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Building Brand, Community and Customer Loyalty: An Interview With Gillian Muessig (Part 1)

One no longer builds a successful company from the top down. Social media has changed everything. How you treat your people, how your people feel about the company, is going to get out, and that will speak to whether people will want to do business with you.
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Gillian Muessig is the founding president of and SEOmoz. Anybody following search engine optimization should keep Gillian on their radar; and if you are not subscribing to their blog and checking in with them daily, you are missing out on a lot of great information!

You and I met at the Online Marketing Summit. At that time you talked about the importance of creating a community. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Gillian Muessig: Yes. The concept that I was talking about was about creating a community around their brand, the idea, the products they serve; but far more importantly, around the people that work in that business itself. We have always had folks who are "brand evangelists." People like Coke; if you go onto Facebook, they will say "Yes, I like Coke"; but they didn't put the "yes" on Pepsi. Then that is it, the engagement ends. Then there are companies like Harley Davidson -- where back in the 1980s and 1990s when Harley Davidson was having all kinds of trouble with its technology and production these folks said, "I would rather push my Harley than drive the competition." Those folks were brand evangelists; they were raving fans of the product and the company itself. It is more than just the product, it is about the people that make the product. It was about buying American.

Lately, I am seeing companies building a community around their processes and the things they believe in. At SEOmoz we run our company with a rudder in the water that we call TAGFEE which stands for Transparency, Authenticity, Generosity, Fun, Empathy and Exceptional work. TAGFEE -- I am beginning to hear that word not just around the industry (but around the world) of search engine optimization and in businesses far beyond.

I serve on boards with directors and advisers on four continents now; helping people build companies built on this very idea. One no longer builds a successful company from the top down. Social media has changed everything. The truth of whatever goes on in a company -- is out there for all to see. How you treat your people, how your people feel about the company, and the things they are building, is going to get out to the general community. That will speak to whether, or not, people will want to do business with you.

Rand Fishkin, our CEO is the brilliant idea guy; he's the technologist, the wizard of Moz. He doesn't say "I have this brilliant idea, come work for me". Rand says, '"I have this brilliant idea, come build it with me." When he stands up and addresses the organization of SEOmoz, he says "We are building an extraordinary company. A company that will help people all over the world, not just all over the nation, to build their own companies based on a new economy." Everybody here has a piece of the action and it is a critical piece. Everyone here feels they are building something more important than themselves. This is pretty esoteric stuff, it is a search engine optimization platform that manages campaigns; it manages social media campaigns, it manages all inbound marketing. We are helping them build in ways that will make them thrive in the 21st century, instead of fail.

Gillian it is also about building community with the people who are fans of whatever it is that you are selling, producing or talking about. Right?

Gillian Muessig: Yes, but it is more about fans of the people who are building it. In this case: SEOmoz, the people here really do hang their reality at the door. They agree to work in a place where children would be comfortable. There is no office politics and no subterfuge. People here believe in what they are building, the quality and value of what they are building and that is what gets out into the community of people who buy from us. Then they want to be a part of the SEOmoz community -- they want to be part of a greater community in honorable ways. A company with transparency, authenticity and generosity. We create a daily blog that is read by close to one million people, it gives out all kinds of free information. Every Friday is white board Friday; three to five minutes of video, free information to the world.

Yes, we have given away a tremendous amount of information and education. However, at a certain point people need a professional account. They need more service, more than the free tools, as they have businesses that need our expertise. That is when it is appropriate to ask them to pay you something. Even then we give away as much as we can, make it as affordable as we can, we recognize that this is a for profit business, yet there has to be value for both sides. This is appreciated by the community at large, they will spread the word for you, and others want in.

The advantages of helping a community are that people want to buy and stay with you. Beyond that, people want to work with you and investors want in too; they want to work inside your organization. Of course, they want to be paid decently, and we do, but they also want to build and learn something important. They want to speak the truth and trust that which they've been told. You can get the best and the brightest to work with you, not because you have a bigger paycheck, but because you have a better idea; a better way of living and working together.

There are so many advantages to building a community around your organization. In social media there will always be trolls, they have a problem and they cannot be mollified. When that happens and when they complain, your community will come from behind you like a tsunami and tend to it themselves. You don't need to answer the unimportant troll problems, but answer when there is a real problem. It is up to you to be straightforward about it. Again, the community will stand beside you, and support you. There really is something about bringing your personal values to the corporate marketplace and building something that at the end of your days you can say "I did well for my people, I did well for myself and I did well for my customers." It is a triple win and an important issue to remember.

That is very true. You talk about building a community where you work; but you also talk about how that fan base turns into all these people talking about your message. Years ago I heard about SEOmoz, about the great blog. You have fans that you will never meet; they are fans of your transparency and what you started with at the beginning... at the core.

Gillian Muessig: The concept of transparency was sharing the tactics of the industry itself. We were willing to educate the entire population who needed to know this stuff. Yes, people recommend the blog for its technical aptitude and excellence. They say no one else is willing to share this stuff and it is difficult information to obtain. I counsel companies that want to begin building communities around themselves; just think about how you would have given your left arm to have known about this when you were building your company. Share that and you have a great beginning!

Join us for Part Two, posting soon!

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