Jermaine Dupri builds a real community with Global 14

Look at the headlines Facebook has generated lately: the company files for a multi-billion dollar initial public offering. Mark Zuckerberg spends $700,000 flying private planes in one year. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg begins building a new mansion in Menlo Park, California. There’s one important element missing from these stories: community. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about Global 14, a social community that music mogul Jermaine Dupri launched in 2011 – and the catalyst for a co-branding relationship that Dupri and my employer iCrossing announced on February 8. As a community of shared interests, Global 14 offers a model for brands and advertisers who might seek an alternative to the sprawling 850-million member country known as Facebook.

Dupri is a quadruple-threat celebrity: a successful songwriter, author, CEO of So So Def Recordings, and Grammy-award winning producer who has collaborated with artists such as Usher, Mariah Carey and Nelly. He has adroitly built his brand in the digital world through a mobile app and presence on Twitter and YouTube. A few years ago, he realized that interacting with fans on Twitter, while important, was not an adequate way to build a community. So he made the bold decision to create a community of friends by opening up his life to them.

Since he launched Global 14 in 2011, more than 30,000 people have joined to interact with Dupri and share personal interests across 1,100 communities ranging from fashion to music. (Although Global 14 is about much more than hip-hop, the site has become a hotbed of emerging hip-hop music, some of which I have featured on Superhype.) Membership numbers don’t tell the story, though; in fact, evolving into a gigantic Facebook-style site is what Global 14 aspires not to do. Instead, Dupri seeks to build a tightly knit community of people who care about each other and who share a passion for his own brand.

As he said in an iCrossing press release, “Global 14 is about redefining the meaning of online friends as members of diverse groups who share their interests and care about each other, instead of just accumulating Followers and Likes. Anyone who joins Global 14 knows I’m the most active participant, whether I’m responding to members personally or sharing myself with you.”

He added, “I treat Global 14 members as friends, not followers. On Global 14, I’m sharing my personal life authentically, just as you share your life with me.”

Global 14 presents an interesting question for brands: would you rather have a smaller community of passionate advocates or hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter? Is your Facebook brand page going to generate enough traction for you as Facebook (and Google+ for that matter) becomes more crowded and noisy? Right now Dupri is getting the best of both worlds: 380,000 followers on Twitter and 30,000 passionate brand advocates who live in his own community. And as you can imagine, each day he converts those Twitter followers into Global 14 members.

On February 13 at Social Media Week, Dupri will discuss Global 14 on a panel with iCrossing Chief Strategy Officer Adam Lavelle and Richard Dorment of Esquire. He’ll address the very questions I’ve posed on Superhype. Anyone fortunate enough to be in New York that day is in for a lively discussion. If you cannot be there in person, you can watch via a live stream. But the best way to understand what Dupri is doing is to join Global 14.

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