Month: April 2010
The problem with building a community for Fortune 500 CEOs is they don’t have time to participate in your community. Neither do doctors, lawyers, parents, plumbers, electricians, homebuyers or anyone, except the unemployed. Even the unemployed are too busy watching Oprah and job-hunting.
“I don’t have time” really means “I don’t prioritise your community highly enough”. Luckily, priorities can be shifted. If your community offers more value (content, advice, access to influencers, future job opportunities, recruiting opportunities) than answering e-mail/writing reports, you’re going to win.
If your community is more fun (hosted events, great banter, strong ego appeals, chances for recognition/appreciation from peers) than watching television, you’re also going to win.
The epic win is to offer both. A highly valuable community which is very enjoyable to participate in. Hard to do, but worthwhile if members check your page before they check their e-mails in the morning.
There are very few people whose priorities can’t be altered. If your audience are busy people, you need to increase the value, increase the fun or target different people.
Most organizations really want a big following, not a community.
A following is an audience that interacts with you. A community is an audience that interacts with each other.
A big following suits organizations that sell commodity, non-sociable, products. Coca-cola is a great example. Huge following, but no community. Likewise nearly all bloggers have followings, not communities. Many politicians, authors, salespeople also have great followings. Big followings are built by engaging with as many people as possible, creating great content, promotions/discounts, coverage in top blogs etc…
A community suits organizations that sell sociable and highly engaging products/services. Communities are small, highly engaging and exclusive. Software products often benefit from communities. As do manufacturers of niche products (e.g. Samurai swords, metal detectors etc…). Communities are built by interacting with a small group of people, initiating events and discussions that foster interactions between this group and soliciting ego, time and emotional investments from members.
You only need a community when your audience has a desire to talk to each other and when there is a benefit (to the audience!) from talking to each other. Very, very, few organizations fit this criteria. Perhaps as low as 1 in 10.
If you hope to build a community with a following approach, you're going to be disappointed. If you hope to build a following with a community approach, you're going to be even more disappointed.
Most of the time you're better off trying to build a big following. Just don't mistake the two.
Most offline community efforts fail. They fail because they try to get all stakeholders in a room and forge a community.
Usually, few people show up. Those that do have an agenda. Those agendas conflict. Those conflicts become arguments. Those interested in arguing, argue. Those not interested in arguing, quit.
You don’t start a community, online or offline, by starting big. The mass e-mails and influencer targeting are a colossal waste of time. You get a blip of attention followed by a mass desertion. Digital Nomads coveted half the blogging A-list as members. It couldn’t convert the attention to a community.
Start small with a tiny group of members and gradually invite new people. Ensure high activity from members and keep the discussions riveting. This will steadily build into a fast growing community.
It’s much harder to start a bandwagon than it is to jump aboard one. Those that do jump aboard leave behind their own agendas in exchange of being a part of something successful. You want people to join once the bandwagon is rolling, not before.
Some community managers are 100% reactive. Their job descriptions are written by busy bosses who view the community as a series of problems that need to be dealt with. Comments need to be removed, naughty users need to be scolded, technical elements updated and reports need to be submitted.
Some community managers do a good job living up to their job descriptions. These good community managers find themselves lowly paid, easily replaceable and often forced to take on additional work (see community manager/marketing coordinator jobs).
Other community managers focus on developing their community, not maintaining it. These community managers are linchpins. They go beyond their description. They arrange VIP guest chats, identify and bring in stragglers, arrange offline meets, fight for community exclusives and brush up on their social psychology knowledge. They become good friends with members and help them in personal ways.
Seth’s new book wont help community managers who need a map to do any of the above. It will help you understand that the job description you have probably isn’t relevant to your job. You need to write your own job description and do what only you know is best for your online community.
Top community managers are indispensable. They’re impossible to fire without losing the community too. They’re highly paid and well recognized. It’s a rapidly growing field. If you want job safety in a tricky market, this book is a good place to start.
Disclosure: I worked with Seth/Squidoo for 3 months in 2008.
“Poster 1: I think Green Day is a great band.
Poster 2: I don’t care for them.
Poster 3: Green Day Sucks
Poster 3 has made an inflammatory comment. These types of comments make discussions personal and send them in a negative unproductive direction.”
Inflammatory comments have a bad rep. Most spike emotions, increase activity, encourage interactions, solicit personal opinions and create interest. They do all the things you should be trying to do. Sure, remove the personal attacks on people. But personal attacks are the dividing line. You should allow heated debates that don’t stray into personal attacks. They are good for your community
Besides, can you let people say Green Day are great but not they suck without appearing biased? Suppressing an opinion simply makes it go elsewhere. Suppress enough opinions and your entire community goes elsewhere.
Most communities overlook a number of elements that would increase engagement and participation. Here are, by far, the 8 biggest elements every online community should have.
- An epic community history. Your community should have a written epic history which all members can read. This history should be easy to find on your page.
- A who’s who of members. You should feature prominent members in your who’s who of members. This will create interest and desire to be featured in this list. You can have a selection criteria.
- A list of upcoming events. Every online community should have a list of upcoming events/activities taking place. They can be hosted by your community or, more broadly, events about the community’s topic matter. Don’t have any? Start some.
- The big issues page. What are the big issues in your online community at the moment? You should have a page or box dedicated to the big issues in your community along with an invitation to give an opinion on the issue.
- Plans for the future. When members join a community they’re investing their time to be a co-owner of a better future. You need to outline what the future for your community looks like.
- A useful FAQ. Most new members usually ask very similar questions (they might have joined solely to ask the question). So put together an FAQ solely about these questions. On Commania this would have included: “How much should I charge for community building work?” and “What platform should I use to create a community”. Compile these questions and link them to where they have been answered.
- Be more involved page. Every online community should offer ways members can be more involved.
- Your contact number. This is your job, your members are your customers, they should be able to reach you by phone to resolve issues. Talking by phone also builds a stronger connection than by e-mail. Buy a SkypeIn number if you have to – but offer a number members can call.
You will notice nearly all of these elements provide members with ways to learn more about the community or become more involved with the community in the future. This is how it should be and where you should always be focusing your efforts.
Nearly every online community would benefit from making one simple change.
Change the registration form into an application form.
First, the words themselves make a difference. Not everybody gets in. If you get in, you value membership more. You’re more likely to participate and make friends. Hazing works for a reason.
Second, existing members feel part of an exclusive group. Not everybody can get in. You can even ask existing members to rate applications to see who they believe should get in.
Finally, it gives you control over who gets in. You can pick and choose the best people. This also ensures you’re not looking for more members, just getting the right balance for your community.
Try it, you will be amazed.
Most brand community efforts go something like this..
The brand manager decides an online community could help him sell more washing machines. He hires a web designer to develop a fantastic looking community website. Then he builds up a list of the top influencers on the topic and asks them to join and write about the community.
He also writes press releases and sends them to newspapers and trade press. If he’s lucky, he can get a 2k – 3k people to register. Now he begins publishing useful advice about washing machines. How to avoid clothes shrinking and getting out the really, really, tough stains. Members will also be invited to submit their own top tips.
There is a problem in every line. Washing machines don't bring people together, communities don't directly sell more products, a fantastic looking community website is usually a distraction, top influencers don't help launch a community, press releases rarely work, creating advice isn't the same as cultivating relationships.
If you’re about to start your community efforts and you’re using any, any, of the ideas above, please stop, remove the idea, and start again.
If you have an IQ 124 or above, you can join the International High IQ Society. You just have to pass their online test and pay a one-off fee of $80. Only the top 5% of the population are intelligent enough to join.
Not quite that dumb? If your IQ is above 160 you can join the Prometheus Society. Only those in the top 0.003% are smart enough to join. You need to put yourself through complex paid tests supervised by professionals in a few locations around the world.
Finally, if you’re super-smart. you can join The Pars Society. You need an IQ above 175, which is common amongst 0.00003% of the human population (about 220 people).
There is nearly always a desire for the more hardcore to talk to each other and be recognised for being more hardcore. These people are more committed, feel stronger bonds and are more likely to evangelize for you. More so, they’re more likely to feel patronised and, yes, superior to the normal members.
For example, BMW can create a motorbike community, or they can create a community for people who have ridden across USA on their bikes? Or for people who have ridden from Alaska to Argentina. Or around the world. Or even around the world 5 times.
When you cater to hardcore groups, you’re more like to attract these powerful groups. As seen with the intelligent folk, there isn’t just one layer of hardcore. There is an increasing level of mutually satisfactory depth. Plan for, encourage and accommodate this.
If you force people to register to read your forums, you’re going to lose a lot of potential members.
You’re going to scupper your search engine results. You’re going to deter potential members from joining. You’re going to hide the biggest selling point of your community (the conversations) behind a registration wall that the majority wont cross.
Registering to read isn’t the same as registering to participate. You want members to register to participate. If they’re registering and reading, they’re useless. It’s the participation that you need. Let members see the conversations first, before they join.
Bigger point, what is the purpose of registrations at all? Is it a counting procedure? Couldn’t you replace your registration page entirely with Facebook Connect, OpenID or a similar platform?
It’s easier to point to a website and say “look, this is what I developed”. It’s more difficult to point to two friends and say “I fostered that relationship”.
Nurturing friendships between strangers sounds like a soft skill. You don’t study relationships in University, nor purchase expensive text books. There is no stereotype relationship builder or open-source relationship-fostering communities.
Which is why it’s a far more valuable skill than developing websites. The lack of materials to study, tangible result and clear character traits means it’s easier to find 50 good web developers than 1 skilled engagement professional.
Ask yourself. What’s going to last longer, produce the most value and make the most difference? The website or the relationships? Now adjust your time, resources and planning accordingly.
When is your online community’s birthday?
August 9th perhaps?
If you have a strong online community, you should start planning for it now. Birthdays are a great opportunity to bring people together around shared events.
Prepare some gifts for your community’s first members. Arrange a special meet-up or persuade a VIP to join your community for a few days. See if you can create some limited edition items only to be released during your online community’s birthday.
To many an online community birthday sounds like a frivolous event. To you, it’s a major opportunity to tighten an already strong group and deepen your group’s identity.