Month: March 2009
A community boundary is what separates insiders from outsiders. It’s more complicated than just registration. As a rule of thumb, the less visible the boundary is to outsiders, the more effective it is.
There are talent boundaries (expert photographers), experience boundaries (festival attendees), emotion boundaries (hating George Bush) and many, many, more.
But boundaries shift fast.
When a community grows too big, smaller groups emerge who set a new boundary. It might be as simple as those who have been members for over a year. If you’re new, you can’t join the club.
There are hundreds of great community professionals writing blogs, but only a few churning out amazing content as well as Dawn, Connie, Martin, Angela and Matt. They raised the boundary. If you want to be part of their small, amazing, community, you’re going to have to match their output (and it’s not easy).
Often a boundary will suddenly vanish. Communities that rise in opposition to an issue, or are formed when under attack, can see their boundary vanish in seconds. The Obama community has gone quiet.
Boundaries are always shifting. If they’re becoming tougher, you’re going to have an increasingly smaller group less enthusiastic about outsiders. If they don’t sustain enough activity, you lose the community altogether. Dedicate your time to provoking conversations and initiating activities.
If boundaries are becoming weaker, that sense of community begins dissipating. Run activities that bring members together. Highlight outsiders. Celebrate members that cross the boundary.
Kudos is important. Build up as kudos from your audience as possible before you launch a community.
Seth Godin can build a community (Tribe) of 3000 members in about 48 hours. That’s impressive. That’s the audience kudos of spending 6 years of writing the world’s top marketing blog.
It’s an extreme example. It’s better to realise the more kudos you have from your audience before you launch your community, the easier, quicker and better your community will be.
Which is why it makes sense to spend months(!) building this kudos before you launch the community. Treat gaining audience kudos as part of the community project.
It’s much easier to gain kudos before you start your community, than after.
We’re mistaking the advanced work for the basic and the basic work for the advanced. Lets rectify.
The things we often consider advanced, is usually the most basic work. Monitoring the conversation is basic. Analytics is basic. Design is basic. Databases, web structure and content is all basic.
Outreach is also basic. Growing your community is basic. Bonding your community is basic. Much of what you read here is basic. Moderating debates and recruiting helpers is basic too.
The advanced work is in satisfying intangible feelings. How does your community make a member happier? Why will members pool money to stop another from being evicted? How does joining and participating in your community improve the self-worth of the member? What emotional benefits does your community generate in its members?
The closer your community gets to the emotions of a member, the more advanced your work is. Or to put it simpler: The most advanced work of online community management is satisfying the most basic feelings.
Connie Bensen outlines 5 easy steps to starting an online community.
Her advice is great (it always is), but she waters down a very important message with talk of analytics, monitoring, participating and branding.
These tasks are important, paramount even, but they’re important to you, not to your community. They’re useless if you don’t have a community. Here’s my take on this:
Step 1) Launch a blog, newsletter, forums or mailing list to talk about your customers.
Step 2) Talk about your customers.
A community is a place for people like your members to communicate. The easiest way to attract your community is to talk about them. Talk about their stories, their successes and failures. Interview one or two. Make it the place for that particular group.
If you only care about increasing the number of members, hire a publicity expert. Or perhaps an advertising agency. Or even a sales team to call people up.
If you tell 10,000 people about your community, I’m sure at least 100 will join.
Most people know there is more to it than growth. Most people know that what happens on the inside is more important than what happens on the outside.
Imagine there was a £1m bonus if your community reached 400,000 members in a month. How would you reach that goal?
You might advertise during a prime-time show. You might try starting memes or write a stunning content piece and solicit support to reach the DIGG homepage. You might develop a PR campaign or launch a global competition. Or you might identify an unknown issue and bring it to the attention of the world. You might form partnerships with major organisations and publications.
You would be forced to target the online community newcomers and develop ways to educate them about communities and join yours.
The point, of course, is trying super growth ideas with a 1% chance of working. Steal one idea from the above, now go brainstorm 19 more for your community.
You need just 1 idea to work and you’re a community building legend, never looking for work.
The more foolish 1% ideas you try, the greater your odds. Brainstorm 20 super-growth ideas for this community, 20 for your next project and by your 3rd community project the odds start to work in your favour.
400,000 members in a month, you’re a superstar.
Starting an online community for your street is easier than you think. You know how to find and reach the people. Many residents already speak to each other. And it benefits everyone.
Robert Putman, in Bowling Alone, found the single difference between a prosperous region and a defunct one was the level of social capital (bonds between residents).
If you want to clean up the litter in your street, don’t grab a broom, build the bonds between members so they wont drop litter on your street. It serves to reason, if you want to improve the value of your home, you should increase the social capital of your street. You can do this easier than ever with online tools.
Where to Begin
Start simple. Create an online forum, blog or e-mailing list. Every member must be able to submit a comment/opinion within two clicks. Registration is optional. There are plenty of free options.
Now before you announce your community to the work you want to seed some content, identify early issues and highlight the top opinions.
Invite 3 – 5 people on the street to discuss some issues on your community. It might be upcoming events, graffiti, noise or topics relevant to your local neighbourhood. Focus on the future, not the past.
Growing your Membership
Now you need to grow your community membership. There are three ways of doing this.
- Go door to door. Write handwritten notes to members you want to join, explain how they can join and the big issues that you want their opinion on. This is quick and effective.
- Talk about members. If people believe they’re being talked about, they will join. Keep it constructive.
- Ask your existing members to invite people they believe support their views on the community. Start a poll and encourage support from other members of the street.
Bonding and Developing your community
Congratulations. If you’re community is getting some regular discussions and active members, it’s time to develop the community. Try to target some positive action. Like an informal barbeque for members to meet, a meeting at a local hall, a group petition on an important issue to your local government rep or resolve a common problem (e.g. parking, litter, derelict buildings).
Aim to have as many discussions as possible. Create specific forums/groups for certain issues. Identify areas of expertise members have on some issues. Learn the connections members have with each other.
Have fun stuff in there too. Resident of the week nominations. Amazing community stories and why not a gossip column?
Then Start The Local Newsletter
Now finish by creating the local newsletter. Be unique, don’t spend too much time on bad news. Focus on the good news. Here’s your tagline: no news isn’t good news. Good news is good news.
You can incorporate elements of hyper local. Interview residents on debates. Include pictures/stories from members.
Share Control of your Street’s Community
Once you’ve got this going, share power. Let other people have control of the community. Let anyone contribute an article to the local newsletter.
Update: Paul Johnston sends the fantastic example Harringay Online.
Begin your community efforts by identifying the people you want to reach. Then research what they really want. Is it fame, money, power or affiliation?
Draw up 4 boxes and identify how your community is going to offer a member these things. It’s what they really want.
|– Leader boards
– Highlight the top members and great contributions on the main newsletter/blog
– VIP badges
– External promotion of top members and their stories
– Hall of fame/ Annual awards
|– Advice to get a better job
– Advice to save money
– Networking opportunities
– Sell products/services
– Increase their reputation within the industry
– Connect seekers/recruiters
|– Invite top people to give advice to your staff
– Host special groups just for them
– Customer council
– Delegate moderation duties
– Company e-mail addresses
– Show support for their ideas
– Inclusion in internal comms
|– Ratings from members
– Discussion boards
– Members can start their own groups and invite people they like
– Have special categories for people with common similarities
You don’t need to fill every box. You might need just need one benefit, in one box. As long as it’s strong benefit. Frequently the prospect of great advice leading to increased job prospects (money) lures people in, but it’s the fame/power/affiliation that keeps members coming back.
Base your community objectives and specs upon this framework. If your company can’t create objectives that fit into this framework, you need to change the objectives.
Now you need to configure your company’s resources in a way that competitor’s can’t match? What is the unique environment and conditions that you can create?
Do you want a few thousand more members? Partner with an organisation that has a few thousand members.
There are millions of big organisations that should have a community, but don’t. This is because it’s not easy. These organisations (event companies, universities, magazines, newspapers, companies) don’t have the knowledge, nor the people and financial resources to start a successful community.
Offer them the benefit of your fully-managed online community. A place where their members/readers can come to chat online. You might even be able to name a fee. You might even approach organisations with a struggling community.
For them, it’s a sure bet of a functioning, active community. For you, it’s a huge boost of your status.
Be sure to read this write-up of social psychology 101 for community managers. It’s by far one of the best overviews of social psychology theories, and in brief note form.
And visit Darek Kłeczek’s blog: Leadership in Social Networks.
Update: Here is a bonus on Managing + Motivating Comunity leaders.
Forget everything you’ve planned.
Ask 500 people in your field what they would like to change in the future. Now launch your community with that objective.
Your community will have 500 owners. 500 shareholders. 500 people who have helped craft their vision of the future and put themselves forward to be part of it.
They feel they have contributed. They feel appreciated, effective. That’s 500 members who will join when you launch. And tell many others.
It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth every member.
Don’t write terms and conditions, write Community Laws.
Make them interesting, worth reading. Update them every 4 months. Invite members to help. Make it a process of converting unwritten rules, into written ones.
Make it a process of removing laws. If you have a law that everyone abides to (“please don’t self-promote your company”), take pride in removing it. It becomes part of an unwritten code.
Be proud that your community can run on as few laws as possible. It will gel your community together.