• Tessa May Marr

Case Study: Playing The Long Game & Building A Community


This is a story of community. This is a story of success. This is a story of patience.

Gluten Free Calgary (@gfyyc) was born nearly five years ago and now commands an audience of over 30,000 engaged fans. With this community, they’ve been able to sell advertising, host events and even launch a product of their own (GFYYC Goodie Bags). I’m going to tell you how they got there.

The key to it is patience. When you get started with social media (as with most businesses) you can’t expect results overnight. Successful entrepreneurs know - you’ve gotta be prepared to hustle. To work hard - morning to night, seven days a week and at times, give a few freebies away, until you build a solid customer database, prove your value and collect your testimonials! You’ve gotta pay your dues. But if you do, one day it’ll be easier. One day you’ll have steady cash flow, conversions you can count on and a business that runs without you.

Same goes for social. You’ve gotta take it step by step. In the right order.

  1. Build a community.

  2. Do something with it.

If you expect it to go like this, you’re off your rocker.

  1. Send out a tweet and get a few followers.

  2. Convert like mad because your tweet is just SO compelling and make money.

Nope. Not gonna happen.

Now, let me give you an example of how I--they did this really effectively. (Ready for a twist?)

I actually started this organization called Gluten Free Calgary (Surprise! It was me!) back in 2012… sort of by accident. To be 100% honest, I already had Mad Media on the brain, but with no work experience in social, I decided I needed to create some results to showcase. So I started a little Twitter account called @gfyyc aimed at sharing recipes and resources that help people live gluten-free in Calgary, AB (where I lived at the time). I thought if I could offer value, join conversations and encourage community we could then redirect our community to local products and restaurants - bringing them business. I also just wanted to create a source of resources and a network of support as I had just gone gluten-free and… it was kind of hard.

Well, boy did it work.

How did I get to 30,000 fans?

  1. Consistent posts. We followed a structure with a mix of scheduled content and daily live posts. While the strategy varied slightly over the years and across various networks, there was content going out daily. So people could come to depend on us for new info.

  2. Authenticity. We weren’t afraid to play with long-form and short-form. We offered perspectives. We asked the community questions to get their insight. We were honest and real and relatable. Not stuffy and professional.

  3. User-generated content. I didn’t rely on just my posts or worry too much about promoting my own blogs. Our mandate was any tweet we were tagged in that offered relevant, brand-aligned info, we’d re-share. So everyone got a little airtime on our networks. The other reason this was awesome: it saved me from having to dig up all the info myself. Our community had it. I just had to give them a voice and a forum.

  4. Engagement. We weren’t all about pumping content or generating sales. We responded to our mes