Content Marketing,

Trust, Social Media and Sponsoring Passion

Last year when I attended Social Media Marketing World, I had the most incredible conversations with Cheryl Viirand, founder of Freedible.

Cheryl’s story is nothing short of amazing – she’s an attorney who worked on some of the technology industry’s largest acquisitions turned food evangelist. The transition happened when Cheryl suffered some disastrous and undiagnosed illnesses personally and with her child. At issue were food allergies and sensitivities that were devastating her life and her child’s life.

At the time of the event, I was under immense stress – I expanded my business dramatically with some missed expectations, I was losing my father to Leukemia, and struggling with my weight which had ballooned out of control. Over the next year I gained more weight, had 2 fractures in my spine that were inhibiting my ability to walk or exercise, and I was just plain miserable.

Two months ago, that changed when a friend, Ben McCann, had a ‘soft’ intervention with me. I joined his weight loss center – which transformed my diet – focusing on increased proteins, removing sugar, fructose, carbohydrates and everything else I was addicted to in my diet. Since starting, I’ve lost over 50 pounds and my mobility is better. The walks here at the conference have been painless for the most part – even though I’m still carrying about 200 pounds too many.

Last night, Cheryl and I had another amazing conversation. She was ecstatic at the transformation I was making and shared how Freedible continues to come to life. It’s a community of passionate people who share stories, advice, recipes and events about food sensitivities, food allergies, and diet. She’s now working closely with industry experts and corporations working within the industry.

Our conversation led to us discussing how these companies wanted to build communities as well. There’s a huge problem with this. Corporations are concerned about the topics that Cheryl discusses, but they’ll never match Cheryl’s passion. They’ve never experienced the agony that Cheryl did. And ultimately – their purpose is to sell where Cheryl’s is to share. When a corporation owns a community, I don’t believe it’s ever able to overcome trust issues because people recognize that there’s an underlying motivation of the community to sell. Regardless of the intent of the corporation, Cheryl will always be trusted more.

There is an alternative that performs well every single day in social media… and that’s corporate sponsorship. When a company owns a community, its motivation is always in question. But when a company sponsors a community, it’s appreciated and rewarded. Sponsorship basically says, “We recognize your authority, passion, motivation and autonomy working around this topic – and we’d like to help you grow that community because we care.”

Cheryl wishes to grow the community and then monetize it to fund its continued growth. I’m encouraging Cheryl to do it in reverse – monetize her passion and the passion of the community with the help of sponsors – then watch it grow! The value of Cheryl’s platform and community isn’t the money that’s paid by the click-through advertising… it’s paying for the passion that Cheryl has and the fact that she’s incapable of failing. The topic is so interwoven into Cheryl’s life now that she will always be an authority on these issues and will always be passionate in sharing her experience and expertise.

IMO, a community manager on a brand’s community site can never come close to success in comparison. Communities focus around central problems, beliefs, politics, hobbies and talents – not around brands. Cheryl will succeed where brands will fail because – ultimately – the motivation is different. Consumers can smell the motivation a mile away. Any company with talent will know Cheryl, via Freedible, is a fantastic investment – and the risk of supporting such a community early in its growth will be a sponsor worth buying from.

NOTE: Attend Social Media Marketing World from your desk with a virtual pass using our affiliate link!

6 Comments

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    Douglas, I also met Cherry at #smmw13 and have no doubt that she’s going to change how people living with food restrictions approach eating: from a position of empowerment, not deprivation. Her #customeater movement is inspiring, as you well know (and congrats to you for your own successes so far)! I agree with your position regarding brands being less trusted than people like Cherry. This is especially true in my industry, health care. But the communities brands build aren’t exclusively for selling, nor is there always a suspicious angle for why they’d want to have a real relationship with followers. I personally know several clinicians who’ve left private practice and joined brands because they knew they could have a greater impact on community health that way. While a brand may not always be the same kind of trusted authority as inimitable souls like Cherry Viirand, there is certainly a place for them as supporters and sponsors of them, as you suggest, or even the conduit for expanding their reach with guest blogs, RTs and +1s. But passionate people are everywhere – and smart brands put them front-and-center. Would you agree?

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    My goodness, Doug – I am so flattered and can’t possibly thank you enough for your kind words. The way you have tackled your own health is so inspiring – taking on a challenge and getting that first ball rolling is so very, very mentally challenging. It is transforming to take back the upper hand from seemingly “unfixable” health challenges – and you are glowing with that transformation already!

    Growing the Freedible community is an extraordinary journey – right from our initial beta launch, specialty food bloggers and some of the biggest brands in the “free-from” food space have jumped to lend their social media reach to my efforts. It has been an extraordinary lesson to me that when you lead with your passions, others will not just follow but stand with you, side by side. Thank you, Doug, for being one of those people!

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