The Art of the Voice: Part 7 - Rebuild your ghost town

Update: Hooray! No more wondering. Havi spills about her "overnight" success.

The original title of this post was "be community-minded" instead of "rebuild your ghost town." And while putting together a list of all of these things that "supposedly" work to build community, I kept feeling that twinge of Well, yes...these things are supposed to work. But actually, they haven't worked for me. I suck at "building community"...whatever that means. So I'm totally faking this. And if anything, I'm no faker. So I just stopped writing.

Defining "community" Call it a tribe, call it whatever you want, but it quickly becomes a tired social media cliche. I get bored instantly when I see the word. But what it's pretty much the holy grail of everything online and in business. True community is a euphoric state of being that barely anyone attains, and once they do attain it, it often becomes so much to MAINtain that they trade it for crowd-surfing.

Defining what a community looks like is a bit trickier. For me, it would be interaction at every level. Giving and receiving, learning and teaching, joining forces to create positive change. It's actively listening and responding and sharing and growing.

Not getting it yet? Okay's comments, baby.

Yeah. Comments. I said it. It feels good to be heard. But beyond that bit of narcissism, it provides a level of credibility that beats every other form -- proof that your work is changing people's lives. Plain and simple, it's good for business. And it's something that just can't be bought.

When what we've been told isn't cutting it

Writing your BEST content, selling your soul on facebook, tweeting your pants off. Asking questions, being different, showing that you're successful. We've heard it all, right? And we're doing it. Our numbers are great. We're barraged with emails asking for favors. People look up to us and seek our advice and hire us because yeah...we do awesome work. But our communities are still struggling. And that's downright embarrassing.

But it takes time! Consistency! Tireless self-promotion! It actually doesn't. Havi Brooks is one of my favorite examples. She's been writing her amazing blog for what...a year? And she's so not a social media whore. And you know what? I have no idea how she does it.

Honestly, I have a feeling it just...sort of happened while she was being her awesome self. Sure, she's strategic about a lot of things. Just like we all are. And maybe she does have a secret ninja formula. I have no idea, and I won't try to niggle her or the already-struggling Stu into sharing it with me when I should really just niggle my way to her kitchen table if it ever becomes open again.

A not-really-a-case-study case study

Since tried-and-true "techniques" for building community often end up being a huge failure, I'm going to do what I do best: analyze. I'm going to look over Havi's blog for the past year and try to see patterns. I have no idea how it's going to turn out. Maybe I'll be just as bewildered as I am now. And dear Lord, I hope Havi doesn't shoot me for going back so far in her archives and...umm...studying it (I shudder to think of what I wrote a year ago). But here we go.

  • May 9th, 2007: Havi writes an intelligent, useful post about the number one thing that keeps people from changing. She introduces a technique of the month. She mentions Philip Marlowe, and she's so smart. I don't quite understand what she's saying, but she's so, so smart. No comments yet. (So clearly, she started from scratch.) But wait...this was two years ago! Must have been an old post from an old (not successful?) blog. I'm pretty sure her current blog has only been active for a year.
  • July 17, 2007: First comment! Of course, it was written like a year and a half later, so it doesn't really count. Up until now, Havi's been writing long, amazingly intelligent posts, still which I don't understand all too well (but hey...I just heard about mindfulness for the first time last week so be patient with me). It looks like Havi has a lot of really practical, "do this now" type stuff. Hey...that's what I do, too! But still...the comments are written in December 2008 -- nearly a year and a half later. If she did have comments on these posts, and if it was on an old blog, she obviously didn't carry them over. The posts are written sort of sporadically...sometimes several in a week. Sometimes skipping weeks. (Hey, that sounds familiar, too.)
  • November 1, 2007: I'm starting to get the feeling that these articles weren't on an old blog -- they were in a newsletter. So of course there are no comments. Maybe I should just skip forward to the end of 2008...that seems to be when all the comments started coming. But I don't even want to skip -- Havi wrote some amazing stuff in these early posts. A different style than she has now, but extremely, incredibly useful and enlightening. (Maybe "useful" isn't the magic potion that we thought it was?)
  • June 16, 2008: Havi has a blog! And comments! Fully 8 comments from people who apparently got her newsletter before and adored her. The rest were written a little later. And you know what? She actually made it a point in the post to reveal that she had no comments. And then she invited the comments. And then they came. Weird.
  • June 17, 2008: Wow...Naomi and Havi go way back. And Havi dropped the bullet points and wrote a really long post (which "experts" say not to do), and she has several comments from real people. I totally recognize her voice now. It's like as soon as she dropped the newsletter and became "blog", there she was. All real and wonderful.
  • June 19, 2008: Havi already has a Twitter stalker burglar! Man, maybe this wasn't a normal blog launch. That must have been some newsletter.
  • July 2, 2008 - Nathan Bowers welcomes Havi to being internet famous. Okay, really now. She's not normal. She's had the blog for what...two weeks? And here's me thinking that nobody can be successful without a blog. And then she starts one after she was already pretty darn successful. Getting a decent 4 to 8 comments a post at this point. But they're not just random comments. They are real, I-want-to-be-on-any-team-you're-on comments. They are well-thought out. They expand the conversation.
  • July 16, 2008 - Men With Pens gave Havi some really good website advice. Like making it easier for people to comment by making the "Leave a Comment" link clearer. Interesting. Wonder if it will make a difference. Also, Havi mentions that she hates it when people ask for comments. So she doesn't ask for them. I like that.
  • July 23, 2008 - Havi is still working on her blog. The folks at Men With Pens advised her to change some of her wording. So she asks for help. And guess what? 32 comments. (Don't you hate it when you ask for something and you get cricket chirps?) Thing I've noticed: asking for help is different from asking for comments. Could it be a clue?
  • August 8, 2008: The Friday Check-In is born. Except it's called the Friday Round-up. Man, I would love to do this, but I'm afraid it would suck. And one thing I promised myself was to never fill up inboxes or feed readers with things that suck. Not even because I don't want to suck. But because wouldn't it be a much more awesome place if all of the blogs we subscribed to only posted stuff that was worth reading?
  • November 4, 2008: Remembering how much I loved the blogging therapy series. Oh wait...this one's about perfectionism. And I just wrote how I wanted everything I write to be awesome and not suck. I didn't plan this, really. Another clue? Also, in the last couple of months, Havi's consistently had 10-20 comments or more on nearly every post.
  • February 9, 2009: At this point when every post has 20-30 comments, I'm thinking...

    "Well, Havi writes about life and things that everybody deals with. It's easy to comment on that. I write about websites. Which is good, but only invites the 'Thanks for the tip' kind of comment. Not that I don't like those comments...I do. But it's not conversation. I guess I'm just screwed."

    But I don't really like making excuses, and I know there's something that I'm missing here.

  • May 4, 2009: Okay, I am just so jealous of Havi Brooks. She has a pirate crew. And even though she was scared to do it, she did it. And that frees her up to be creative and do better work and grow, grow, grow. When I've been screaming to myself, "Shrink! Shrink! Shrink! This growing stuff is not worth all the money in the world!" And all because I'm scared of bringing more people onto my ship.
  • June 11, 2008: There she goes answering my question. About hiring people. But what about being scared to death of being responsible for someone else's livelihood? I already take care of two small people and one big one. I already pay nearly all of the bills all while tackling a mountain of debt and refusing to get into more debt and trying to get my house ready to sell (because yes, we may be moving soon).

    Umm...okay. See what she did there? Havi's so good at building community that I am having a conversation about something totally irrelevant to the point of this analytical experience.

  • July 1, 2009: That's today. And I just love that her Wednesday thing is back.

What we've learned

Well, I don't know what you got out of all of that, but here's what I got:

  • Being an expert isn't enough. And writing well isn't enough. Somehow, you've got to live your life out loud...and bring it all back to the point of what you do. Yes, you've got to be useful. And you've got to write your best stuff. But your real life has to come through that somehow.
  • Rituals are good. I don't know why, but they are.
  • Consistency is necessary. I still haven't figured out if it's critical to write more than once a week. But I think it probably is. Dang it. It all comes back to the pirate crew, seriously. (So jealous!)

My list isn't finished yet. I'm still processing all of this...this intangible stuff. Trying to make it tangible. Because we don't need a zillion ghost towns all over the internet. Community is beautiful.