Month: August 2009

How To Get More People To Join Your Online Community

August 31, 2009Comments Off on How To Get More People To Join Your Online Community

The biggest challenge for most people is getting more members to join your community. Sometimes the problem is a lack of time, sometimes a lack of knowledge.

With this in mind I’ve put together the best ideas for growing your membership. I hope this helps:

  • Utilize basic tactics to grow your community. There is really basic stuff you should be using to grow your community. Make sure you’re doing this.
  • Work on your invites. There are simple do’s and don’ts to inviting people to join your community. Make sure you know what these are. There are some effective ways to invite people and increase your invite success rate.
  • Encourage members to grow their own following. Every member is a gateway to dozens of new members. Ask members to invite their friends. Develop ego-centric tasks (e.g. vote for my idea in the community) which encourage every member to spread the word.
  • Create unique areas within your community for the people you want to join. If you want someone to join your community, or a group of people, create a place just for them within the community. You can even put them in charge. They’ll find it hard to resist.
  • Plan activities which stimulate referrals. Seth did this when he gave buyers of Tribes 2 copies, one for them, one for a friend. Why not create an ebook, which collects the best expertise of members. Give members a code which will let their friends download it for free. This is known as the school play tactic and there are some good examples.
  • Talk about people you want to join. Nobody can resist being talked about. You create conversations about a single person or a group of people, then drop them an e-mail and let them know where they’re being discussed.
  • Encourage people to talk about jobs within the topic. Everyone wants job advice right now. Create a list or 'rumour mill’ of available or prospective jobs in the industry (as well as best places to work) and you’ll soon find floods of new visitors.
  • Create a place for newcomers. Your community doesn’t need to be just for diehards. You probably have as many nervous newcomers. Create a place for them, be welcoming, try some simple guides and advice from the pros.
  • Give members 1 invite per month to use. Close your community and only let members invite 1 person a month. That’s scarcity. If they don’t use it they lose it for next month (and if they cheat, all the better). If this works it’s 100% growth per month.
  • Preview and Review events. Make sure you write about relevant events. Take a sports approach to it. Interview relevant people about what they expect, get people to make predictions, (both fun and serious), encourage meets and award an official ‘top member of the event’ award.
  • Target the media. The media need well written news report. Pitch stories to them. Write about case studies in the industry. Get to know the journalists in your field. Offer guest columns by members.
  • Know where to find potential members. Know where to find relevant members. You can find them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, comments, your customer service team, book reviews, conference lists etc.
  • Seize a big issue. When something big arises in your community’s topic, jump all over it. Start a petition. Advocate for/against the cause. Become the hub of latest information and analysis – event speculation.
  • Customer Service Apologies. Everyone that complains about your product receives a free invite to the community. We’re sorry, have this for free.
  • Borrow from related communities. Communities aren’t a zero sum game. You can be a member of several at once. Borrow members from communities related to yours, but be nice about it.
  • Headhunt members. Stop waiting for members to join and proactively headhunt them. Go for people you think might specifically add value to your community. Send 5 invites a day.
  • Tell your employees to join. Why would your employees not want to talk to their fans? Be sure that they do, there are some great ways to get employees engaged in your community.
  • Cater to your competitors. If your competitor doesn’t have an online community, create a place for their users to talk to each other.
  • Free invite with every purchase. Include a free invite to your community with every purchase. Simple stuff.
  • Don’t limit membership to the website. Go beyond the website and target people to be part of your broader community through Facebook, LinkedIn, or simply by using a Twitter hashtag every now and then.
  • Write a free report. Use the best advice from your community to create a free report. Don’t force people to join to receive it, but use it as a promotional tool to spread like wildfire and stimulate thousands of discussions.
  • Target questions. People are probably asking questions about your topic somewhere on the web. Find where those questions are, answer them and include an invite for more info.
  • Introduce a community hashtag. Hashtags are great promotional tools. Be sure your community has one. Every time it’s used, your community is being promoted to hundreds of people.
  • Partner with a huge organization. Which association, business or media outlet in your topic doesn’t have it’s own online community. Offer them a partnership, they get to give their members a community at no effort to them (unless you want to charge) and you thousands of new members.
  • Hold a competition. Don’t host a competition between existing members, but against other communities or other groups. It garners much more attention.
  • Give every member a badge. Ad-age does this brilliantly. Ning makes it simple too. Give every member a badge to display on their profiles elsewhere (t-shirts work even better).

I hope this helps. Be sure to add any of your own ideas to the list.

The Name Of Your Community

August 30, 2009Comments Off on The Name Of Your Community

Does the community have to be named after you?

Think about it.

Why not name it after the purpose? Or name it after your members? Or name it something else that only insiders will get.

The name matters more than you think. 

Launch A Community Within 5 Minutes Of Reading This Post

August 28, 2009Comments Off on Launch A Community Within 5 Minutes Of Reading This Post

You can launch your community right now. You shouldn’t wait for the website to be ready.

Too often we delay doing the important work until the website is live. That’s a huge mistake. The important community building work; reaching people, gaining permission to speak to them and building relationships, facilitating conversations doesn’t require a website. Waiting for one wastes time.

Before you launch your website, you need a group of people that are desperate to use it. Otherwise, what's the point?

Your website should be the equivalent of having your own meeting venue. It’s the difference between meeting in a café and having your community hall.

Your launch date isn’t when the website is ready. It’s when you begin talking to the people you want to use it. You can do that right now. You can find your first members. You can discover if an online community is going to work. You can introduce yourself, have a mailing list, invite others. You should do a great deal of work before you launch an online community website.

Once you begin messaging members, talking to them, learning about them, you'll discover an awful lot about the eco-system. This will save you a huge amount of time later on.

So don't wait for the website to be ready, message your first members right now.

2 Approaches To Community Planning

August 27, 2009Comments Off on 2 Approaches To Community Planning

There are just two approaches to your community planning.

1) The Objective-based approach. You have a fixed outcome and work backwards to achieve that outcome. i.e. to achieve {X} I need {X} number of members. Therefore I need to send {X} invites and engage in {X} activities. Everything is planned and measured on a strict schedule.

2) The emergent approach. You launch with a few people, then see how the community develops, grows and adapts. You stimulate activities and let the community expand at its’ own pace. It doesn’t matter how fast the community develops, it matters how well it develops.

The objective-based approach should be properly measured and planned out beforehand. The emergent approach shouldn’t. The objective approach has a fixed target number of members, the emergent approach does not.

If you want unlimited members you can’t use fixed strategies and tight measurements to reach there.

This is where the problem lies. The same organizations that want unlimited members also want rigid strategies. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Pick which approach you need (hint, option 1 for short-term, option 2 for long-term) and stick with it.

Struggling To Build A Community? Try This Easier Approach

August 26, 2009Comments Off on Struggling To Build A Community? Try This Easier Approach

If you’re struggling, try this approach instead.

Forget persuading 10,000 members to join your community. That’s a little pointless. Focus instead on getting the 100 best people to join your community.

If you could persuade the 100 top neuroscientists in the world to join an online community, you would be worth a fortune. Keeping them happy is a business in itself. The opportunities for endorsements, representation, events, product advocates, feedback groups is limitless.

You can build an entire business around the model of targeting tiny groups of brilliant people and connecting them. Connecting elite people is the biggest opportunity for online community builders. It’s less work, more manageable and highly profitable.

If you’re struggling to build a community, make a list of ‘dream members’. Then focus all your efforts on reaching them (you can’t send unsolicited e-mails), connecting them (events work well) and fostering a sense of community.

You would be bold to pitch this idea to your boss “hey lets target the 100 perfect customers rather than the 100,000 maximum customers”. But fortune favours the bold.

Protests and Changes

August 25, 2009Comments Off on Protests and Changes

Jess Cliffe once told me Valve Software received a roar of protest from the Counter-Strike community every time they made a change. Their approach was to ignore it, for a few weeks.

In 5 years of updating Counter-Strike, Jess had learnt one invaluable lesson. People don’t want anything to change. The same is true for nearly every community. Nobody wants change.

This doesn't mean they don't need change.

If you make a change to the community, it’s not the initial outpour of anger you need to listen to. This is reactive, sometimes beneficial. Most people adapt quickly. It’s those that are still complaining 3 months later that you need to pay attention to.

Facebook were heavily criticised for changing their layout last year. Millions demanded they change it back. I bet we're secretly glad they didn't.

Personal Invitations

August 24, 2009Comments Off on Personal Invitations

Launching an online community is really hard work. You need people who are going to spend days, perhaps weeks, personally inviting members to join your new community. (no copy and paste allowed, sorry).

It’s dreary work, but if you launched without a pre-launch strategy then you need to do this. Don’t rely on big hits on major sites to gain active members. Rely on what you control – personalised invites to a reasonable number of people.

This means at least one person spending hours at a time researching the right people to invite, writing them a personal invitations and welcoming them when they join.

If you do it right, you should gather a motivated group of people who want to be part of an online community.

But it’s still going to take days, weeks, maybe months to write 500 invites.

Ask For Predictions

August 21, 2009Comments Off on Ask For Predictions

Ask your members to make predictions about the future. This might be predictions about the industry, predictions about the community or predictions about themselves.

Set a deadline for the not too distant future, no longer than 3 months. 

3 months later, compare the answers and keep score of who was right. 

It’s fun and simple content to keep members engaged and giving members a reason to come back. You can do this every few months, even keep score.

Giving Up Control

August 20, 2009Comments Off on Giving Up Control

Sage advice from the Wall Street Journal:

Part of giving up control is also giving visitors the freedom to complain and criticize the brand, or to wax lyrical about a competitor, to their heart's content.”

This isn't really giving up control. It's pretending to give up control while tightly holding the reigns to stop things going wrong.

Giving up control is giving people control over the community. Real, proper, control. Like giving some members the power to delete and moderate comments. Offering the power to open and close forums. The power to physically alter and adjust aspects of the community as they see fit.

The danger, of course, when giving members this level of control is they might use it to destroy the community. This rarely happens. Usually, it's only when you give members the power to really screw things up that they take responsibility for making it successful.

5 Features Of Really Strong Communities You Can Embrace

August 19, 2009Comments Off on 5 Features Of Really Strong Communities You Can Embrace

Strong communities usually exhibit these 5 features:

1) Boundaries. Great online communities have boundaries. They split the insiders from the outsiders. The boundary might be something members have done, something members are or something members want to be.

2) Purpose. Great communities have a purpose members strongly believe in. It might be to elect a new president of the USA or share the latest film news. It’s not the strength of the purpose that’s important, it’s how fiercely members believe in the purpose.

3) Communication. Great communities communicate, a lot. They communicate both one to one and many to many. Great communities have a communication platform. It might be a local newsletter or it might be a leader educating the group. Create a platform for both many to many and central communications.

4) History. Great communities have history. It’s documented and available for everyone to read. The history lists the achievements and contributions by members.

5) Emotions. Great communities oscillate at the same emotional frequency. They’re happy, sad, angry together. They share the same emotions at similar times.

If your community isn't as strong as you like, focus on developing these aspects. Make tougher boundaries, test belief in purpose, stimulate more communication, document and broaden the history or try more emotional appeals.

The Biggest Benefit Of Building An Online Community

August 18, 2009Comments Off on The Biggest Benefit Of Building An Online Community

You can’t cheat. That’s a bigger benefit than you realize.

You can’t pay people to participate in your community. You can’t spam people until they participate. You can’t offer short-term rewards and expect to have a thriving community in a year’s time.

To have a truly successful community, you have to go through the steps it takes to be successful.

You need to listen to members and respond to their wants. You have to give your members influence and ownership over the community. You need to do interesting things to retain their interest. You have to care about their complaints. You have to have staff committed to satisfying members.

When we talk about the benefits of an online community, we spend too long on advocates, loyalty, feedback, cost-effective marketing and money. The biggest benefit of building an online community is simple.

Building a successful online community will force you to be a better company. 

The Problem With Dunbar’s Number

August 17, 2009Comments Off on The Problem With Dunbar’s Number

150 is not the optimal group size, nor the maximum group size.

150 is the number of people, according to Robert Dunbar, you can sustain meaningful relationships with at any given time.

People misuse this number. It doesn’t mean you can have 150 good friends in an online community. It means you can sustain a maximum of 150 meaningful relationships in your life.

After you’ve tallied up your family, college buddies, work colleagues and other associates, you don’t have many vacancies left for friends. But it gets worse. The true number is probably much lower than 150, perhaps as low as 60.

You’re not just fighting for a share of your members’ time, you’re fighting for a share of their friends. It’s easier than ever to interact, but we’re not interacting with many more people just because we can. Stimulating interactions is futile without securing some of those friendship slots.

Real friendships still involve real stuff happening. The best way to facilitate friendships is by stimulating shared events, emotional experiences, self-disclosure and reciprocity.

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