Why Communities Are so Important for Podcasters (#8)



Bess Auer on Community Building


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In this episode of Podcasting 101 with RSS.com, we chat with Bess Auer, the founder of Florida Blogger & Social Media Conference and author of “Unio, The Art of Intentional Community Building.

You’ll hear from Bess about why communities are so important for podcasters, why people become a member of a community and also why they stay.

Who is Bess Auer?

Bess Auer 0:44
Yeah, so I am a digital consultant, and strategist. And so I help people learn how to build their communities. Whether it is a blogger, learning how to kind of build their tribe. Whether it’s a nonprofit, trying to engage people and get them to give time or money. Or if it’s big businesses, trying to figure out how to engage their fan base and grow their businesses. And that’s kind of my sweet spot, letting them know. Because even though the platforms may change, you know, Facebook, or now TikTok or, you know, you have all these different platforms – the fundamentals actually don’t change. You know. Good marketing is good marketing, good community building is good community building. No matter what the platform is. So that’s my sweet spot.

Ashley 1:26
And you definitely are sweet at it. I mean, I’ve known you for a few years now, because you built the Florida Blog Con community. And that’s how you and I met. And tell me a little bit about what it was that kind of led to that. I have read the story, but just for anyone listening, I’m kind of curious as to how you started something so cool.

Starting the the Florida Blog Conference

Bess Auer 1:45
Oh, you know, I had the honor of being part of two really amazing communities. And one of them was the Florida Blogger and Social Media Conference. And I was a classroom teacher for almost 20 years teaching my kids how to write. And through that time, the internet, allowed blogging, so my kids could actually publish their own work. Which was amazing for students. And so I thought, well, I need to know how to do this as well.

Bess Auer 2:10
So I started blogging early with my first blog which was in the Florida top five. And I wanted to learn. I wanted to figure out how to do blogging even better. And fortunately, Orlando where I live has some of the biggest bloggers in the nation. So I went around to them and I said, if I hold a bloggers conference, because I can’t afford to go to a real conference. If I hold a bloggers conference, would you please come and speak? And every single one of them was so gracious with their time and knowledge.

Bess Auer 2:39
And so we held the very first Florida Blogger Conference in the gym where I was teaching at the time. The maintenance staff set up tables. The day of I had two teachers come in and take mercy on me and they helped with the registration. And we were so low tech that I had a big piece of bulletin board paper up on the wall duct taped to the wall. And people were writing their names on there to be able to connect because we didn’t have any other tools at that time.

Bess Auer 3:05
But that was the birth of the Florida Blogger and Social Media Conference and it grew from there over the next decade. And you know I was very proud of the community that grew up around it and was honored to be able to connect placards of all different genres. And we really stuck by [the idea that we’re Florida bloggers helping other Florida bloggers and that was something very important to me.

Ashley 3:27
Now I kind of get kind of lost with the timeline. Did Florida Swim Network start before, after, during? How did that play out?

How Florida Swim Network Began

Bess Auer 3:36
Yeah – during. It started during all this at the same time. So my husband is a swim coach and I was a swim mom, and I’m one of those [people]. I don’t do well sitting up in the crowd talking with other swim parents because I’m kind of introverted. I would debate this, but I’m good one on one, but not out in the crowd. So I said to my husband, like, “I can’t sit up there. It’s driving me nuts listening to these parents. You know, if I’m gonna be poolside I gotta do something.”

Bess Auer 4:00
So he said, “You’re a blogger, why don’t we” – we called it webcasting at the time – “why don’t you webcast the swim meet?” So we went to Best Buy and got this little eyeball camera – cracks me up because that’s all we could find at the time. We plugged it in the computer and my husband asked the coaches if we could webcast the swim meet. They had no idea what that was. But they’re like, “Yeah, go ahead.”

Bess Auer 4:20
So I sat down by the little speaker [where] the guy that was announcing, put the little web ball cam up on the speaker. Every time he spoke it shook and it was the worst broadcast ever. But people on Deck are like, “Hey, what’s Bess doing?”

Bess Auer 4:37
Joe was like, “Well, she’s webcasting the meet.” And they’re like “Oh, that’s cool!” So he gave them the link. I think it was called Jason TV at the time and he gave them the address and we had 300 LIVE viewers watching regularly, like Little League type swimmers, ages 12 and under in the pool. And that’s when I said, “Oh, there’s a market here.” And so it sprang up from there. And so we started webcasting – live streaming – before it was a thing, amateur sports. And Florida being such a transient state, we had a large group of viewers because you know, people move here from Florida. If you’re actually from Florida. So we had fans all over the world that would tune in to watch their kids swim. And it got bigger and bigger. It’s where we were asked to live stream college swim meets, and then eventually, ESPN actually hired us to broadcast some of their swim meets. So it took on a life of its own. But again, we concentrated on Florida. That was my sweet spot with the community.

Ashley 5:36
That’s amazing. I think it sounds so cool. I mean, people hearing this, it sounds like, you know, you may have come at it with a plan. But the fact that it happened so organically is what I love so much about it.

Bess Auer 5:50
You know, they boasted and what I talk about, you know, in my book, “Unio” is that timing really does play a key factor. And if you’re first to market, which we were in both of those communities, it really gives you a leg up.

Ashley 6:05
Yes. And the book that she’s referencing is “Unio: The Art of Intentional Community Building.” So tell us a little bit about how that played out. Like how it was that you brought all of your thoughts and all this knowledge and expertise about building communities and decided, hey, I’m gonna write a book.

Why Bess Wrote a Book On Community Building

Bess Auer 6:22
You know, I’m a writer at heart. It’s my passion. I do love writing. I do a lot of creative writing, fictional writing, but decided, you know, I have some stories of types and some things to share about building these communities. I had a little bit of luck with these two communities, what can I share about it?

Bess Auer 6:39
So originally, I wanted to call it “The Big Book of Everything I’ve Ever Learned.” I thought, well it will be a very short book. But as I sat down writing it, and actually, you know, 2020 was a gift to me, because I had time, and the loft and time to be able to write. And as I said, the writing and organizing, I realized, wow, there really were some commonalities that I convey to people. There were some real lessons about communities in general, you know.

Bess Auer 7:08
Why do people join a community in the first place? And then why do they stay? And when I say community, it might be a community, or it might be a customer fan base, or your clientele or listeners of a podcast. And why do they choose to listen to your podcast? Or why did they come back again, and again? So that’s what I mean by community. It’s applicable to your fan base.

Ashley 7:28
Now, since it is applicable to one’s fan base, what would be your first tip? If someone’s trying to build a community from their podcast listeners? Where should they start?

Where Podcasters Should Start with Community Building

Bess Auer 7:39
You know, the biggest thing I say for everybody is know your why. And I do talk about this in the book in two different ways. The first one is, what is the purpose of your podcast? Why are we doing it? Is it to convey information? Is it to talk about your passion? Do you, you know, just love romance books? And so you want to talk about romance books all the time? And let’s share your love of that. Or is it a business podcast where you’re helping people grow and develop? So what is your why?

Bess Auer 8:05
And I always use the example of The Florida Swim Network. We thought we were in the live streaming business. We thought that we were live streaming swim meets – which we were. But what we were actually doing was connecting families. We were allowing the mom in Afghanistan that was serving overseas to get up in the middle of the night and watch her son’s swim live here in Florida. And not only that, she was in the chat room talking with me as I was commentating on this swim meet and I was able to give that shout out to her kids.

Bess Auer 8:35
“Hey, Will in lane four, your mom’s watching from Afghanistan. She said to go fast.” And then when Will gets home after the meet and he’s watching himself in the replay. He hears that and he knows mom was there and we’re connecting those families. So that was our why. So the first thing I always tell anybody is understand your why. Why are you doing this?

Bess Auer 8:54
Because that’s going to be the basis of everything you do to promote your community and your listenership. So once you know your why, why you’re doing it, then you have to decide, well, why are people going to listen to me?

Bess Auer 9:09
And so there are three reasons really why anybody joins a community and the first one is needs. Alright, so think basic needs? Are you providing a service that they absolutely need? For example, I use TOMS shoes as an example. He provides shoes for your feet. Everybody needs shoes. That basic need that we have unless you’re me who goes barefeet in Florida all the time. But yeah, it’s a need.

Bess Auer 9:38
Or are you providing a want? So a want would be like Peloton. You may want a Peloton, but that doesn’t mean you can afford one. Now you could very easily just work out or ride a bike outdoors. So a want is more of an ego stroke or luxury need. So you have your needs or your wants that you are providing.

Bess Auer 10:01
The third reason people might join a community is that continuing development. Are you helping them grow? Are you providing health and wellness information? Are you providing business tips for them? Are you helping them grow? So if you can meet – through your podcast – one of those – a need, a want, or a growth – and ideally, you do all three. It’s possible to do more than one. Then, you have the recipe for a winning podcast that people are gonna want to listen to. And they’re gonna want to join your community because they’re getting something out of it.

Ashley 10:34
So it sounds like you just gave us the secret sauce to actually building a community with a podcast.

Bess Auer 10:39
Yeah, you know. Part of that, once you understand all that, then you have to execute with the messaging that you do. And you have to make sure your timing is right. And you know, there’s all sorts of factors that go into it. But if you can start with those – first your why, and then those three basic reasons why somebody joins a podcast or listens to a podcast, you’re definitely on the right road.

A Community Can Become Like Family

Ashley 11:02
Absolutely. I love that. And now I confess, I haven’t gotten completely through the book. But I did, I did glean some pretty good insights. One of the things that you said is “Whether it is one we have built for a business or one we have cultivated for ourselves, our families, our friends, and our communities are how we make sense of life, share our experiences and engage with others in a meaningful way.” One of the stories that obviously really touched me was, you spoke about the loss of one of your swimmers, and how [with] the community it was more than just you sharing the news. You were I mean, I’ll let you speak on that. Would you like to add on that a little bit?

Bess Auer 11:44
Yeah, I don’t mind. I use it as an example in my book. So Vance Sanders, who was a rising star, often compared to Michael Phelps, or Caleb Dressel, and a standout swimmer 15 years old. And when we were broadcasting meets, we would see these kids over and over and over the different meets. We were doing, you know, two and three meets a weekend. We would see them, we would interview them, because we treated them like rockstars. We’d be down and doing the one on one interviews with them.

Bess Auer 12:11
So we got to know a lot of the kids, the coaches and the teams very well. And Vance, unfortunately, shot himself one day. After some practice, he got very upset. His little brother found them. And we got a phone call from his coach, Randy a race [coach], former Olympic coach, he called up my husband Joe and said, “I need you guys to spread this news before rumors start going and everything else.” So he was asking the Florida Swim Network to craft the news and spread it.

Bess Auer 12:44
So I sat down to write that and it was first very heartbreaking to us as it would be for anybody’s, you know, a child that now life gone senselessly way too early. And the manner, the fact that was a suicide, made it very difficult to write about. And then I knew that many of the teams and many of the swimmers that knew him, and many of the parents that knew him would be hearing about it the first time from us from what we write about it.

Bess Auer 13:13
And so I really felt honored that we were asked to do that, that our community trusted us enough to do it in a very sensitive way versus a sensationalized way. But it really was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. I, you know, I wrote it and kept rewriting, rewriting it and rewriting it. And I, you know, I guess we, we did a good enough job that, was sensitive and at the same time conveyed the loss and what a tragedy it was. I later found out that his mother actually used that blog post, to send to her friends and family to let them also know about the news. So if you can build community in a way that trusts you to do the right thing, and to, you know, deliver for them and be there in times of need for them, then that’s another key component as a community builder.

You Have the Potential to be More Than a Podcast

Ashley 14:08
Absolutely. And I mean, the thing that stood out to me so much about that story, is that you really did build a family. You build people that were not just people you saw at swim meets. They weren’t just the parents you spoke to. It was truly a community that you could talk to about everything. Swim related, of course, but just the fact that, um, that even with our podcasts, you know, we’re giving our messages every day. And we sit at home, alone with our microphones. You know, sometimes we’re lucky enough to interview somebody and connect with someone in another part of the world. But we forget, I think that every time that we get behind the mic, we do have a chance to build a community that matters, something that’s meaningful. And I just think of that story. I’m really glad you shared it because I feel like everyone needs to know that you don’t just have to be a podcaster. You don’t just have to be a true crime podcaster. You don’t have to just be a health and wellness guru. You can be so much more. And I think it’s awesome.

Bess Auer 15:13
You know, when we started broadcasting, out of necessity, ours was interactive. I didn’t know enough about swimming. So we had this chat room where we oftentimes would have coaches tuning in – college coaches that were watching recruits, and they would like give me information. Like, “Hey, that kid just set a new record,” and we’d be like, “Oh, great.” And so we’ve really established the whole social, live streaming is not TV. So don’t use it – it’s so much more than TV – it’s a step beyond TV. So I get irritated when I see people just live streaming and talking at us. Social media is social. So open that up. And it’s a great way to build that trust, and to build those relationships. And it’s one of the reasons people will stay a part of your podcast audience.

Ashley 16:01
That’s awesome. So basically, it’s almost like throughout your entire messaging, you shouldn’t just be waiting to the end of your episode to leave a call to action. Instead, you should be you know, saying, “If something in this resonates with you tweet us @RSS,” you know, that kind of thing. And so I love that idea. And I never really thought of it that way. So, alright, I’ll be taking lots of notes from this.

Communities Give You a Chance to Learn About Others

Ashley 16:22
And one of the things that you said in the book that I really liked is you said, “Our communities are a direct reflection of ourselves in these communities. From the ones I built to the ones I was simply a part of, brought me closer to the human experience and allowed me to walk a few steps in other people’s shoes.” Speak to me a little bit about that.

Bess Auer 16:43
You know, for me, because I am such an introvert, I mean, I’m in my sweet spot right here sitting behind a camera just talking to you. And then we’re done. And I’m back in my little hermit shell. That is perfect for me. But there are other people that [for them] it’s not okay. Like my husband’s an extrovert. He needs to be out amongst the people. So the communities that we build and we’re active in, they really are a reflection of ourselves.

Bess Auer 17:10
So I was really good at building the online audience there. My husband was really great at being – actually talking with the swimmers and talking with people. So first, you have to know your personal comfort zone with where you want to be when building your audience. Podcasting may be great for you, because you do have this passion, this voice that you want to do, but that microphone is a great audience for you, rather than standing in front of, you know, 20 people getting interaction that way. So you have to know your comfort zone there. But the other thing that I do feel strongly about with community is community – the actual word – it means more than one. And I talk about this in my book.

Community is Also The Conversation in Your Head

Bess Auer 17:54
I talk about the community of one, meaning the conversations happening in your head. You’re going to have the naysayer, you know the self doubt, the imposter syndrome. You’re gonna have the cheerleader saying how I think I can do this, certainly do have, even in your own head. It’s a community of voices. So looking outward to our actual communities, our podcast audience, you need to be able to understand where they’re coming from, what they’re thinking.

Bess Auer 18:22
If your goal is to truly grow that audience, then you have an obligation to be thinking about how to engage them, and you’re going to need their feedback. And you can’t assume what they know or what they understand or what they want. So you’re going to have to get that feedback from them. And many times, that means being empathetic, having a listening ear on and finding that feedback any way that you can.

Ashley 18:44
Now, how would you go about finding the feedback for the communities that you built?

How to Get Feedback From Your Podcast Audience

Bess Auer 18:50
Well, for us, live streaming. We had that chat room going all the time. People would tweet us all the time. They’d tag us and stuff. So that was a very robust one. Florida, the Florida Blog Con, is a little bit different. It was a once a year thing. And you know, we did little mini workshops throughout the year after that. But you know, that once a year when we would have the speakers – there was an in person event that was probably my most taxing day of the year. Not because I didn’t have this great planning team that helped set up everything. It wasn’t the actual physical putting on the event. For me it was taxing because I was there talking with people getting their feedback.

Bess Auer 19:26
And that introverted me was like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this.” But it was a great way to get in there and get that feedback. And we sent surveys afterwards asking for the feedback. And sometimes it was painful to read if we screwed something up or people were angry. With 300 people, 300 attendees, you’re not gonna make them all happy. So sometimes that critical feedback, even though it is really hard to read, and you feel all down for a little bit, it’s still important to take into consideration. So you know, surveys are a great way to do it. Interaction on Facebook and social platforms, in person interviews and talking – those are great ways to get feedback from your community.

Ashley 19:26
That’s fantastic. I think everything that you’ve shared here today has just been wonderful. So where can people find your book? And what is it called again?

Where You Can Find Bess Online

Bess Auer 20:17
It’s called “Unio: The Art of Intentional Community Building,” and it’s available on Amazon and paperback or Kindle format, either one – whatever is easiest for you. And you can also check out the website buildwithunio.com.

Ashley 20:32
That’s fantastic. And where else can we find you online?

Bess Auer 20:35
You can find me at Bess_Auer, and Twitter is my most favorite platform. So if you tweet me, I’ll tweet you back. I’m one of those that you know, Twitter was my first platform. So it’s my first love that I’m available on. And just about all of them. So hit me up.

Ashley 20:52
I love it. That’s fantastic. Well, I’m gonna ask you the same thing that I ask everyone before I let them go. Is there anything I didn’t ask you you wish I had?

Bess Auer 21:00
Oh, my goodness, now you’re putting me on the spot. The only thing I’ll add is we talked about why people become a member of a community, but we didn’t talk about why they stay. And I think this is especially important for podcasters.

Why People Stay in a Podcast Community

Bess Auer 21:16
So there’s three real reasons why people stay as a member of the community and I call it the IFS. Do they feel included? So is your podcast relevant to them? Do they feel included in the conversation? Now? It doesn’t mean they have to be talking to you. But that’s a conversation. I’m interested in that I feel like I you know, yeah, I could have been put in that they can feel included. The next one? Do they feel valued? So are you respecting your listener enough that you are respecting their intelligence, respecting our interest? If they do get feedback, respecting their feedback? And then the final one of that IFS is an S that means are they satisfied with the engagement that they have with your community? So if they tweet you, do you tweet them back? If they respond to something on a Facebook comment, did you answer them back? Do they leave your community feeling satisfied? So keep in mind the IFS because they are incredibly important to a person remaining a member of your podcast audience.

Ashley 22:18
So good. So many good things. Thank you so much for being here with me today. I really appreciate it.

Bess Auer 22:24
Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.

Ashley 22:28
Well, my fellow podcasters, I hope you enjoyed all the amazing insights that Bess had to offer on building a community with your podcast. To learn more about launching and growing your own show, visit us RSS.com/blog. You can get your first episode on us if you start today at RSS.com Thanks for tuning in.

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