Month: October 2009
It’s just two months now until I finish my consultancy with the United Nations here in Geneva (Switzerland).
It’s been a challenging and brilliant experience. Our growing digital team has done well. We’ve grown a Twitter following from 30,000 to 1m, launched numerous small groups on specific projects and made online community building ingrained in what we do.
Our biggest plans lie in the next 2 months, which we’re extremely excited (and a little nervous) about.
From January, I’ll be looking for something new. This might be in consulting; explaining how organizations can grow and develop online communities in their sector or working in a permanent role at another business.
If you have any interesting projects, jobs, engagements or challenges that could use some online community building expertise, drop me an e-mail.
Match your community platform to it’s size.
A mailing list is brilliant for up to 40 members. After that you need something bigger, like a forum or Facebook group.
When you have a thriving forum you probably want something better, like editorial content about the community, game mechanic features and better profiles.
Creating a full fledged community site is a bad idea for 40 members. Remarkably, most companies create a site for 0 members (or 10,000 estimated members).
Match your growth and spending to the size of the community. Don’t try to do too much too soon.
The current process for recruiting online community managers is crazy.
Forget the job description.
Instead, invite interested people to create a fan group for your product/brand. Give them a month or two. Then hire those who built the best fan groups.
You get a great community manager and a great community.
Likewise, if you're looking for a community management job stop applying and start building. It's much harder to turn an applicant down if they have already built a community for you.
It’s your weekly management meeting. You’re an important community manager, so you’re invited.
The team takes turns giving updates of their work. The sales team gives the sales projections. The web team updates the progress on the new site. The PR team explain their upcoming campaign. Now it’s your turn:
“Well we’re planning to turn Saturday into a day where members share funny pictures of their cats”
You’re going to look like an idiot. But there is a deep scientific basis for what your proposing. Sharing cat pictures is an easy way to encourage self-disclosure from members with reciprocation. It’s likely to increase community spirit and draw out some lurkers who have cats.
Even better; Caturday, as you’ve probably heard, was a hugely successful internet meme. As a tactic, it’s supported by a proven track record of success in many popular communities. You might be negligent not to use it.
Angela Connor explains you’re not really a community manager until you’ve dealt with trolls threatening to bomb your car. I want to add: you’re not really a community manager until you’ve proposed Caturday to your boss. That takes some real guts.
Last September I wrote a critical, but constructive, post about Digital Nomads, Dell’s community for officeless workers. I love the concept, hate the execution.
Today, the community is close to death. No activity, no interaction between members. It’s another short-term branded community concept which began as a great idea and fizzled to death.
You can find dozens of these from top brands. They always make the same mistakes:
- No core group. When you launch a community you need to spend time engaging in one to one interactions with 50 to 100 people to develop your core group. These are the rocks of your community, the one that define the culture and the atmosphere. Brands ignore this, they hope a huge number of people will collectively gel. Sometimes they do, but sometimes isn’t a good strategy.
- No community manager. I’m guessing nobody had the full time job of developing the digital nomads website into a full-fledged community for netbook owners. If they did, they were a bad choice.
- No follow through. Dell launched Digital Nomads brilliantly, nearly every top communications/business blogger either wrote for the community or wrote about the community. Dell failed to convert this attention into a sustaining community. Where was the long term planning to keep people engaged throughout the year?
- No content about the community. The content was entirely based around advice and information, there was no content about the community. Big brands continually underestimate the importance of being a part of a group. People are desperate to know what other people in the community are doing.
- No community spirit. Dell should have done much, much, more to generate a community spirit amongst Digital Nomads. With so many people tweeting, blogging and writing about their work it’s easy to imagine they could have made the community feel part of a unique group and special.
Dell are capable of (and usually are) so much better.
Looks at the top 30 Causes competing in America’s Giving Challenge. You will notice two major things.
1) You probably haven’t heard of any of them. Most of the big names are absent or fail to scrape in to the top 50.
2) The list is dominated by causes with less than 1000 members. Smaller groups, with less than 1,000 members are beating causes with six to seven figure members. Colorado Heritage camps, with 200 members, is beating Campaign for Cancer Prevention, with 5m members. Wow.
This isn’t an exhaustive, definitive, analysis – but when a tight group of 200 members can solicit more donations than a group of 5 million you know there are implications.
Going for size now actively works against you. Being big motivates big thinking. Being big encourages you to be bigger and your strategy is geared towards growth. Which newspaper do we need to be in to get more members? Being small, however, focuses you on being tight and your strategy reflects how to bring your donors close together.
This close group concept should really change how we handle manage donors. Don’t put together lists based upon geography, campaigns or even interest. Build up smaller, tighter, groups of people that can
At UNHCR we’re experimenting with a few small-focused ideas. We ask on Facebook and Twitter for people interested in being more involved. Invite these people to join a mailing list and spend time asking for ideas and helping members get to know each other.
So far the results have been remarkable. One group of 50, managed by one person, has raised several thousand dollars. More so, they have giving friends and, at the drop of the hat, will help us spread any message, raise money or launch a new campaign.
There is no cap on the number of these lists and smaller, focused, groups you can have. One person, managing several different groups (don’t be tempted to collect them into one super-group) can do a huge amount of good. This is real management of donors. This is bonding disparate, unconnected, donors into powerful small groups.
I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert on donor relationships, but I feel comfortable predicting there is a great future for people and organizations that can build effective small groups.
Is there a link to join your online community in your e-mail signature?
What about your employees (esp. customer facing)?
What about members, have they included the link in their signatures too?
The members of the online community you’ve painstakingly built will spend much of their time talking about really inane things.
They’re going to talk about Susan Boyle, Balloon Boy and the latest Michael Jackson release. In fact, if you do your job right, they’re going to talk about the same things that the rest of the country is talking about.
This is a good thing. It shows they’re moving past the original subject matter and openly discussing broader events. How can your members really get to know each other if they can only discuss you? Talking about other issues shows a willingness on their part to get to know each other better and on a more personal level.
This is where the relationship jackpot lies. You don’t need a lot of members talking about you, you need a lot of members who build their relationships through you. You become the gravity that draws them together.
Believe me, your members boring you is far better than you boring your members.
There are some blog posts that have radically influenced how we think of building online communities. Below are a few of the best of the past few years.
- Kevin Keller – 1000 True Fans. Your organization can serve small groups of people at high profit. This was the best blog post of last year and changed how we think about mass-marketing.
- Seth Godin – Tribe Management. The future of business is finding products for your community, not a community or your products. Why most businesses need a tribe manager.
- Jeremiah Owyang – Online Community Best Practices: Jeremiah with a comprehensive guide to developing an online community, complete with best practices at each stage.
- Jeremiah Owyang – Forrester Wave Report: Leaders in Community Platforms for Marketers: Jeremiah’s fantastic guide to the various community platforms. It’s available for free here.
- Jonathan Bishop – Increasing participation in online community: A framework for human-computer interaction. This is a slog to get through but invaluable reading for a scientific perspective on what people are likely to react to.
- Francois Goissieaux – Tribalization of Business Study: A watershed study about how business is changing towards communities.
- Chris Carlfi – A Pattern Language for Online (and Offline) Communities. A great overview of this little discussed area of community work. Familiarise yourself with the language of building communities.
- Chris Allen. Chris Allen is one of the few to actively tackle the Dunbar number and the 90-9-1 theory of participation in online communities. Read his series of posts for a clear understanding and the need for developing groups within your community. Part 1, part 2 and part 3.
I wanted to include something by Guy Kawasaki and Clay Shirky in the group, but couldn’t find any single post that did their wisdom justice. Drop me an e-mail if you know of a great posts.
People really love talking about themselves. Half of a conversation is wasted waiting for your turn to speak.
We get bored when we can’t talk about ourselves. If we can’t talk about ourselves, then the conversation isn’t really that important to us. It doesn’t fit into our lives. So we lose interest, we go find someone or something that does let us talk about ourselves.
This is my problem with community moderators trying to guide a conversation. They completely overlook this.
If you try to make all the conversation about you, your company, your brand, you’re not letting this happen. If you try to guide or direct your community to talking about anything other than themselves, you’re going to struggle.
No tactical tips on this post, sorry. Just be advised, provide as many opportunities as possible for members to talk about themselves. You’ll be mentioned eventually. Don’t sweat and don’t force it.
To cite Alan Weiss, it's very easy to fall in love with our methodology. But it's important we don't prescribe it to every situation.
It’s not vital that every company has an online community. It's vital every company is trying to be more interactive and sociable.
It matters that every company is interested in connecting customers together so they can build relationships around their brand. It matters that every company is employing some of the elements that lead to a successful community.
Whether you take this through to an online community, doesn’t matter.
Never, ever, underestimate the time commitment required to grow and manage an online community. Building a community takes a lot, if not most, of your time. Especially in the beginning.
If you’re going to build an online community, either as part of your company or as a solo project, you need to make that time.
That might be spending 3 hours less watching television each evening. It might be delegating or otherwise eliminating all your work to make it happen. It doesn’t matter entirely what’s going to give, but something big has to. You have to carve this time out of your day, every day.
So, what gives?