Month: December 2008
Ning is a great online community package that’s getting better every day.
Kickapps will let you create an online community in minutes.
Liveworld will let you add a community feature you every page of your existing site.
Anyone can create a Facebook group in seconds, and invite hundreds of within minutes.
Most of the time you don’t need to pay $60k for a special online community interface. It’s quicker, cheaper and far less problematic to launch your community right now…for free.
If you can’t highlight huge benefits of having a tailor-made interface, don’t ask for one. Save the money and use the 3 month development time more wisely.
If we’re smart, right now we’ll be thinking about how to build online communities for people that have never participated in one.
That is about 6 billion people (91% of the world’s population).
There are huge, gigantic, markets. Many already have strong offline communities. How will they understand the internet? How they can they benefit from using it? Who can we connect them to? How can we help them improve what they already have?
I don’t know the answers yet, but we should be thinking about it already.
My former boss, who reads this blog, asked me how to actually build online communities yesterday.
You start by identifying what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve it by. You figure out what resources you have and who you want to reach. Find a metric to measure success by.
Then you focus on the people you want to reach. What do they value? Identify your first members. What are the topical issues here? Who are the big influencers? What technology do members use? What are their personalities and motivations for participating online?
This saves you from firing blanks.
Now put this together and answer what type of online community will it be? What’s the big appeal? What do members need from the interface? How soon can you launch? Who is going to build the interface, and when?
When you’re ready, launch it. Drop personal e-mails to your early members before you launch. Build relationships with the influencers you’ll need later. Introduce members to each other. Seed content some early content, and give new members clear actions to take. Develops tactics to keep growing internally.
Next you begin developing a sense of community.
Encourage members to invest time in your community, create boundaries. Shine the spotlight on high-achieving members. Ensure everyone can influence the group, in at least small way. Offer rewards to motivate members. Introduce members to each other, set tasks and celebrate milestones. Treat top members much better. Get some press coverage. Continue reaching out to members to join. Recruit and train volunteers to take on your workload.
Persuading five new members to join your community a day is a great idea.
Don’t let worries about scaling persuade you otherwise.
You want to be told what you think of yourself.
If you think you’re a brilliant game designer, you want to be told you’re a brilliant game designer. It’s self-verification.
But you don’t want to be told by just anyone. You want to be told by people whose opinions matter to you. You want to be told by people you think are similar to you.
You can find these people by joining an online community. You will get involved and work hard to get these opinions.
This has implications for building an online community. First, try to identify what most people in the group think of themselves. If you run a community for young entrepreneurs, it’s a safe bet they think they are good for their age at business. Tell them so. But when you tell them, give reasons relating to their participation in the community to justify your opinion. It's more credible.
Second, build a community culture that focuses on individuals rather than collectives. Constantly give opinions on individuals, celebrations champions, set individual milestones and recognise people when they achieve them. This can only happen if you lead the way. Everyone else will take their cues from you. The more it happens, the more it will happen.
Why not ask outsiders to give their expertise? It’s an effective way to grow your online community.
You can approach people on relevant issues to your community and ask them to share their outsider’s opinion. Be specific about why you need them, what skills they have that you need and the problem you need their help with. Maybe they also know some friends who can help?
When they join, introduce them to the group. Shine a spotlight on them with an interview and encourage members to treat them warmly. Celebrate their successes and input. People love to feel valued.
For bonus points, coach your members to reach out to outsiders on their own initiative.
You need to know why your members are participating in your online community.
They're participating because it benefits them, but you need to be more specific than that.
You need to know if it's because it makes them happy (control, be effective, learning) or for rewards (money, power, fame, belonging) or out of fear (stay employed, ego-involvement, crime…).
Ideally, new members should be asked whilst registering why they want to join your online community. But if it's it’s too late for that, you can ask 5 members a day by e-mail. Or you can ask the entire community at once with a blog post (quicker, but you'll get a worse response rate).
Identify similar motivations. You’re not going to get the same answer from everyone. Once you know why your members are participating, remind them every few months. Be specific about what members have learnt recently, or how much more well known they are now and how they've reduced their likelihood of being made redundant.
Your community should always help every member get where they want to be.
Nobody wants a dead launch day.
Likewise, nobody wants a fizzy community launch that goes flat the next day.
You can avoid this by doing your prep work and introducing a first tactics to engage people the day you launch and the following weeks. Here’s a few ideas:
- Have A Soft Launch. Have a soft launch first. Your most dedicated fans get to warm the community up before you promote it externally.
- Don’t Launch On A Friday (or a weekend/holiday). Less people participate at weekends and the community will appear very dry for two days. Many members might never come back. Management might get worried.
- Launch On One Big Key Issue. As recently posted, if you know something big is coming up for your community or industry, launch then. Promote it heavily as the discussion place. Let it be known the company will be participating in this community and listening to what members think when they take action.
- Prime Early Members. Have conversations with as many potential members as possible prior to the launch. Make sure they all know the date when it goes live. Let them join first.
- Get People Involved Before The Launch. Related to the above, get as many people involved in the community before you launch. Call for ideas. Send weekly updates on how the community is going and build momentum for the launch.
- Ask Early Bird Members How They Want To Launch. Ask customers and interested stakeholders how they want to launch. Let the early-bird members design their own promotional strategies for launch day, and reward them if they succeed.
- Develop A Facebook Group First, Then Migrate. Have a Facebook group you can build up whilst the interface is in development and migrate when it’s launched. This will mean plenty of dedicated members are joining. Be sure every member knows the objective is migration.
- Promote Low Membership Numbers. Give the first 100 members to join not only the best numbers (member 00001), but also extra bonuses. Products from your client, the chance to post the first comments, exclusive first-look at something new.
- Give Different Rewards For Joining On Different Days. People that join the community in the first week get special, but not identical, rewards. People that join on Tuesday might get invited to a special conference. People that join on Friday might get a free copy of an industry book. Let people decide which day they want to join.
- Hold Early Elections For Key Roles. Ask people to put themselves forward for the early important roles, then let people nominate them for the roles (these members will invite others to join the community to vote for them).
- Launch A Two Week-Long Task. Set a task that every individual member can achieve within a week. Keep regular milestones and updates. Other urgent issues that need a community response work well too.
- Close Membership After The First Fortnight. And open it again every two weeks. Generate interest by only letting members join during set times. Why not between 12 and 2pm? Or only 100 new members at a time?
Do you have any more ideas to add to the list? Add them here…
Don’t try to identify your community’s top participators before you launch.
Activity on one community has little relevance on another. Top participators in similar communities might contribute very little to your community. They might even be saboteurs.
It’s almost impossible to distinguish between paricipators and lurkers before you launch. So don’t try. You risk ignoring your key members. You might waste your efforts catering to pre-selected members you hoped would participate at the expense of those who do.
In my experience, top participators are often people new to online communities entirely. These normal people have a genuine motivation to see the community work. These are also the people who would benefit most from your help.
It's easier to launch an online community upon a big issue.
Cheltenham Borough Council launched a successful blog during the floods of 2006. Hundreds of residents, many who had never participated in an online community before, visited daily for the latest news about bottled water availability, school openings and road closings.
Once the crisis was solved, the council closed the blog down. It’s a tragedy.
A time of heightened interest is a huge opportunity to launch an online community. People are more willing to tackle unfamiliar technology or culture to get their opinions heard. Once they enjoy the benefits and build relationships, they will keep coming back.
Cheltenham Council should have focused on the next big issue. Or had an issue of the week, even the month, to keep people involved.
You can conquer the problem of scaring newcomers away by dividing the community into groups of 150 people.
Instead of a 1500-member community, aim for 10 smaller, tighter, communities of 150 members.
The first 150 people to join become Community 1. The door is closed behind them. Only they can open invite new members now. They become a closed unit. The second 150 people to join become the second community, and the third 150 become the third community. etc…
This solves the problem of scaring newbies away, without annoying patronising your current members. Your community is open to benefit newcomers, but closed to benefit your members. Each smaller community might form closer relationships. You might even be surprised by the productivity of 10 online communities working in parallel.
Better still, you can try different strategies on different communities.
Why not give it a try?