friend Elizabeth Marshall gave us her musician’s perspective on how to play the conductor to build Fierce Loyalty. Today, in her trademark, no bs style, Carol Roth gives us some old-school wisdom on this hot new word, loyalty.

Old School Thinking on Building Fierce Loyalty

By: Carol Roth| @CarolJSRoth

Are you a VIP member of a customer loyalty program for your favorite retailer, sandwich shop or coffee house?  Well, you may have been led to believe that a plastic card (or worse, a paper punch card) creates loyalty. But does that really create loyalty to a company or just to their program?

Loyalty is not transactional. You can’t buy it with gifts or discounts.  It comes not just from a dollars and cents perspective, but from building relationships, connections and bridges with your customers.  If you don’t care about them and make them feel important, you will not earn their loyalty.

As many forward-thinking loyalty experts, like my friend Lou Imbriano, point out, this new thinking is really quite old-school.  Back when our grandparents were our age, they would go to the butcher who had a relationship with them.  They would go to the butcher who asked about their kids and family and genuinely cared about them, not the one who had a special on brisket or offered the fifth hot dog for free when you bought four.

Here are a few ways to jump start your loyalty efforts:

Know your senders and spenders:  There is a temptation to favor those who spend a lot of money with you.  But just as valuable are those who influence others and “send” people to your business.  Know and engage with both.

Listen and learn:
  Listen to what your customers talk about, not just in their business, but also their personal lives.  This will help build that old school connection.

Make them feel important:  Treat your customers like kings and queens. Everyone wants to hang out in the palace that makes them feel like royalty, if you know what I mean.

That’s it- three things that you can do immediately to start generating deep loyalty with your customers.

For more information on the future of customer loyalty, watch my presentation on Customer Loyalty 3.0 (courtesy of SOBCon):

Carol Roth
Carol Roth is a business strategist and New York Times bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. Carol’s firm designs and implements customer loyalty programs for companies of all sizes. Contact her at


P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here.

A Musician’s Take on Connection and Community [Day 9 – 28 Days to BFL]

February 9th, 2012

This is Day 9 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Yesterday, the lovely and insightful Britt Michaelian shifted our language from “me” to “we”. Today, my dear friend, advisor to today’s best-selling business authors, and professionally trained musician, Elizabeth Marshall, turns her musician’s lens on the ideas of connection and community.

A Musician’s Take on Connection and Community

By: Elizabeth Marshall| @LizMarshall

We live in an increasingly fragmented and disconnected
world. In the midst of this isolation, our potential
followers and clients (including us) are looking for
community and connection.

Which begs the question:

Can we, as entrepreneurs and leaders, truly create the type
of community that our potential followers (and we ourselves)
truly want? Not the superficial version of “community,” but
the type that fosters meaningful and rich relationships.

Is it possible? I believe that it is.

In this video, we’ll explore a few lessons that the world of
music can teach us about community, including how those
lessons directly relate to our ability to build a fiercely
loyal community in and around our work. You have insights
on how you can evaluate your role as “community catalyzer”
and steps you can take to strengthen your community and

I look forward to hearing your comments, questions and


Elizabeth Marshall
Elizabeth Marshall 
is dedicated to helping messengers spread their message and sell their books. She does that through her coaching, teleseminars, and out-of-the-box workshops, like Book Breakthrough NYC.

You can learn more about her by going to



P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here.

Building Fierce Loyalty: It’s Not about You [Day 8 – 28 Days to BFL]

February 8th, 2012

This is Day 8 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Yesterday, the wise and savvy Jeffrey Summers challenged us to create a more social experience for our community and dished out a TON of expertise in the comments. Today, the lovely and brilliant Britt Michaelian shares her super secret sauce for building her fiercely loyal tribe.

Building Fierce Loyalty: It’s Not about You

By: Britt Michaelian| @MamaBritt



Living your truth.

Building your tribe…

It seems like every year there is a buzz word or phrase that you hear everyone using. These buzz words are usually popular because they are incredibly important during specific times. They are a piece of history and right now, the word community is a HOT topic, especially if your community is fiercely loyal.

In this quick video, you will find out one of the MOST important (according to moi) aspects of building loyalty in your community. It doesn’t have to do so much with you actually, but it does have to do with how you act. Confused? Exactly why you need to watch the video and then leave your comments so we can discuss! 😉

About the Author:


Britt Michaelian, MA (also known as @MamaBritt) is a community builder, artist, author, radio show host, Founder of Work Smart Lifestyle and Co-Founder of Girlfriends Productions. She is currently involved in working with her business partner and 20th Television to build the first ever Social Television community “Friends of Ricki” for the Ricki Lake Show.



P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here.

Building A More Social Experience [Day 7 – 28 Days to BFL]

February 7th, 2012

This is Day 7 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Yesterday, the uber-fab Shelley Kramer took us out on the limb of being human. Today, one of my oldest, dearest and most business savvy Twitter friends, Jeffrey Summers, takes our conversation in a new and challenging direction. Be prepared to think. 🙂

Building A More Social Experience

By: Jeffrey Summers| @JeffreySummers

Just as a great photograph isn’t simply taken, it’s created, so does the story you tell about your business and the experience you offer those who have or have yet to, choose to do business with you. Consumer’s mindsets have gone through a recalibration in terms of how they perceive, establish and value – value, trust and loyalty, as well as how they now define their overall relationships with brands. Gone are the days of endless push marketing tactics. Today’s successful marketers understand “social pull”. Therefore, understanding how to create a compelling story and then communicate that story to those who would feel compelled to participate in it, is extremely critical in successfully defining effective marketing and a successful social business. The most effective means of communicating these values, now happens within communities.

So when considering the question of how to build deeper (real, organic) loyalty and trust (not the frequency scheme kind) with your customers through the creation or participation in a community, you have to consider the strategic nature of four critical issues.

Listening Or Know Your Customers

Sorry, but the Golden Rule no longer applies. Because it’s not about you. It’s about your customers (and employees!). You don’t treat others how you want to be treated, you treat them how they want to be treated. Huge difference. Obviously, the key is in knowing how they want to be treated.

Secondly, how can you add the right value to your customer’s experience with your brand if you don’t understand what drives their interest in the first place? Too many rely on anecdotal evidence and internal likes and dislikes.

It’s also, despite previous posts on this theme, not about simply being human, but about what kind of human? What values, traits and characteristics does your business identify with, that reflect your core target market? What about your experience is calibrated or engineered to reflect, support and facilitate those very attributes?

So it’s critical that you do some fundamental work toward understanding better, the who, what, when, where, how and why of what makes your customers, be customers as well as what makes them continue to be your customers.

Just who are they? Where do they get their information about products and services? Whom do they trust and why? What are their communication preferences? How do they establish trust? Who influences them? Whom do they influence? Why? What values do they subscribe to and how do they differentiate among them?


Whatever you think about how abused this word is, it still has powerful meaning.

The adage, “If you build it they will come” is a prescription for mediocrity and failure. You must go where your customers are and engage them on their territory and on their terms. Which is why it is important to have listened to the point of knowing and understanding where your customers (and others like them) hang out, what interested them, what they talk about, who the influencers are, etc…

Then you can formulate a plan for inserting your experience into the conversation, where doing so adds enough value that it creates customers – which we know to be the only goal of any business.


Provide the focus and platform for your own conversations (and their direction). Don’t try to control the conversations – because you simply can’t (there’s more of them than there are of you!) and you will come off as simply another ‘push’ marketer. Ask questions. Dig down into what your guests value and what values they consider most important when choosing whether or not to do business with you. Ask for feedback. Ask for references and testimonials that celebrate those common values that bind your community and allows your business to thrive in their presence. Nothing is more valuable than someone who influences others (trust) giving their community a sincere testimonial on your behalf.

What if you don’t have any communities around your brand or products & services? Simply create them. Whether through a forum on your existing website or even a completely separate one which allows for and encourages interaction, open and honest comments about your experience, etc…  And don’t forget the offline events and activities that can leverage and support real loyalty.


This is a powerful point. Not many brands today are as open and honest about the value they provide – most because they don’t understand it from their customers perspective. Mediocre brands focus internally, not externally.  They are not “community-centric.” And heaven forbid they encourage participation from their customers in refining and supporting their products and services.  So the first one to do so will win every time.

Say what you mean and do what you say. Communicate to a power of 10. Add “meaningfully differentiated value” at each and every touchpoint in your experience. Map out your entire customer experience from start to finish (is there a finish?) and look at each and every touchpoint and ask yourself how you can maximize the meaningfully differentiated value you offer.  You should also identify real opportunities to creatively add personalized value at the point(s) of engagement with each customer. Coach every employee on this every day.

Final Thoughts

Social Business is simple, it’s just not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it right? It takes coordinated effort and strategic thinking to make it work seamlessly. Consumers reward businesses that create more social brands with both their heart and their wallet. So the question you need to ask yourself, is how are you creating a more social business? Now it’s my turn to listen to your thoughts. Leave a comment and further the discussion. It really is too important to ignore.


Jeffrey is a 30 year veteran of creating, operating, Coaching and consulting with successful restaurant & hotel concepts that include national, international, franchised and independent brands. He is also the president and founder of the Summers Hospitality Group a full-service, national and international, Restaurant & Hospitality Coaching and consulting firm based in Fort Worth, Texas.


P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here.

The Secret to Building Fierce Loyalty? Be Human [Day 6- 28 BFL]

February 6th, 2012

This is Day 6 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty (We take the weekends off during these series to play catchup). Friday, The always brilliant Danny Brown offered us a brutally honest post where he also cussed and talked about dog poo. 🙂  Today, one of my very favorite in the whole world, Shelly Kramer, takes us out on a limb so we can build Fierce Loyalty. 

The Secret to Building Fierce Loyalty? Be Human

By: Shelly Kramer| @ShellyKramer

When Sarah asked me to be a contributor to her Building Fierce Loyalty Series it seemed like a no-brainer. I mean, loyalty. That’s a snap, right? Building it isn’t all that difficult. Or is it?  Upon reflection, I realized that building loyalty is hard. And scary and intimidating. Who was I kidding?

So here’s what I think about building loyalty. As an initial step, in order to garner loyalty, one must first do something. Make friends, reach out a hand, show up at an event, say something out loud, write something, publish something, share something, create something, or maybe even stand up and be brave enough to share a thought or an opinion. You’re getting my drift. These things – I call them stepping out on a limb.

For some people, stepping out on a limb can be very intimidating. That limb usually looks thin, shaky and–most of all–lonely as hell. That limb is a metaphor for so  many things. It can be a party you’re invited to where you know no one. It can be writing – and then publishing – your first blog post. It can be going on a blind date. It can be day one at a new job. Or it can be venturing into an unknown that is the social media space.

It will come as no surprise that I’ve stepped out on that limb many times. But no matter how confident I might seem, I’m really somewhat of an introvert. Quit laughing. I really am. And even I have to regularly grit my teeth and force myself to do things that I don’t love doing. I remember a number of years ago when I was working on getting the courage to blog, and one curmudgeonly friend used to regularly ping me and ask where I was in that process. I kept waffling, procrastinating, coming up with a million excuses why I was to busy to launch that blog. In reality, I was afraid of the limb. I’m a decent writer – and I know that. And I have a brain that works pretty well, too. But the limb that represented blogging, and putting my thoughts and words and ideas out there … that was frightening. But I did it. And once I did, it was no big deal. And amazing how intimidating that had once seemed. Sound familiar?

That’s just one example, but the thing that makes all of it … all those journeys that we respectively manage to make out onto all those limbs … worthwhile, well that’s pretty simple, too. The rewards, at least in my experience, are too many to name. But some of the biggies include things like friendship, respect, camaraderie, kinship. And most of all, loyalty. And, if you’re really lucky, fierce loyalty.

So what’s the magic potion? How is it that you can live your life, do what it is you do best, or what it is you love, or what it is you’re most passionate about – and inspire fierce loyalty? For me, the answer is clear – it’s all about being human.

I’m not a big God Squadder (not, of course that there’s anything wrong with that), but I was sitting in Mass last week and listening to the homily and the words of our priest struck me such that I grabbed my phone (ignoring the frown on my husband’s face) and jotted down a note.

His message was a very simple one. A life driven by humility is the path to happiness. A life driven by ego opens the door to evil. I’m a huge fan of humility and it’s no surprise that this particular bit of scripture resonated with me. Think for a moment of all the people who have been fueled by ginormous egos and ultimately felled by them. The list is as long as any one of our arms, isn’t it?

Make no mistake – this post isn’t about religion – that was just an aside to emphasize a point. For me, however, humility is the answer – especially when it comes to loyalty. Inspiring fierce loyalty is all about being human – and being humble. Being prideful and ego driven are easy temptations, especially when success is in the picture. But being prideful and self-absorbed and constantly amazed by your own greatness–those aren’t the character traits that inspire fierce loyalty. At least not in my book.

Conversely, people who are humble are people I want to revere. Not because they ask for it, or expect it, but because they earn it. They deserve it. Want some examples of people who inspire great loyalty? What about Mother Teresa or Gandhi. Or Meryl Streep. Or humble athletes like Tim Tebow, Hank Aaron or Steve Nash. While thinking about this post, I did a bit of research and discovered the book “Start with Humility: Lessons from Quiet CEOs on How to Build Trust and Inspire Followers” featuring case studies of CEOs like Starbucks’ Howard Schulz, Pepsi Cola’s Craig Weatherup, and Sara Lee’s Brenda Barnes, to name a few.

Clearly, I’m not the only one who thinks humility is an integral part of the road to success. Whether as a CEO, an athlete, a celebrity, a coach, a business owner, a manager of any kind, a blogger … well, pretty much you name it, humility is, in many cases, better than pride and egoism.

And you know what I love about humility so much? It’s about people. Humility is all about being human. Recognizing that we’re all just people, and we all put our pants on one leg at a time. We all have moments of insecurities and we all make mistakes. And when we have great successes or moments of brilliance they rarely happen because of us and us alone. Remembering that is, to my way of thinking, a formula to build fierce loyalty.

So, whether you’re wondering as an individual, a CEO, a manager, a coach, a parent, etc., how it is that you can inspire fierce loyalty, my suggestion is that it starts with being human – and practicing humility. Being grateful for the gifts you’re given, for opportunities or kindnesses, being grateful and appreciative of the time and talents of others, being grateful for the time people take out of their lives to read or share something you’ve written or created, comment on something you’ve said, etc., is a good start.  And no matter what, just focus on being human.

I’ll even go out on the limb and predict you’ll find that once you get on the humble train, you’ll find it is a far better ride, with far better company along the way, than the MeMeMe Express that so many others choose to ride.

What about you? Am I totally off base here or does humility resonate with you as much as it resonates with me? Is it part of your formula for building fierce loyalty? I’d love to know what you think.

Shelly Kramer is the Founder and CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing. A 20+ year marketing veteran, she’s a strategist, brand storyteller, digital marketing pro, content marketing expert, speaker and corporate trainer – she’s and a well regarded figure in the worlds of tech and social media. Recently recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 50 Social Media Influencers, she’s half marketer, half geek, with a propensity for numbers, producing results and a dash of quick repartee. Her client experience includes working with startups and not-for-profits, as well as Fortune 500 companies and agencies of all sizes, budgets teeny to gigantic, in both B2B and B2C markets.


P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here.

If You Want Fierce Loyalty, You Need To Be Fiercely Loyal First [Day 3- 28 BFL]

February 3rd, 2012

This is Day 3 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Yesterday, my ridiculously smart and creative friend Les McKeown gave us simple and succinct choreography to build fierce loyalty. Today, the brilliant Danny Brown (who has a wicked accent and an even wickeder sense of humor) share the single thing we have to do if we want fierce loyalty.

If You Want Fierce Loyalty, You Need To Be Fiercely Loyal First

By: Danny Brown| @dannybrown

Loyalty. A funny concept. One that can mean so many different things to different people at different times.

Sports teams have loyalty from their fans. Well, the true ones do. Think Manchester City as opposed to Manchester United, where the latter’s “fans” are more interested in prawn sandwiches than a good soccer team.

Indie bands have loyalty from their fans. Until they sign that big record deal, that is, then they become sell-outs.

Humans have loyalty from their dogs. But then you would be pretty loyal as long as you had someone cleaning up your shit.

So, yeah, loyalty – a funny concept. And yet it’s something that’s so important to so many people, they spend their lifetime(s) trying to work out how they can build loyalty around what they do.

After all, build loyalty, you build bigger success, right? More sales; repeat sales; referrals. Get that gold rush and you don’t have to worry about marketing.

Okay, maybe just a bit about marketing (I’m a marketer by trade, so I’d be dumb to say you didn’t need my services, right?).

So, yeah – loyalty is something pretty much everyone wants to achieve in some form or another. And not just loyalty, but fierce loyalty. Because if you grab that piece of gold, the world is truly your oyster. That shit starts revolutions.

And so companies spend thousands (millions?) on trying to create loyalty programs. Bloggers spend thousands of words trying to say the things they think their readers want to hear to become loyal. Social media “gurus” spend all day on Twitter when they should be doing real work, just to try and get that extra loyal follower to buy into their crud.

And it’s all a waste of time. Seriously.

Because you don’t need to spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars trying to build loyalty. You don’t need to be that desperate typist. You don’t need to be that good-for-nothing-except-quotes-for-Mashable social media douche whose only loyalty comes from those laughing at him religiously.

If you want loyalty – fierce loyalty – it’s easy. Be fiercely loyal first.

Show people you care. Show people you mean what you say. Every time. Show people they can trust you. Show people you deserve that trust. Show people you’re not a dick who simply panders to those stroking your ego (or your dick). Show people every one of them is equal.

And it’s not fucking hard to do this.

  • If you’re a blogger, encourage dissention of your views and don’t let fanboys be your voice.
  • If you’re a business, embrace your critics as much as your fans (if not more so).
  • If you’re a manager, let everyone speak and not just Tommy Kiss Ass.

In fact, no matter what you do, in what discipline and in what medium, it’s really not hard at all to build loyalty.

Think like the person you want to become loyal to you and ask what really matters to them.

Get that simple thing right and you’ll have loyalty so fierce you’ll wonder why you were making it so difficult to achieve to begin with.

What can y ou do today to start thinking like the person you want to become fiercely loyal to you?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown is Director of Retention and Social Media at Jugnoo, Inc., and an award-winning marketer and blogger. His blog is recognized as one of the leading marketing blogs in the world, and is featured in the AdAge Power 150, Hubspot’s Hot 100 Marketing Blogs, SME’s Top 10 Social Media Blogs 2011 list and Canada’s Top 50 Marketing Blogs. In 2010, it won the Hive Award for Best Social Media Blog at the South by South West festival. Danny is also the author of The Parables of Business.


P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here. (Yesterday, I gave away Les’s book, Predictable Success, to someone on the email list!)

Building Fierce Loyalty: A Choreography [Day 2- 28 BFL]

February 2nd, 2012

This is Day 2 of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Yesterday I talked about preparation and commitment. Without these two things in place, the remaining 27 days will have little impact, so get on it!. Today, my insanely smart friend Les McKeown starts us off with his incredible gifts of insight and creativity. 

Building Fierce Loyalty: A Choreography

By: Les McKeown | @lesmckeown

F ind people that you care for.
I nvest time to learn what they love.
E ngage on the basis of their needs.
R evel in feedback, good and bad.
C are enough to admit when you screw up.
E xperiment enough to screw up.

L ove the weakest you serve, not (just) the strongest.
O pen the box. Let them see how the sausage is made*.
Y ield easily to the pressure of their great ideas.
A sk, when in doubt.
L et go, not of control, but of direction.
T ear down whatever should not stand.
Y ou will be loved. Fiercely. Loyally.

*Even better, let them make the sausage themselves.

What steps will you dance first?

Les McKeown is president and CEO of Predictable Success, the leading advisor on accelerated business growth. He is the author of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller “Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track – and Keeping It There.” and The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success.


P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here. (Yesterday, I gave away Les’s book, Predictable Success, to someone on the email list!)

28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty – Let’s Kick It!! [Day 1- 28 BFL]

February 1st, 2012

Let’s crank it up, people!!! Day #1 of 28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty is FINALLY here!!

Today we are going to do some preparation to make the most of this experience. Remember, I’ve read the posts that are coming your way so I know what is in store for us. This is also the fourth series like this that I’ve curated, so I know what works. 🙂

If I’ve learned anything during my years online (and before that in my years performing Shakespeare), it’s this:  preparation may not sound all hot and sexy, but it is what separates the breathtaking from the “meh”.  So let’s be about some awesome, okay?!

(For those of you who have done these with me before, this groundwork will look familiar.)

For the next 28 days, we’ve volunteered to show up, learn and apply lessons from some seriously smart people. We’re going to shift our thinking around building a fiercely loyal community.  We’re going to take action on what we learn – not later – but right now while the series is underway. We’re going to ask questions. We’re going to discuss. We’re going to cheer each other on as we try new and unfamiliar things.

“Fortune favors the prepared mind.” ~Louis Pasteur

These seven keys below will anchor us in the coming days (and even when this series is over) and will truly make all the difference. So, here we go.

1) Commit. Show up here every day for the next 28 days. If you are serious about building a fiercely loyal community and reaping the rewards that go with it, you’ve got to step up. I know you are busy. So am I. But I’ve learned the work isn’t going to get done all by itself. I’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes. So today, decide.

2) Get a notebook or a legal pad that is dedicated to this 28 day series. You may even want to get a three -ring binder and some loose-leaf paper so you can print out and save each blog post. Every day you will be asked to take a small action that will help you build your fiercely loyal community. You’ll need some space to write down your thoughts and your responses. This may be the very excuse you need to finally buy a Moleskin. 🙂

3) Ask questions. Each blog post author is available on the day of their post to respond to comments and answer questions. Take advantage of having access to this extraordinary group of men and women. And remember, the only stupid question is the one that remains unasked.

4) Connect with each other. Many of you recruited a partner for 28 Days -which is AWESOME!! And if you haven’t, it’s not too late to do that, but you will be fine if you haven’t. The culture here at Escaping Mediocrity is one of a tribe. We learn from and lean on each other.

To that end, connect with those you may not know. Respond to an interesting comment. Ask the commentor a question.  The relationships that begin during these series have lasted for years.

(And here is one of my few ground rules: this is a supportive environment. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. If you get personal or overly snarky, I will call you out and ban you. End of story.)

I’ve built a list on twitter to make it easy for you to follow all of the guest authors for the series. You will find it here.

AND I will be building a list of 28 Day participants on twitter as well. Use the hashtag #28Days in your tweets if you want to be added.

5) Remember that some posts will resonate more strongly with you than others. Many times I’ve found that the thing that I was certain had no value to me was the very thing that I needed to hear. So play through each day. You never know where it may lead you.

6) Stay the course. Somewhere about mid-way through this thing, people will start dropping off. It’s just what happens. Decide now that you won’t be one of those people.

7) Keep your eye on the prize. Fiercely loyal communities don’t spring up over night. They take careful planning and lots of behind the scenes work. When you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, remember to keep your eye on the prize. 🙂

So now, go get yourself all warmed up because tomorrow Les Mckeown is bringing his ridiculously smart game to the table. You want to be ready, I promise!


P.S. If you aren’t already signed up and don’t want to miss out on  28 Days to Building Fierce Loyalty, please sign up here.

Everything I Needed to Know About Building Community, I Learned from a College Dorm

January 30th, 2012

In last week’s post, Building a Community Starts with a Decision, I promised to share the community building strategies I stumbled upon in my very first job out of college. I was a “Community Development Coordinator” in the St. Louis University residence hall system, charged with building and fostering community under less than ideal circumstances.

Through a steep learning curve of trial and error, I learned what worked and what didn’t work. And these lessons have stayed with me for the past 20 years, informing everything I’ve ever done. (And for the record, everything I’ve ever done involved building a community. Quite honestly, I think it’s part of what everyone does if they want to be successful.)


Everything I Needed to Know About Building Community, I Learned from a College Dorm

#1 Give them ownership of the community, even when you think they are totally going to mess it up.
There were no RA’s living on each floor of the residence hall to keep everyone in line. Instead, each floor was given the authority to design and enforce their own rules (with a little guidance of course). With that privilege came the responsibility of paying for any damage that occurred on their floor.

I’ll never forget standing in the stairwell one Friday night listening to a girl totally dress down three drunk boys who thought they were going to knock out a light fixture when no one was looking. She was fierce and she wasn’t backing down. AND her floormates came out of their rooms to support her. It was awesome.

#2 Find the thing that will motivate them to participate in self-governance.
Each floor was allocated a small “social fund”. I decided to tie the receipt of that social fund to participation in a Hall Council which governed the entire dorm. A floor representative had to attend 75% of the meeting in order to get their check.

#3 Give them a group project to work on together.
Each floor was allowed to design and paint a hall theme each year. We supplied the paint and everything else they needed. We even held a contest which turned into a fierce competition (lots of floors kept their designs a secret, barring anyone who didn’t live there from coming onto the floor).  I was after, and got, two results 1) They accomplished something as a community and 2) they turned a run down building into something that felt like home.

#4 Connect them with mentors.
I gave each floor the challenge of asking a faculty or staff member to become their Floor Mentor. A mentor’s job was basically just to hang out, socialize, offer guidance when needed and just be there. It was fun to watch as the mentors started showing up for intramural games, helping with the Floor Personalization Contest and handing out in the dorm dining hall. Most of them had never interacted with students outside the classroom and they loved it. The students loved having a “go-to” adult other than me when they were trying to figure something out.

#5 Believe that they are capable, really capable of stepping up to the challenge.
This is the secret sauce and it took me the longest to learn. My students would step up only as far as I believed they could. No more. No less. My job was to equip them, help them, and support them. But if I ever gave them the impression I thought they couldn’t do it, they would prove me right every single time.

These aren’t the only strategies that I used, but they are absolutely my Top 5. They are the ones I pull out again and again and again because they stand the test of time and because they apply universally.

I hope you find these helpful and I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

OH – and if you want to continue the conversation about Community and Fierce Loyalty. 28 days to Building Fierce Loyalty start this Wednesday, February 1. Join this free blog series here:

Building a Community Starts with a Decision

January 25th, 2012

My first job out of college was at St. Louis University (Go Billikens!).  They hired me to be a Community Development Coordinator in their residence hall system. That was right up my alley. I’d started organizations in college, worked in a residence hall, and loved the idea of strengthening a student community.

However, there were a few unanticipated challenges.

Challenge #1 – Most of the students who lived in my particular residence hall lived in the St. Louis area. They viewed their dorm room as simply a convenient place to sleep, not as a “home away from home.”

Challenge #2 – The physical building of this particular residence hall was old and worn. Poor lighting, poor plumbing, poor windows, small rooms, no common space – all barriers to creating a warm feeling.

Challenge #3 – I was young, fresh out of college, with no real idea of what I was doing.

(Mercifully, Challenge #3 became a huge asset because I didn’t know enough to know what an uphill battle I was fighting.)

Isn’t that true with most businesses and organizations, though? I mean, if we step back and look at trying to create a community, don’t the seemingly insurmountable challenges start to rise up in front of our eyes?

Challenges like – how on earth are we going to find, much less connect with such a far-flung group of people? What are we going to talk about once we run out of our standard marketing messages? How do we draw a group together and foster a true feeling of community that sticks? The daunting list could go on and on.

The only solution I found in my first job and in every other community-building situation I’ve ever been in is that building a community is a decision we make. Just like any other kind of relationship, we have to decide every single day that we want to build a community – no matter how difficult it might seem.

I decided every single day for two years that building a community out of college students was worth it. Worth the frustration, worth the long hours, worth the mistakes, worth it all.  And bit by bit, day by day, I watched this thing called community take shape and grow stronger. Pride developed. Trust developed. Passionate commitment developed.

In fact, by the end of my two-year commitment, the students were so invested in the well-being of their community that they sent a representative to interview the candidates for my replacement to ensure he or she would be a good “fit”.

All of this evolved, in spite of the daunting liabilities I listed above.

In another post, I’ll talk about the specific strategies I stumbled into that worked. These strategies apply to college residence halls, Fortune 500 companies, non-profits, and small businesses. It’s exciting stuff, really.

For now, though, you’ve got to decide that you want to build a community. And you’ve got to be prepared to make that decision every single day. Are you in?

P.S. If you want to go much, much deeper into what it takes to build a fiercely loyal community, join me for my annual guest blog series starting Feb. 1.