Month: February 2009
It’s the forums, blogs, pictures, videos and content that you can see. It’s the result of a strong community.
Beneath the tip you have the mass. This is the sense of community, interpersonal communications and relationships that create the tip. You can’t see these, not from above.
If your tip is bigger than the mass you have a superficial community. It’s what happens when a community team panics and creates content themselves to impress their seniors.
If you want a bigger tip, you need to focus on creating a bigger mass.
The question isn’t “how can we get more content?”. The question is “how can we encourage more one-to-one conversations?”, “who can we introduce to each other?” “what would make members feel part of a group?”
There are two types of community work. The first is consulting. This is the ability to identify what the community wants, what resources the company has, and make recommendations to match the two together.
A consultant should be able to make detailed recommendations that have the support of both the company and key community members. It’s a real skill, a lot of work and they should be well paid.
The second is the process of building a community. This is working with the company as they build a community. It’s identifying, approaching and befriending members. Launching events and activities. Developing a sense of community amongst members.
Most importantly, it’s adapting when things don’t go to plan or taking advantage of new opportunities. A community builder should take you through a trial and error process that develops your community.
If you’re looking short-term. You hire the consultant. S/he is expensive, digs deep and makes recommendations you can implement right away. It’s a bigger risk with faster results.
If you’re thinking long-term, you hire the community builder. S/he takes you through an exploratory, emergent, process to get you a community.
Charging a community membership fee is a unique boundary. It scares 99% of people away.
But that committed 1% might be just what you need.
They expect value. They will participate to get it. They will consume content, contribute ideas and they have a stake in the community being a success (they don’t want to lose their investment). Most importantly, they will appreciate the community more.
This model works better when you don’t let everyone join. Have other preconditions, more boundaries, to pass before a member is allowed to pay. Perhaps a blog with 650 subscribers? Or a column in a monthly magazine? A published book?
This works best for elite communities, ‘official’ communities, communities with stunning content and communities with unique benefits benefits (like NUS).
You should also know the total sum of money members have invested into the community so far. Many would pay £3 a month to join a community worth £940,000.
The top architects live in the Netherlands. They like the flexible building regulations. These top architects create the best architecture, which attracts more great architects.
The Netherlands government changed a condition that created a unique environment for architects.
Switzerland has top bankers (regulations). South-Korea top gamers (broadband penetration), Silicon Valley top tech entrepreneurs (funding/Universities). They all changed one condition to create a perfect environment.
The challenge is to actively decide which condition you’re going to change when you create a community.What are you going to change and why does it matter? The condition has to be one you should create using your resources.
It’s easy to condemn metrics, ROI and objectives (fun too).
But we risk opening the door for less scrupulous community professionals to sneak in. They promise little, demand trust and take a lot.
How can you know your community builder is doing a great job if there are no metrics? It’s obvious, don’t ask quantitative questions, ask qualitative questions. For example…
- What have you done to grow and develop the community?
- What have you learned so far?
- What has the community achieved?
- How did you identify members?
- What are their common characteristics?
- What does the community want from us?
- What have community members been saying?
- What hasn’t gone well?
- What are the major issues in the community?
- How many community members have you gotten to know?
- Where do we need to allocate our resources?
- What’s holding back progress?
- Who are the key players in the community?
- Why are they key players?
- Who are our best helpers? How can we get them more involved?
- How many of these key players like you?
- What’s the next step?
Like metrics, expect distortions, exaggerations and Houdini-like vanishing acts.
You can fail to build a community within a month.
Just be thankful you didn’t spend a year, going door to door, to learn what you know in a few weeks on the internet. Your approach didn’t work.
Building a community has become quicker than it used to be, but not easier. Not in that sense. Building a community is a process. Part of that process are failed approaches.
The internet speeds up your failures. You can fail once a week for 15 weeks straight. Then you might befriend a huge influencer that convinces thousands to join. It’s happened to me. This sort of community, pre-internet, would never have existed. You would have run out of time years ago.
Two thoughts. First, you can’t ever guarantee a community. All you can do is increase the odds, reduce the boundaries. Second, each failure is a step towards the right answer. There are no shortage of ideas to building a community.
Many big companies make grand announcements for their online communities months in advance. It’s going to be great, they say. Everyone will join.
This is dumb.
You want to start small. You want to keep expectations realistic, especially within your own organisation. You want members to feel a part of something special.
Launching isn’t about saying what you’re going to do. It’s going down to the ground and doing it without making a fuss. Now if you fail, it’s easy to start again. It’s much harder to try again (or change your strategy) once you’ve made a big announcement.
If you’re going to issue a press release, do it for your 10,000th member, or the group that travelled from 4 different continents to meet.
Content is grossly overrated. Spend as little time writing content as possible. It’s a deadly distraction.
Every minute you spend writing an article is a minute you can’t spend finding others to write that article. Spend this time finding community members with a passion for writing. Build relationships with them. Encourage them to contribute.
Never take full responsibility for content to ‘get the community going’. It’s difficult to step back from here without a visible difference to the community.
Great content should come easily. It’s a reflection of the community. Your community members can write this.
Building a community isn’t making people do what your company wants, it’s your company doing things they want.
This is also a faith challenge. Put ROI aside. Have faith that selflessly serving your community as best you can will see them rewarding you as best as they can.
Sounds similar to a good friendship.
Community professionals should read The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. This is the key message:
You’re an outsider. But don’t think of insiders as one entity. They are thousands of smaller groups that seem generically connected. The deeper you go to understand them, the more successful your work will be. You can’t deal with them in a broad strategy. If you push, they’ll push back.
Your community work begins by finding people you want to talk to. You might find a group that share pictures on Flickr. Another that run Facebook fan pages, another who blog and dozens more scattered across various internet mediums.
They picked that medium for a reason. Going to your central community site isn’t in their best interest, it’s in yours. Resist the temptation to bring internet groups in to one place. That’s the efficient, old-marketing, side of you speaking.
Add your own flickr pictures to their group. Become a fan and talk to other fans of that page. Start your own blog. Participate with each group on their terms.
Learn what makes them a unique group. Use your resources to help/thrill them. One group at a time, win them over.
Do you believe members will join your community to share information? Or make friends? Or help others? You’re probably wrong.
These are all symptoms of motivations; typically fame, money and power.
Take blogging, do you really blog to share information and help others? Media and businesses think you do. I suspect you blog for recognition, increased job prospects and having influence amongst your peers.
Your community should offer these 3 motivations amongst people who are similar to you. People whose opinion matters to you.
Which is a roundabout way of reminding businesses that you need to prepare for these real motivations in the planning stages. By all means have a Wiki, but celebrate the biggest contributors to it. Give them influence over it. Promote them to others in your industry.
Here’s a bigger list of things to consider.
You join a community because members are like you, in some way. They buy the same products, live in the same neighbourhood, work in the same industry, support the same teams. You have at least 1 common interest.
But what if you had 2 common interests, or 3?
If you sell gardening equipment nationwide, you might start a national gardening community. Why not build a Wisconsin gardening community? Or a gardening communities for people in their 20s? Why not a retired-gardener community?
It’s easier to get 90% of Wisconsin gardeners to join a community than 1% of gardeners nationwide. It’s more fun too. Wisconsin gardeners will also be a closer, more focused and easier community to grow.
The beauty is you haven’t lost out on anything. You can start another community for gardeners in their 20s, or those who grow specific plants or even by the size of their gardens. There is no maximum on shared interest. The more people you target, the less connected they are.
If you’re struggling to build a community, add another common interest and focus your efforts.
Don't target eveyone relevant to you. Target eveyone relevant to them.