Month: July 2009
Competitions hosted within a community usually aren’t so effective.
Competitions rewarding individuals for individual contributions go against the nature of what you’re trying to do.
The better option, by far, is to have a competition against another community for a prize. This subtly changes the dynamic of the competition from opt-in to opt out.
In practice, you have to make no effort to not be involved in a competition to win an iPhone. It’s different when you’re in a group that’s in a competition with another community. The group you have self-identified with is under threat. You’re in the competition by default now. If you don’t contribute, you’re helping the opposition.
It’s a subtle but effective difference. Try giving another community the opportunity to win the prize. It isn’t the winning that counts, it really is getting as many people as possible to take part.
If your community is growing, but not as fast as you would like, don't try to speed it up. Revise your forecasts and expectations instead. Focus on steady growth and high levels of participation.
If it's growing by just a few members a day, you're doing fine.
We’re innately wired to find groups. Groups mean safety. In the animal kingdom this is physical safety. Lions pick off the isolated prey first. If you ever walk with lions (and you should try it) you’re sternly warned to stay in a group. It’s good advice.
In the human world groups are more about emotional safety. It’s the emotions of the isolated that get attacked. Even without a clear predator, we fear for our isolated emotional selves.
Animals find safety in their herds. These are the animals most similar to each other. Sometimes this is family, sometimes this is more geographical. It’s what common features connect the herd.
Humans are the same. Before the hormone explosion, boys stick with boys, girls stick with girls in the playground. As we grow older and leave our families we find our emotional safety through people we perceive to be like us. People that have been through the same things as us, people with the same interests are us. People that even look like us.
This is where online communities enter the fray. Ukulele enthusiasts used to be lonely. No high-school kid admits to being a Ukulele player. At least Star Trek had their place, but there isn’t even a Ukulele table to mock in the canteen. If you used to play the Ukulele, you would have kept it to yourself. You have no emotional safety in your life.
That is until you begin watching YouTube videos. It’s until you begin e-mailing the authors, networking with the singers and being introduced to other people like you. Before long, phew, you’re emotionally safe. You’ve found and helped develop an online community of Ukulele players.
I fear for businesses that don’t understand this. When KMart launches a community, it’s difficult to see what emotional safety any member will find there. Where’s the flag? Where’s the big neon sign promoting the emotional safety they offer? Have they even considered emotional safety?
Goths put up a fantastic flag. It bewilders outsiders but offers the select few a place to belong. It offers them safety. It’s a place where their fragile emotional selves can’t be attached. They’re part of a herd.
Some communities are doomed when they launch. If someone can’t be emotional invested in your product/service, it’s difficult to see how they can find any emotional safety. It’s not impossible. Many Moms buy the same brand of milk, and many dads drink from a same type of mug. They can get to know and find emotional safety in each other.
But if milk and mugs are your products, the community can’t be about you. You can’t offer emotional safety to your customers. You can’t offer Trekkers a place to gather nor a Ukulele players a website to sing. So a community for dull, emotionless products is possible, but it’s far more work for far less reward.
The biggest worry here is emotional safety isn’t considered in most community thinking. That’s madness. It’s a primal instinct. Put the Twitter integration plan aside. Focus on the primal stuff first.
Don’t be afraid that nobody will join your community. Assume that’s what will happen. Assume you have 0 members when you launch. Reaching 100 members in two days is a far-fetched dream.
Instead, focus on all the hard work you need to put in to get people to join. Focus on the relationships you need to build. Focus on persuading one person at a time. Be single-minded in your approach and build from there.
Hopefully that fear will fade and be replaced by the determination to do the work required (or not attempting to build a community in the first place).
You need to work like crazy to encourage members to make lots of contributions (tiny personal investments) into your community.
The more investments you persuade your members to make, the more they will participate and help make the community succeed. This is because nobody wants to feel they wasted their investment.
There are four times of investments. Time, energy, emotions and money.
- Time: The more time a member spends in a community the more they want it to succeed. This overlaps significantly with energy, but with a few distinctions.
- Energy. This is the effort members put into the community. i.e. Members who have written lots of posts, helped curate content, arranged events or otherwise actively contributed something to the community.
- Emotions. Nobody wants to feel they got worked up over nothing. Provoking strong emotional reactions are investments made into your community.
- Money. If you’ve paid to attend an event, have a custom URL, bought WoW gold you’re going to work hard to make the community a success.
Tiny investments create engaged members. They convert newcomers to regulars. The more personal investments your members make, the more they will be involved in your community.
The first people to join your online community should be people that you know. If you personally know 50 people in your community’s topic field, you’re going to be off to a flying start.
If you don’t, then you should get to know 50 people in your community’s field before you launch your online community. See the 3 month pre-community strategy for help on this.
The second group of members to join your online community should be people that your friends know. You need to motivate them to do this.
If you do this right, your community should grow from 20 to 50 to 100 over the first month or two. That’s a good number of engaged members.
This is an open post to you, beloved reader. I want to hear about what online communities you are working on right now.
If you’ve been lurking all these months, now is your time to step out and dazzle us with all the amazing work you have been doing.
If you met me we would strike up a conversation until we hit common ground. That would be the platform from which we build our relationship.
Members in your community already have that common ground, it’s the topic of your community. You need to strengthen and grow this common ground. This bonds your community and increases repeat visits, decreases members leaving and stimulates more activity.
Your role then is to identify the common ground within the common ground. Spot what things members have in common beyond simply an interest in your topic. It might be 5 are from Cincinnati, or were ex-marines or are interested in a specific aspect of the topic.
Create forums, groups and pages for these people and issues. If you have 20 members who are dedicated Manchester United fans, create a special Manchester United group, badge, tag or forum for them. Appoint members to be in charge of this.
Spend as much time as you can doing this. It creates the sub groups which really drive a community.
This is easily one of the most overlooked elements in developing online communities.
Many top bloggers do webcasts that reach just a few hundred people.
Your online community probably has more than that.
So why haven’t you invited a VIP in your field to give a webcast to members? Aim for prominent figures in your field. If you don’t ask you don’t get.
Every community should have A-List members. Usually it’s implicit. The regulars know who the top members are. There isn’t a need to make a list, unless you want to stimulate a lot of activity.
Why not make it explicit? Take the unwritten list and write it down for everyone to see. Better, invite your community to do it. Who do they believe are the top members?
Every 6 – 12 months put together nominations for 10 members to be on the A-List, B-List and C-List of your community.
You’re going to get intense debates, happy members, sad members, angry members and a healthy dose of activity. You might just find it motivates your members to contribute more.
Of course, your A-List members get badges to display and bragging rights.
Start small. Contact 5 of your customers and introduce yourself. Don’t ask for anything yet, simply aim to maintain dialogue with the 5. If you can speak to them on the phone, that would be perfect.
If you’re local, arrange a meeting at a cafe (or your store). They can bring friends if you like. Pick up the tab, naturally. If you’re not local, begin an e-mailing list where you talk to each other. You need to make some introductions first.
If you’re first meeting went well, arrange another one next month. This time, introduce yourself to 5 to 10 more people and have a simple place online where you can communicate. If you’re using a mailing list, keep introducing yourself to new people and inviting them to join the group.
Repeat this process until you have 25 to 30 people, then repeat it again until you have about 50 people who enjoy talking to each other. Now think about if you need to develop a website to simplify the conversation process and handle the noise. If you don’t, that’s fine. If you do, that’s fine too – but keep your expectations in check.
Focus on one statistic, your number of active members. How many members are participating. If a member drops out, find out why. Try to ensure that everyone keeps participating. You need to have frequent contact, offer them opportunities to be involved and do as much as you can to help them.
That’s it. That’s an online community of active supporters for a small business. Most online communities for small businesses fail long before they reach 50 members. If you’re patient, put in the effort to have conversations with your audience, yours wont fail.
The same problems always seem to appear. Usually, they have very similar solutions too. These solutions usually involve far less fancy trickery and far more real work engaging your community.
Problem 1: You’ve just launched and no-one is joining your community
If nobody is joining your community you need to spend more time on the promotion process. What would persuade you to join an online community? What type of communities would you join? How many people will join because they know you?
- Invite 5 members a day to join.
- Engage in relevant communities and interest groups to build your own profile, then invite your new friends to join.
- Narrow the focus of your community to a select social/interest group (you can broaden it later) and target them specifically.
- Call for community testers, ambassadors, VIP, experts and other positions of importance.
- Write to relevant news outlets announcing the launch of your community. Be sure to include industry magazines, you never know who might be having a slow news day.
Problem 2: No-one is responding to your invites
Low response means your invites are poor, you’re not targeting the right people or you need to build trust and relationships first.
- Ensure your invite offers something unique and useful to the recipient. Try using ego-appeals, self-interest and
- Spend time building relationships first, start a blog comment elsewhere, get to know dozens of people well enough that not only will they join, but they will invite others to join.
- Stop sending invites, tell your community it’s their role to recruit people for their community.
- Ask your target audience for their opinion of your community, they will join to give you an opinion.
- Ask your target audience what would be an awesome community – and adapt your community to be that.
- Close invites, only let people join on the first day of the month – and then only the first 50. Make joining day as exciting as your first day of college.
Problem 3: Members aren’t participating
Members don’t participate because they are not motivated to participate. What is the self-interested which participating will satisfy? How can they be more famous, powerful and make more friends? How is their ego/self-concept invested in your community?
- Develop regular content about members of the community.
- Mention the names of members often.
- Ask for thoughts, opinions and contributions on any relevant issues.
- Designate fixed times for events and chats to take place on the community.
- Offer opportunities to collect items (points/karma), move up levels (newbie, regular, veteran) and develop a reputation.
- Send out personal messages soliciting opinions
Problem 4: There is too much activity for me to moderate
This is a fantastic problem to have. If there is too much activity to moderate, stop trying. Moderate the efforts of your helpers, embed a spirit in the community which doesn’t breed activity that needs to be moderate.
- Recruit volunteer members to help.
- Relax or tighten the rules on what is allowed, write an unwritten rule, remove a written one.
- Make clear examples of people that break the rules.
- Encourage and make it simple for members to point out spam/dodgy comments at the click of a button.
- Pick the problem areas within your community, perhaps people or issues and focus on them instead.
What common problems and solutions have we missed here? Be sure to list your own.