Tuesday, June 02, 2009

"BETTER TOGETHER: BLOGGING AS A TOOL FOR BUILDING COMMUNITY

I recently served as a panelist at the Brooklyn Small Business Summit. The topic of the panel was Search Engine Optimization and Social Media.

“Better Together: Blogging as a Tool for Building Community”

I have a little assignment that I’d like you to do right now. Please turn to a neighbor and introduce yourself. Share your name, the name of your business, and what brought you here today.

[Pause while folks in the audience talk to each other.]

Great! Welcome! I wanted to start that way for a reason. I want you to get to know each other as people - live and in the flesh. Technology is a great tool, but it’s relationships that connect us, not technology. Again - technology doesn’t connect us, relationships do.

So I was delighted when Alliah asked me to speak on the panel because it means I get to talk about something I am passionate about, which is using blogging as a tool for building relationships and building community.

When I first looked at the website for the summit, I saw that one of the themes is
sustainability. There is sustainability in terms of building your business in a way that respects the environment. There is another way to think about sustainability: what sustains us as entrepreneurs & small business owners, as people who create our own structures and paths? What keeps us excited and passionate about the work we do? What keeps us motivated to keep our work meaningful, relevant, and innovative in changing times?

Technology is certainly part of the answer, and it’s not the whole answer. Once again, technology doesn’t connect people, relationships do. So the question is, how do you use technology to build those relationships that are key to your success?

Blogging is one leg of social media and I have found it to be a powerful tool for building relationships with people and building community with people – the kind of relationships that sustain my work as an entrepreneur over the long haul.

How do you use a blog as a vehicle for building relationships? I write a blog called Creative Times. It’s a blog for artists and entrepreneurs. Part of my blog is about interviewing and spotlighting creative people in business and the arts. In that way, having a blog has been like having a passport to meeting and making relationships with people who have helped me move forward as an entrepreneur. Some of those people have become my clients. Some of them have become trusted advisors. Others have become collaborators with me in organizing major events. Those events have led to greater visibility and credibility for them and for me.

Here’s a specific example: About a year and a half ago, I did an in-person interview and write up of Pete Solomita who founded Little Buddy Biscuit Company, a premium quality baked goods company in Brooklyn. Because of the article I did about Pete on my blog, Pete became a client of mine and he contributed his services as a DJ to one of the events I organize called The Brooklyn Blogfest.

When Pete became my client, I had the pleasure of helping him start his own blog, Groovalicious in Brooklyn, which combines his love of cooking, music and social responsibility. Because of his blog, Pete now has a following of fans who share hispassions, and a community of readers and customers who can’t wait until Pete opens his bakery this year. So Pete himself has become an example of how blogging builds community.

Here’s another example of how blogging builds those important one-on-one relationships. I used my blog to profile one of my my favorite book authors, SARK. SARK is a best-selling author and very smart businesswoman with an internationational following who has written 15 books about creativity. Because I followed her career and kept profiling new books as they came out, SARK put a permanent link on her blog back to my blog. Her site has been a major source of traffic to mine.

So a Blog is s great way to make mutually-beneficial relationships with individuals.

The other powerful thing about blogging is that it is a tool for building your community, your team – this could mean a community of customers, clients, or collaborators. I personally think the most powerful and effective community you create is the one you build around whatever you are passionate about. Because the internet cannot provide leadership, only real people can do that. When you take on the role of leading and connecting with others who share your interests, you raise your visibility, you raise your credibility, just as importantly you create relationships that sustain you as a business owner for the long haul.

One way I used my blog to build community is by organizing the Brooklyn Blogade, which is a regular gathering of Brooklyn Bloggers. I recruit bloggers to host get togethers in all the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. I also am one of the main organizers for a larger annual gathering of Brooklyn Bloggers and readers called The Brooklyn Blogfest. I got to work closely with about a dozen other bloggers for five months on planning this huge event.

The outcome was great: this year, there were hundreds of people at the event – politicians, all kinds of journalists, businesspeople, authors, community leaders. We had a fun after party at an arts space in DUMBO.

The benefits for me as an entrepreneur were twofold: (1) I got to demonstrate my skills as a team-builder, a facilitator, a community-builder. (2) I got to make and deepen relationships with a group of people who have in turn helped coach and guide me in my life as an entrepreneur. Just last week, I pulled members of the Blogfest planning committee together to help me brainstorm some ways to move forward as an entrepreneur. Some of these are connections that I know I will have for life.

Here’s what I’m hoping you remember from these last few minutes:

1. To sustain ourselves as entrepreneurs, we need to build meaningful relationships. We need to create community for ourselves.

2. A blog is a terrific tool for building relationships, and building community in a way that will raise your visibility and credibility, in a way that will sustain your passion and vision in the work that you do.

You know the saying "It takes a village to raise a child?" The same goes for us as
entrepreneurs. We need each other to keep going, to keep being inspired.
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