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A Model for Understanding & Building Fierce Loyalty [Bonus Day – 28 Days to BFL]


This is Leap Year Bonus Day of 28 Days of Building Fierce Loyalty. Today I’m unveiling something I’ve been working on for the past several months.Strike that. It’s something I’ve been working on my whole life.  It is the culmination of everything I’ve ever done. Wherever I go, whatever job I have, whatever clients I’m helping, I build communities. And not just any communities. I build Fiercely Loyal ones. Read on to learn how you can do that, too. 🙂

A Model for Understanding & Building Fierce Loyalty

By: Sarah Robinson| @SarahRobinson

Since the age of the dinosaur (I’m that old), I’ve been building communities. I built them in college, and I’ve built them for universities, nonprofits, political campaigns, blogs, businesses, clients – everywhere I’ve ever been.

I build them because they 1) make my job more fun and 2) make getting my job accomplished so much easier.  Over time, I’ve gotten better and better at not only building them, but at infusing them with fierce loyalty. And that’s the part that really excites me.

After picking apart my successes and researching what other super smart people have to say about community and loyalty (and with the help of the ridiculously talented trio of Janet Goldstein, Elizabeth Marshall and Les McKeown), I’ve put together a model that gives us a framework both for understanding how community happens and for what it takes to build fierce loyalty around whatever it is we are up to in the world.

Drum roll please………

Fierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities

The Frame:
All communities are framed by a common interest. This common interest might be in your product directly (for example people who are interested in organic dog food) or it may be about a bigger subject that is connected to your product (holistic pet care). Without this frame to hold everything together, community and fierce loyalty can’t evolve.

(I made these slides myself. So don’t make fun of them!)

Inside the Frame:
Within that frame are a wide variety of individuals who share that common interest. Using the example above, these individuals could be pet owners, veterinarians, animal trainers, pet sitters, etc.

Circle #1: What Some of These Individuals Need
A certain number of those individuals realize that they have a set of needs around this common interest. These needs fall into three categories:

1) Belonging

2) Recognition

3) Safety

Circle #2: Organizational Structure Shows Up

These individuals go looking for a way to get these needs met.  At this point one of two things can happen:

Option 1: Members of this subset find each other, get themselves organized and the structure for a community emerges (like the Occupy Movement).

Option 2: An outside organization provides the structure for a community and the individuals find their way there  (like Weight Watchers).

Either way, the organizational structure needed for community to happen includes these elements:

1) Predictability

2) Support

3) Connection

When these organizational elements meet those individuals who looking to fill their needs for belonging, recognition and safety, community happens.

This is the place where most communities reside. Conversations, connections and support are all happening in a predictable way. Community exists and everyone is content. BUT there is a vital missing circle. Vital, that is, if you want members of the community to feel Fierce Loyalty.

The missing circle can only develop after the other parts are in place and it can only develop when it’s given time to grow and flourish. The three crucial elements of that final circle are:

1) Pride

2) Passion

3) Trust

Pride, Trust and Passion cannot be manufactured or faked or rushed. They can, however, be encouraged, fostered and demonstrated. Given the right environment, they will take root and become the match that will ignite Fierce Loyalty in a community.

So there you are. – my Fierce Loyalty model. 🙂

Clearly, I have a lot more to say about it and this is only the beginning of the conversation. In fact, I have so much to say that I’ve built a brand new website just for Fierce Loyalty. I’m thrilled to invite you to check out

So…what do you think? Questions? Ideas? Comments? You always make the things I talk about so much smarter. 🙂

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  • Omg, Sarah, this is just as amazing as I knew it would be, if not more! 

    I love the overlapping circle diagrams (totally my language). 

    I’ve watched pride, trust and passion form within communities to the point where the loyalty of the community was so strong that when the original subject ceased to exist (a musician who purposely disappeared from the public eye), the community continued to live on due to the relationships and bond we had built. Thank you so much for this entire series and for sharing with us!

    •  Sherrie, I can so relate to the musician based community!

    • LizMarshall

      Great analogy, Sherrie!

    • sarahrobinson

      I’m so glad you like it AND that you are already imagining it Sherrie. 🙂

  • If you are sensitive to language, I apologize up front, but I just have to say WHOALLY CRAP!!!!
    It’s amazing how much clarity you can get from so much simplicity.
    We have so much information overload these days on the interwebz (- yes that was intentional – I have that kind of sense of humor – haha) I met someone this week that labeled it content constipation. We end up so overwhelmed and frozen or completely spaz out (my apologies again for foul language) and it’s like throwing a pot of spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
    Thank you for sharing your years of work, trial and error, observations and knowledge.

    In a word, brilliant!
    Love you Sarah!

    • LizMarshall

      There’s a great quote by Einstein on the power of simplicity to clearly articulate our message:

      “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Einstein

      Sarah has done a great job of sharing her message in a simple, yet powerful way, so that the impact of her message hits you at an emotional level instead of just an intellectual one.

      • I love this quote! *stealing quote* 🙂

      • sarahrobinson

        You always know just the right quote Liz. 🙂 I could never have conceived of this model without you my friend. 🙂

    • sarahrobinson

      Hahaha I’m so not sensitive to language – and THANK YOU 🙂 Your response to the model is the highest compliment I can get – it is clear and simple. Thrilled it is helpful.

  • jPeter78

    When you put it picture form it all “Clicks” in my mind.  thanks for this and for a wonderful month.
    Now putting all’s these 28 together to create my own community, should be fun!

    • sarahrobinson

      Hurray for “Clicks” Peter! Thrilled that it is so useful for you. 🙂

  • Love the homegrown drawings AND your ground-up thinking that shoots us forward to where our businesses and futures are taking us. The site looks awesome. Big smiles and excitement.

    • sarahrobinson

      I’m actually growing to love my homegrown drawings. 🙂 And thank you for midwiving Fierce Loyalty. 🙂

  • Have followed all month long. You saved the best for last! Thanks. 

    • sarahrobinson

      Thanks so much Jack!

  • This has been a great month, and your bonus is wonderful. 

     The sad part about coming to the end of the month is that this band of followers will disband.

    How about keeping going as the Febuary community. I am sure there are a lot of us who are starting out building new communities based on what we have learned here from you, who would love to be able to run their ideas past others going through the same learning curve. I for one would love to have reactions to my blogs from people who understand what I am trying to build.  To be able to swap comments on them might be a small step in that direction.

    Just a thought. Anyone else interested?

    • sarahrobinson

      What a lovely idea Caro. Can’t wait to see what happens with it!

  • Wow, a Venn diagram. Maybe you’re a bigger geek than you realize. Your model is brilliant. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us. 

    • sarahrobinson

      I had a little help with that Venn diagram. 🙂 And thank you – I am so glad it is useful to you.

  • Love it! 🙂 This is the best post in the series Sarah! 🙂

    • Agreed! Great way to finish it.

  • Serena

    This is great Sarah! Thank you for such a fulfilling month of content! With two kids sick TWICE in one short month, I’m still catching up, but the fact that I’m reading backposts must mean you’ve got me fierce & loyal!

    • sarahrobinson

      I am so honored and thrilled that the month was that powerful for you Serena – yay!

  • sarah,

    this is so exciting to see map/sketched out – congrats! a few questions for you to ponder (or maybe you’l be answering them soon enough over at the new site or in the new materials):

    1) cirlce 1: what happens to those people outside the circle, those seeking B, R or S, are they the casual consumer not seeking anything more than a transaction? can they be converted, convinced to go into that first circle?

    2) circle 2: in rapidly growing companies or shifting markets how important is predictability as an offering to the community? is consistency more important?

    3) circle 3: oh, the key point of ‘develops over time’ is one nearly every company i’ve ever worked with has tried to rush. i can see you getting asked repeatedly: ‘how long will that take?’ and ‘who fosters this and how?’

    what i love, love, love about this model is it’s support for integrated marketing communications – the absolute centric focus of an organziation on its customers (and supported by data).

    from the group, i join in the refrain of ‘i can’t wait to read more.’

    a hearty congrats on articulating your life’s work, may we all be so lucky.

    jr schmitt @cloudspark:twitter 

    • sarahrobinson

      Excellent questions – of course 🙂

      !) Not everyone who shares the common interest has the B, R & S need. I suppose you could try to convert or convince them, but why put precious energy and resources into the convincing business? There are people looking for Circle 2 and the smart companies find them and meet their need.

      2) I think the more rapidly a company is shifting and growing, the more important predictability is. As I say at my house, dogs, children and husbands can stand just about anything as long as they have predictable time with me. The same is true with communities. They can handle all kinds of change and growth as long as the community has some predictability. The three elements of Circle 2 are so intertwined that I would say any one is more important than the other two.

      3) I’ve already been asked that question. 🙂 And of course there is no way to give a definitive answer. However, I have learned this from my research: communities that are built from the beginning with an eye toward fostering Pride, Trust and Passion shorten the timeline considerably.
      Great case studies to look at are Harley Davidson, Gibson Guitars, Weight Watchers and Integrity Toys.

      Hope these answers help until I can finish the other pieces that I am writing. 🙂


      • smartie, thanks for the solid reply.

      • This, Sarah, is truly your genius work. So glad to see it coming into the world this year! Looking forward to seeing the book when you finish it, because you KNOW the world will want this book, my friend. 🙂

  • LoriFinn

    I like the diagrams Sarah-forgot about those little cuties! I’ve loved this series, and I think the posts were wonderfully timed. And your drawings provide a picturesque summary.

    Thanks for making February so much fun.

  • annettenack

    Thank you so much for this post & for all of the posts from the last 28 days!  This series has been absolutely amazing in so many different ways.

    What I totally love is how you laid out the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities.  It looks so simple but I can tell that it took a lot for you to pull this out.  Blood, sweat & tears as they say.  You should be very proud btw.

    What you’re showing all of us is something that, if we really wanted to, we could reproduce in our own worlds and that if we pay attention, the time invested will pay many times over.  That’s so cool!  Better yet, I can look at the things that draw people into a common ground & say, well yeah, that makes sense.  Add that to the things people need & agree 100%, yeah that’s what *I* need too!  And darn it, I love me some structure!  I love spontaneous, but sometimes knowing that there’s a framework, well that just makes me happy.  Add in the pride, trust & passion & I’m sold.  It just all makes sense.

    How you made something so complex into a few (beautiful) simple pictures is amazing to me.  Thank you! Thank you!  Wish I could articulate this better but geez, I’ve been up since 4 am- busy working on my community.  They’re responding!  I want to do a little dance every time I feel a stronger connection forged.  Come to think of it, I might just do a little happy dance now…

  • rmsorg

    Ok Sarah, what a way to end the series!  Way to over deliver with this blog. Incredible information you have generously shared with us here and the diagrams just clicked with me (gotta love the visual connection).  

    I am so glad I found your website and even more thankful for all the generous sharing that went on for 29 days!  I’ve learned so much and am going back to all of them to “connect the dots” and put into practice some of what I’ve learned. 

    Thank You so Much for your generosity and that of your friends!


  • *ff*ng brilliant, Sarah. Love it.

  • There is nothing comparable to a simply explained concept. When you can draw it with one frame and 3 overlapping circles – even grandma can get it! wow, Sarah, thank you for this leap day surprise, now I have to start  all these great ideas. Thank you!

  • Wish I hadn’t missed this yesterday. Very, very cool. So exciting to see this take its initial steps.  The next generation of hooligans are going to be arriving soon, hope they fit in…lol.

    Those nine statements and where they meet are fantastic. There can definitely be variation on the size of the individual circles, but the place in the middle is where they all meet, and where everyone should be striving to be. Love it, love it, love it.

  • Damn, miss, you should draw more often! Love the little mini-maps, and if anyone ever had any doubts as to how this stuff works, you’ve laid it clean and bare for them. And you can never argue with a clean and bare lady… 😉

    Great stuff, Sarah, off to check out your new digs!

  • I love the slides…except you should have written the words. Then it would have been downright brilliant!

  • Dear Sarah,
    Just wanted to thank you again for a really challenging and enjoyable journey through February.
    I do hope that you got something for yourself out of this. You put in much hard work, and deserve to reap some rewards.
    Much as I would love to come to your retreat, distance rules it out. I hope it is a great success.
    Building communities certainly seems to be catching on. I have been invited to join two today, and while I might have hesitated before now I look at them with interest. My own community will be starting to seek members in the not too distant future. I need to become more proficient with the technology available to set it up right at the outset. I am struggling with twitter lists. I just haven’t figured out how to make the most of them. A rather slow response on my computer makes handling bigger numbers rather nightmarish. I also have to get back to finishing the book that is the linchpin of the community.  I hope when I am ready, you will be willing to come on board.
    All the best