Beards aren't just for lumberjacks and pirates. In fact, they have a long history as the facial hair of choice for statesmen, educators, and philosophers. Look no further than Bearded Gents for a new generation of bearded wisemen. The site's creator, Gary W. Norman, took a moment to speak with us about the Bearded Gents Community, beard history, and bringing together a community from around the world.
Tell us a bit about the Society of Bearded Gents.
Our community is a large group (3K+ members) who share a love of The Beard. We either wear them or admire them. In this day and age of so many companies with anti-beard policies, we strive to show society that The Beard is a positive thing and to help men overcome harassment from family and friends, learn grooming techniques, and foster camaraderie.
What was your biggest challenge in starting your community?
Just learning how to do that! I kind of taught myself by reading blogs, NING Forum posts, and getting advice from other webmasters I reached out to. We grew out of another website whose webmaster had decided to call it quits and shut the site down. Well, there's a brotherhood of the beard and we wanted to keep together as a group. Starting this site was my idea to do just that: keep us together. The site has grown far beyond my original thoughts and I couldn't be happier!
What are some of your favorite stories or testimonials from community members?
I get many 'thanks' from members for the site. Many guys claim they would have shaved had it not been for the support and knowledge they get from the site.
You have an extremely detailed welcome guide to orient new members with the community. How did you develop this and what kind of response has it gotten?
I started this page by explaining things that were different from other sites, how this site operates, and it grew from there becoming an Orientation Guide to the site. I have so much on the site, members were missing things, things of value and interest, but the members couldn't figure out how to get to them. It seems to get a good reaction from new members who claim it's helped them get familiar with the layout of the site and where to look for product reviews, news related to beards, etc The page is an evolving process; as new questions arise, I make the needed graphics to explain them!
Every month, you highlight a member as your Bearded Gentleman of the Month. How is the Monthly Gentleman selected and how is he recognized?
I have 2 sponsors for this program; Bluebeards Original (beard care products) and Beard Token. The person chosen each month gets about $60 worth of products from Bluebeards, and they get a token from 'Beard Token' too. The token is an historically accurate replica of a token issued by Peter the Great of Russia in 1705 when he instituted a Beard Tax. The pewter coin reads on one side 'The beard tax has been taken' and on the other side the token reads 'the beard is a useless burden,' in Russian, of course. In Russia then, if you had a beard and were asked to see the token, you'd best have it on you, lest you be shaved.I use a combination of things to choose the Bearded Gent of the Month. I look at the leaderboards first, then choose a few and follow their trail of comments, posts, pic submissions, and comments left on their pages. I also look at the 'personality' of the person as best I can through the internet and make a decision 'Is this person a good 'Ambassador for The Beard?' If my first response is 'yes,' then that person gets the 'nod!' and I make the graphics to post and they get a crown icon on their page for the month they are chosen.
Do you see an influx of members related to Movember?
I do see an influx of members during Movember, but I get more new members from Word of Mouth at Beard Competitions. Competitions are held all over the world throughout the year, and after any major competition, I see a large influx of new members.
You have sponsors featured on your home page. How do you choose and vet potential sponsors?
I've searched and proposed to those who sponsor my Bearded Gent of the Month program (Bluebeards Original and Beard Token) and then other ads from beard related sites, products, etc. I've approached half of them and the other half came to me.
In addition to the Bearded Gents community, you also run beardedgents.me, a Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube account, and Pinterest boards. How do you juggle the various communities? Do you find that they each help the other communities grow?
It is a LOT to juggle and I'm not so dexterous, but I manage! I actually have 3 Facebook pages; my personal page, and two dedicated to my site in addition to the others. I definitely see a connection of all the sites. They work off of and for each other. I get many new members who are Fans on my site's Facebook Fan Page. Folks who didn't know that my site existed discovered it on Facebook. I also 'share' links with several other beard related sites, and beard groups all over the World, so that's another source of new members for me. On Sept. 6th and 7th, 2013 was the 4th Annual National Beard and Mustache Championships hosted this year in New Orleans, LA. Once I registered and started posting on all of my pages, the members started coming! I had over 250 members join in about 5 weeks time.
My site is Public, though only the front page is visible to non-members, so google and other search engines can't crawl the site. I supplement that with the other sites and pages I run. When the decision was made to make it Public or Private, this was put to the Members the site had in the first few months. I let them make that decision.
Do you organize any community events surrounding the various competitions and gatherings for Bearded Gents?
I have not as of yet, organized any events around the site. My members are from all over the United States, the UK, Europe, Australia, Russia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. Very difficult to create events I'd think, but I do make many announcements if I am going to be at any particular competitions so members in those areas, have an opportunity to come out and meet me.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from your community?
I've learned many things from my community, mostly pertaining to how I deal with situations that arise. I cannot react to things as I would on my personal profile pages on other sites. I have to be much more diplomatic and less emotional about situations. It's done a great deal for me in my personal growth and how I handle situations on the internet and in my personal life as well. I've also learned of 'The Brotherhood of the Beard.' Bearded folks are so nice it's amazing. :D
What’s the best piece of advice you have for someone looking to start an online community?
By all means, start your own site! But do note that there is much more work involved then many folks think, and certainly more than I had anticipated! lol I love it though, it's a labor of love and has brought me a sort of Fame. At the competition in New Orleans, introductions were easy: I'd start to introduce myself, and most everyone finished it for me! They knew of my site and my 'fame' on Facebook, within my community. They knew of my efforts to spread the 'Beard Love' as we say, and help further our goals of putting us in a better light in Society.
Thanks, Gary. You're definitely a fantastic Beard Ambassador! Visit the Society of Bearded Gents at http://beardedgents.com/
Headshot of Gary W. Norman by Greg Anderson Photography, courtesy Gary W. Norman. Lead Image: Sugar Cookies - Beards and Mustaches, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from betsyweber's photostream. Other images: The Society Bearded Gents.