Month: March 2010
There is a big problem with online communities. Members think of them online communities as places they go. Not something they are in their daily lives.
This is a shame. This relegates your online community to an afterthought. Everything that happens in your community has a lesser significance solely because it’s online. It’s not IRL (in real life).
You need to work hard to merge the two. The key to this is to have tangible real-life objects and activities. Here are 8 ideas
- Membership cards. Send membership cards to those who have been active in the community for three months. By far the simplest thing you can do.
- Text messages. Send text messages about upcoming events and activities your online community can do. Invite them to reply back with any questions.
- Phone calls. Phone members up. Have chats with your top members. Ask them for their thoughts and ideas. Plan things in the community together.
- Regular meetings. No brainer, meet up with members as often as possible. Book the venue and host the event. It’s incredibly simple.
- Yearbooks. Send our end-of-year yearbooks to top members. Don’t go for the cheap pdf option. Members can pay of them or you can sell advertising in them.
- Trophies/certificates. Send out trophies and certificates for members that have achieved something remarkable (either in the online community itself or in the broader subject area).
- Open a sales channel. Create a forum, page, or even a Twitter stream feed (use a hashtag) where members can sell relevant products to each other.
- Monthly newsletter. For some reason, seeing something in print. Something you can touch and hold just feels more worldly than any internet exposure.
The more you blend the two, the more important your community becomes to your members. The stronger the bonds, the more frequently members visit, the more active members become and it becomes far easier to sustain your efforts.
How many successful online communities use videos to communicate with each other? Or put their content before their community? Not many.
These are terrible mistakes. In the long term, once the hype and novelty have faded, the communities are doomed. What a waste of money. When you let traditional marketers and web designers take charge of communities, this is the outcome.
I really hate this. It says to brands that communities don’t work. Online communities do work. They work amazingly well. Brands just do the worst possible job of creating a community. They ignore every rule that makes successful communities a success.
Most successful online communities start slowly. They focus entirely on fostering interactions. They use the simplest communication tools available. They don’t hire expensive design companies. They don’t issue press releases when they launch. They don’t go for sponsors.
It’s unbelievable, that anyone thinking of launching a community today, would ignore the most proven, successful, tactics for ensuring it’s a success. Surely the best thing you can do is look at successful online communities, figure out what they did to be a success, any copy the key elements.
Would you join an online community for people living in the USA?
What about people living in New York? Or perhaps just Manhattan? Perhaps an online community for just the Upper East Side? Perhaps just your apartment block?
At what point do you feel you have enough in common with others that you would join the online community?
It’s crucial to narrow your community’s membership focus to people who share a very strong common interest.
Contrary to what you may think, narrowing your focus to less people makes it easier to get more members. If you’re struggling, don’t try to broaden your focus, narrow it further. Be more specific about who is and isn’t a good member for this community.
You can start an online community for teachers, or teachers in the UK, or history teachers in the UK, or history teachers who use game-based teaching methods. Sometimes, just history teachers will be enough, sometimes you need to be more specific.
If you want to fundraise from online communities, don’t start by asking for money. Start by developing a community of people that care about the issue and are actively engaged on the issue, then ask for money.
You begin by reaching out to people that care. Add them to a mailing list or ask them to join a Facebook group about the issue. Focus on building connections between them. Ask their advice on topics, give them small projects they can do that help (e.g. writing to local newspapers, helping develop proposals, feedback on your new website etc).
Begin interviewing them about their support. Offer online polls and ask them what skills they have that you might be able to use. You might find some great designers, lawyers, accountants and marketers willing to volunteer their time.
You want every member to be as engaged and involved as they can possibly be within a tight-knit community.
Then, finally, you set an achievable milestone. It might be $2000, it might be $20,000. You state clearly why this amount of money is needed. You encourage every member to do what they can to raise that money and celebrate the small actions members do to help.
Creating a community to raise money takes longer. However, in doing so you’re cultivating an invaluable asset of engaged people who want to help you.
TES Connect (Teachers and Education professionals) is one of the most successful online communities in the world. TES Connect has over 944,000 members publishing 3,770 posts across 100+ forum topics.
Dwell on this. From the 108 different forums, the most popular are entertainment (worth a read), opinions and personal. This is significant.
Teachers, like members in your community, want to be entertained, give their opinion and have others care about them. These three are far more important than any individual topic.
There are thousands of elements that make every community unique, the topic, the people, the tone, the history, the design. However, it’s the handful of elements that appear in every successful community you need to pay attention to. This is one of them.
Whilst your topic is important, it’s far more important to keep members entertained, solicit their opinions and ensuring they’re talking about themselves.
Pre-approving messages is a terrible idea in every circumstance.
It slows conversations down to crawl. People don’t get the behavioural reward of posting a comment and seeing it appear. That delay is a killer. If you want to kill a community, demand to pre-approve the messages.
The better solution is to pre-approve the people. Only let good people in and remove the bad. If you can’t trust members not to post bad things, then screen them. Only let the best ones in.
When you hang out with friends, you probably don’t spend all your time giving each other advice. Do you know why? Because it’s not really that interesting. Too many online communities base their cause on advice. e.g. A place for photographers/accountants/athletes to share their best tips.
Some advice communities have worked really well. Lucky them. But most don't. You create a social environment where the real affiliation needs aren't being met. A photographer community sharing their best advice benefits everyone. But they want to get to know each other too. They want to talk about their best ever pictures, photographers they admire, upcoming photo shoots and whatever else photographers talk about.
Advice is an additional benefit of bringing together a group of knowledgeable people who want to trust each other. It's not the focus.
Aside, try to base your community around what people do in real life, rather than when you think they want to do on the internet.
I wrote this two years ago, it still trips most people up.
Complete this sentence in no more than 12 words.
People will participate in my community because…
Be specific, what is the one clear benefit members will get from participating in your community. Also, be honest with yourself. Is the reason you give strong enough for people to spend hours of their time every week in your community? Will they make sacrifices for it? Like cut down on television, browsing websites and going out?
This isn’t the time to be optimistic, it’s the time to be brutally realistic. If you get this wrong, nothing else you do matters.
If your answer is anything like: “..because they want to talk about our products” – you lose. If your answer is “…because they want to help each other earn 1k per month” – you win.
If you’re not sure your answer is strong enough, ask your intended audience. Ask them what sort of community they really want and build that community. This is why sleazy marketing communities and most branded communities fail terribly, they simply can’t understand what their audience really wants.
Homebase launched a good idea today, a community for people that want to start gardening. It’s not named after Homebase, it’s got a strong purpose and the audience is likely to be interested in talking to each other.
But you can spot the problem in seconds, it’s impossible to find the community.
This isn’t about Homebase building meaningful social capital between their audience. This is about Homebase spending lots of money to create plenty of content to force upon an initial e-mail list of 2.5m! What a waste.
The community should be the most visible aspect of the front page, conversations should be highlighted, members featured, future events promoted. Content should primarily come from members, not Homebase.
The more contact you have with members, the more involved they will be.
If you were building a community in the real world, you would probably contact members often. You would check in on them and make house calls. You would spend time persuading them to get involved. This used to be the only way to develop a community.
Online communities don’t do this because they don’t have to. You can have a community without high levels of contact. Most online communities take the easy low-contact path. This is a shame. It means they get low involvement (see 90-9-1).
If you want high involvement, you need high level of unique contact with members. You should contact members often (with personal messages). You should constantly persuade members to be more involved. You should point out activities they can participate in. You should build real relationships with members.
The harder you work at this, the more successful you will be.
Television is the biggest threat to your community. There are also lots of productive things that people can do instead of participating in your online community.
If you want to win the battle of your audience’s time, don’t focus upon content. Television, books and other media will always win that battle. Focus on the psychological highs of participating in a community. Emphasize the aspects that television can’t offer. These include:
- Real-time interaction with people.
- An opportunity to have power and feel important within a group.
- Working with others to achieve a goal/mission.
- A place to belong and be appreciated for your knowledge/passion/abilities/beliefs.
Compete where television can’t. Launch activities and stimulate discussions to increase the number of real-time interactions. Offer members opportunities to gain power within the group, set common goals and foster interactions. Encourage members to share their best advice and recommendations.
If you’re struggling to get your community to do something, it’s probably because you’re telling them to do it. This doesn’t work too well. It relies too heavily on your influence over the collective influence of the community.
If you want members to take an action, begin small. Reach out to a group of people and persuade them to start doing it. This doesn’t have to be an influencer group, just members that believe in it. Soon others will join in. In short, you need to show them, not tell them.
For example, if you want members to share their best pictures of …. You reach out to 10 (or so) people and begin doing. Others will soon join it. It becomes part of your community culture.
If it doesn’t take off, you know it’s not something the community wants to do and you stop trying to get your community to do things they don’t want to do
This takes time and planning. This means you need to be picky about the steps you want members to take. Only pick the most important stuff, ignore the rest.