• Sarah Robinson

Leading the Fiercely Loyal Community


“What qualities and characteristics does a leader need to lead a Fiercely Loyal Community?”

When I start talking about community, this question inevitably comes up. And for good reason. Companies and organizations want to know what kind of leader can make a fiercely loyal community come together and stay together. (If  organizations aren’t asking themselves this question, that’s another, bigger problem we can discuss later.)

In my twenty plus years of leading and observing communities, I’ve watched countless leaders go about the business of leading. I’ve watched incredible success and abject failure. After all that observation, I’ve learned to make very good bets on which leaders will fall into which category simply based on the qualities they bring to the table.

The leaders who experience incredible success and Fierce Loyalty in their communities share these characteristics:

1) Drive These leaders work hard. They know that a fiercely loyal community doesn’t form itself or happen by an alignment of stars.  It requires sweat equity, a framework, a plan and daily execution.

The people behind the incredible community at www.Uber.com, are great examples of leaders with drive. They set out to completely re-write the way we think about and use a limo/car service. Starting from scratch,  they deployed an app, a social media campaign,  a well-trained team of community managers, well-above-average drivers, and built fiercely loyal communities of clients all over the world. They work hard at it every single day.

2) Determination Trends come and go. Communities ebb and flow. Leaders of fiercely loyal communities aren’t influenced by any of these external factors. They are firm in their purpose and resolute in their vision for what they are creating, no matter how the outside circumstances shift around them. They choose focused determination every single day.

I’m watching this play out in the political campaign communities right now. The ground is literally shifting from one minute to the next as the presidential election rapidly approaches. Distractions abound. Circumstances look dire. The successful community leaders are putting blinders on, looking straight ahead and keeping their eyes off the prize.

3) Persistence The path to a Fiercely Loyal community is never smooth and uneventful. Obstacles (both anticipated and unanticipated) appear at the worst possible moments. Difficulties with people and circumstances occur far too often. Yet successful leaders are unflappable.  They hold the tiller steady, stay the course and find a way to keep moving forward.

I was meeting with a client not too long ago and the Vice-President of Marketing told me that the Sales Department was leading an effort to abandon our community building strategy because “after three months, we should be seeing a direct impact on our numbers.” Fortunately, the Vice-President was committed to the long-term strategy of building a Fiercely Loyal community and threw his full weight and influence behind its continued implementation.

4) Accountability Mistakes happen. Bad decisions get made. While the successful community leader tries to minimize the frequency and the impact of these things, there is no way to avoid the fact that they will occur. Leaders of Fiercely Loyal Communities accept this reality. And they accept something far more important. Responsibility. When something goes wrong, they don’t finger point and place blame. They own it.

There is no better current example of this than the recent challenges in the KitchenAid community. The now-fired community leader tweeted an unfortunate personal comment and opinion from the corporate twitter account. Within minutes, Cynthia Soledad, head of the entire KitchenAid brand, was on Twitter apologizing. And even though she had nothing to do with what happened, she said “I lead the KitchenAid brand and I take responsibility for the whole team.”

5) Transparency This is the word of moment, isn’t it? And it’s a word that terrifies many community leaders out there. How to be transparent and yet maintain the correct brand image? When I watch the truly successful leaders handle this seeming conundrum, here’s what jumps out at me: they incorporate transparency, candor and honesty into the brand image rather than seeing these things as separate from the brand image.

A client of mine in the legal profession (not exactly known for transparency, right?) recently told me the secret to his fiercely loyal community of long-term clients. He is transparent with them from the very beginning. He tells them that he values his relationship with them so much that he will tell them the truth at all times, even if it means he refers them to another attorney who can better handle a case. Refreshing to say the least. And his clients are completely devoted to him as a result.

6) Playfulness Really great community leaders take themselves lightly. They know when to be serious and they know when to play. We crave laughter and lightness. And the leader that can deftly add these to the community personality and experience stokes the fires of Fierce Loyalty.

One of my new favorite communities is the Society of Good Taste from Grey Poupon. If you haven’t seen this incredibly fun community, go there now. Don’t even finish this article.  All of my colleagues and I are dming and messaging about the brains behind this fantasticly fun community built around something as unfantasticly fun as mustard. If you get in on the first try, don’t tell me about it. And no, I won’t tell you how many times it took me to get in.

7) A Healthy Lack of Ego In Fiercely Loyal Communities, the leaders take themselves out of the spotlight. The stars of the show are always the community members. They are as invested in the community’s success as the leader is, so they contribute content, spread the word, take on leadership roles, etc. The leader knows when to step in to keep things moving in the right direction but doesn’t try to dictate and micro-manage every aspect of the community.

To see this kind of ego-in-check community leadership, visit the Harley Davidson Community. This community is enormous to say the least. And yes, the corporate office provides a lot of structure. But dig into the community and you’ll see that local chapters and local events are run by the community members themselves. Community members can also post scheduled rides, sell their bikes, organize and publicize fundraisers, etc. The community is so focused on it’s members that there isn’t even an obvious or named corporate community manager. All the attention is on the Harley Owners.

Yes, I know these seven qualities are a tall order and difficult to find. I also know that if a Fiercely Loyal Community was easy to build and lead, everyone would have one.

How does your community leadership compare? What qualities would you add?