Month: February 2010
…only let the best people in.
This is a basic rule of building communities, people will recruit others like
The most intelligent, beautiful, successful, richest and annoying people will
all attract and recruit people like themselves.
This has clear implications for creating a community.
When you launch a community, you should be picky. Extremely picky. Don’t try
to recruit everybody. Pinpoint the exact people you want and spend all your
efforts recruiting them. Don’t drop your standards, keep them high.
If you want an elite community, only let elite people in. If you want your
brand’s biggest fans, only let your brand’s biggest fans join. If you want
industry influencers, only let the influencers in.
Once a week, you schedule a live chat between your community and staff in your organization. Rotate the staff if you like, keep it fresh.
Pick a convenient time, evenings work best. Select a topic and then let your audience ask questions and have conversations with staff in your organization.
It’s simple to organize and effective to execute. Your members might enjoy it. Your staff might enjoy it more.
Growing a community that’s too big for you to manage is dumb. Sadly, it’s the goal of most corporate communities.
1 community manager looking after 10,000 members isn’t efficient, it’s wasteful. You’re wasting the potential of thousands of members who would participate much more if they had more people responsible for getting them engaged and involved.
Past a certain size, your community becomes unmanageable. You can’t spend as much time with members. You give each member less. In turn, each member gives less.
The remedy is more help. You convert your most dedicated into volunteers. Volunteers take on groups of members (divide by interest/friendship groups. These volunteers take responsibility for clusters of members. They ensure they don’t leave.
Figure out how many members you, personally, can take responsibility for getting involved. It’s probably not many. 50? 200? Past this number, recruit volunteers to help. Keep your community strong and concentrated. Don’t let yourself be diluted by an unmanageable level of newcomers. Don’t be tempted by bigger numbers to report to your boss.
I'm a member of 37 online communities I've joined and no longer participate (that I can recall). That’s a big number.
The majority of these I joined, visited a couple of times, then forgot to keep visiting. These communities had something that interested but didn’t engage me long enough to become a habit.
Joining and forgetting isn't the exception, it's the norm. The majority of people who join communities around the world don't participate after the first few days. They simply forget. That's a remarkable opportunity to boost participate and the number of active members.
When a member joins, you need to keep them visiting, daily, for 3 weeks. If you can keep members visiting your community for 3 weeks you can bet on them to become permanent members.
But you need to plan out a series of activities to take members through this hump. You need a newcomer of the month, personal reminders of upcoming discussions (not mass spam), you need to introduce them to others they might get along with. You need to get them to contribute their opinion on debates. It's really hard work, but the reward is a member for life.
There are plenty more ideas here to keep new members hooked for 3 weeks. It's the biggest opportunity out there. Seize it.
Arranging a meeting is something of a community litmus test. You see exactly who cares enough about the community to show up. So when should you arrange your first meeting?
Try today. You need a high turnout to be a success. Set a date, book a venue and send out the invites. If nobody turns up, you know you haven’t made much progress with your community efforts. You need to change and improve your approach.
If just 2 to 3 people turn up, they win the customers of the month award and you can have a good, honest, chat about the state of the community.
If 8 to 10 turn up, these are your key community building allies. They are the people that will spend their spare time helping build a community.
If 20 turn up, you can plan future community activities. You can arrange the meeting, have a solid debate and generate a real community spirit.
If 100 turn up you know your community is a great success. You might give the event a cunning name, arrange the sequel event, plan VIP speakers, get the CEO and other staff to meet and greet the members.
Two years of online interactions can’t match one offline meeting. A meeting can help you skip years of community building efforts. It’s a simple shortcut to gel your core group of members at a minimal cost.
Not many groups offer a sense of belonging. Most groups don’t try. Members join for a tangible benefit rather than an emotional need. When a member really feels they belong amongst a group, the loyalty, commitment and willingness to help increase dramatically. You have them for life.
Creating a sense of belonging requires a high-involvement approach. Far higher than you’re currently doing. Every member needs to be treated as an individual. S/he needs to be personally welcomed by others, invited to get involved, given responsibilities, have a mentor/buddy to see them through and sought out if they’ve gone absent for a while.
Most organizations, including yours, will say a super-high involvement strategy isn’t possible. It requires too much time, money and resources. It is possible, just not if it’s entirely run by your organization. You need every member to help run the community.
Most branded communities move too fast. First they try to get a lot of people, then they aim for a lot of involvement. Do the opposite. First try to get a lot of involvement from a dozen members, then grow steadily. Never accept a member if you can’t offer a high-level of contact. This is the level of involvement you should strive to achieve. You want members to feel you care about each person.
A high involvement strategy should, naturally, get members more involved. If you begin high-involvement from the beginning, it ripples onwards throughout the community. Every member will be involved.
If you already have a community then begin a high-involvement approach with just 10 members. Contact them often, both online/offline, solicit their views often. Highlight places they might like to participate. Offer them roles and responsibilities. Spend 80% of your time on just 10 members. Soon they should do the same with 10 of their own.
Years ago, I was the head-bozo of the European Counter-Strike League. If you’ve ever run any competitive internet event, especially for a youth audience, you know it’s thankless job at best, an abuse-endurance challenge at worst.
We had about 20 unpaid admins, all helping to referee matches and ensure the league kept running. I worked about 30 hours a week, others between 20 to 25. We endured constant abuse and did all our work during our free time.
None of us got paid. Why did we do it?
Everyone has their own reasons. Respect, recognition and power are the usual three. If people care about the community, they want to earn it's respect, be recognised and have power within it.
If your community is strong, you shouldn’t need to pay people to moderate your community. People will volunteer to do it. It’s only the weak communities that need to pay moderators. The strong communities have people volunteer to help out, the really strong communities let people apply to help out (all our admins had to apply – we were picky).
This isn’t limited to weird gaming kids. If your neighborhood has a strong community vibe, people are more willing to help out. If you don’t have a strong community vibe, nobody wants to help. The vibe is the cause, not the symptom. Build a community members care about and you can do away with moderators.
You see a lot of chicken and the egg communities. They are the communities that connect two groups of people in a mutually beneficial way (as opposed to communities that just target one group).
ModelMayhem is a chicken and the egg community. Photographers looking for models find models looking for photographers. MyHammer is another example. People looking for builders find builders looking for work.
It’s easy to dream up killer ideas for chicken and the egg communities. “Hey, lets create a community where people looking for C-level jobs find recruiters for C-level jobs.” It’s hard to create one.
One group needs to be there for the other to come. That’s a big problem. Without one group there in force, the other never arrives. Most people make the mistake of trying to appeal to both groups. That’s not the solution. The solution is the ladies night approach. Treat one group like royalty and make the other group wait in line.
Target just one group really well (exclusive offers, meet ups, VIP chats etc…) and ensure this group feels it’s their community. They own it. You want the other group to feel desperate to get in and connect with those in the community. They have to wait, apply, pay or pass any number of steps it takes to join.
If you succeed you have an incredibly valuable asset. One that’s impossible for competitors to steal. But success wont come easy.
It’s simple. In the comments below tell us which branded online communities are your favourite (and why).
You might be the founder (feel free to plug), a member or simply an admirer.
We might all learn something. The more examples we have of successful branded communities, the better.
A great community spirit can overcome a terrible community design.
A great community design can't overcome a terrible community spirit.
When you're planning your online community, spend the bulk of your time planning how you're going to develop a great community spirit (not a great community website).
You get a great community spirit by doing things that bond a community. You need to give members real control over your community. Solicit personal contributions. Plan group events. Document the community history. Highlight in-jokes and milestone moments. Create content about the community.
The goal is to create a feeling (not a place) that your members are in it together. Nail this, and you've nailed the delicate art of creating a community.
There are many things online communities do very well. They help retain customers, increase sales margins, develop a competitive advantage, generate great feedback, recruit future staff, cut advertising spend, crowdsource work and improve the way your company does business.
But most businesses that want an online community, don’t want any of these. They want an online community for one of the following:
- Attracting new customers. An online community is a bad platform to attract new customers. It's not impossible, you can always encourage your existing members to invite newcomers for example and you might get some stragglers join. People might even hear about the community before they do the products, but, generally, an online community deepens your relationship with existing customers rather than attracting new ones.
- Generating sales. You can (and at times should) sell things through your online community, but it’s not going to replace your physical stores just yet. There are ways to generate sales via an online community, but there are also much better ways through much better tools.
- Building anticipation for the launch of a new product. Unless you’re Apple (or someone really special), you’re not going to have thousands of members talking about a product you haven’t launched. Don’t imagine thousands of people want to spend their free time in an online community for a product that doesn’t exist.
- Boosting search engine results. Creating an online community might improve your search engine standing, but it’s not a good reason to create one. There are far cheaper, quicker and more effective ways to improve your SEO.
- Anything short-term. I haven’t seen a successful online community for a short-term project. If the community is part of a fixed-term campaign, you’re going to be disappointed (as are our members when you quit on them).
I get it, all of the above have visible results. You can show them to your boss. Only you wont, because you wont achieve any of them.
You should want an online community to build an engaged audience that can offer you long-term benefits. It takes time, but in the long run it’s worth it.
Creating an online community is very similar to lighting fire. You sometimes need a few matches.
Many branded communities fail because the creators only try once. They invite a lot of people, they get a group together, but nothing really becomes of it. This happens, quite often.
By why only start one group or only try one time?
If you’re creating an online community, you would do well to start several groups or be prepared to try several times/
You might collect the details of 50 people and give them a place to chat. That’s group 1. You might do that with another 50 people. That’s group 2.
Behind the success stories of the top online communities are the millions more which just didn't take off. The odds are against you, but you can work the odds. If you’re persistent and you continually try to create that group, you will succeed….eventually.