Month: June 2010
Online communities should have a better reptuation. Everyone should be in one. They're profoundly changing the world for the better.
Everyone has examples, here are a few of mine:
- I loved online gaming when I was 15. I was a bit lonely. I found online communities of gamers. I wrote for gaming community websites, ran events, managed gaming teams found a place to be appreciated for my passion for games.
- Before coming to University, I found people staying in the same building as me and started a small online group. It made the first day easy and fun. Today, this is normal.
- At University we launched Facebook groups for courses. These became the places where we shared advice, helped each other with essays, traded rare library books, exchanged articles, arranged study-groups and spoke with former students who gave advice.
- In 2008, I collaborated with Seth Godin and a group of virtual interns on an interesting project. We stayed in touch. They're a really remarkable bunch (they’ve published wildly popular eBooks, spoken at TED, launched their own start-ups, developed communities with a six-figure income). These are the sort of buddies the internet lets you have.
- When I moved to Geneva I joined an online expat community looking for advice about finding property. I found this superb apartment at a bargain and received lots of great advice from locals.
- I moved to London earlier this year. I browsed meetup to find about 5 meets I was interested in attending. In less than a fortnight I had found a good group of friends interested in similar things.
- Despite community management being a relatively new job, it takes a few minutes to find an online community for the profession here in London. Without any formal association or even an agreed understanding of the job where else would we be able to connect?
We need to share more of these stories. Online communities should be natural, you should be able to pick up your (i)Pad in a few years and talk to people from your sofa. No technology barriers, just communication with people with like-minded interests who don't have to live near you.
Your online community wont die overnight. That never happens. Most communities end with members gradually drifting away.
There are some clear danger signals that your community is going downhill, these are a few to watch out for:
- No new posts in 24 hours. If your community goes an entire day (except Christmas) without a single interaction you’re on the brink of failure. Push the panic button. Engage heavily in one to one interactions to inject activity.
- Key members have gone missing. Name your top 10 members. Have any of them been posting less frequently recently? Why? Find out and adapt.
- Less members are joining. Community members are transient, they get jobs, move location, start families. You need fresh blood to keep the community active. Regularly measure the number of new members joining, when it dips (or slows) take action to recruit new members.
- A new rival community is rapidly gaining momentum. If you see a new community in your field rapidly gaining momentum, it means you’re not providing something these members need.
- Posts go unanswered. The lack of conversation is a clear flag something is wrong. When posts start going unanswered, people begin to drift away.
- Declining sector/topic/passion. UK-CT is a dying community for a video game which is over 10 years old. It’s entire audience has moved on to other games. It’s niche is dying, it didn’t stick with the players.
- Lack of friendliness. Whilst arguments are important, friendliness is more important. Do members seem less friendly recently? Do they lack familiarity with each other and previous community discussions? Do they know how the top members in a community are?
- Boring discussions. Subjective, but important. Do the discussions feel like they’re less interesting recently? Is there a poor quality of things to talk about?
Keep an eye for these signals and react aggressively when you spot one. Don’t be passive, by the time you spot a signal, it might already be almost impossible to reverse the problem.
A real-world meeting bonds a group better than years of online interactions.
Big events (conferences, festivals, meet-ups) are dropping the ball. Registering for a big event should enrol you in it’s online community. You should be able to talk to others going to the event, plan after-parties and side-meets and build relationships before you arrive.
It’s easier to introduce yourself to people in person when you’ve spoken online. By creating the online community for the event, you will make your event more sociable. More so, the online community sustains the relationships and mood (spirit) that was created during the event. Members can plan smaller meets, follow up on discussion points, give easy feedback.
After an event, the community manager should follow up ruthlessly. There are many ways to do this…
- Start threads on topics of debate and ask members to comment on them.
- Open suggestions/recommendations for future events.
- Ask attendees when the next event should be scheduled.
- Write a brief editorial of the event (mention lots of people by name).
- Have a vote on a topical issue.
- Suggest a future activity or topic to discuss
- Highlight other events that members might like to attend (negotiate for bulk-discounts!).
If you’re relying on a hashtag to do all this, you’re really missing out.
Most community managers underestimate the power their community has.
If you run a community, you should frequently collaborate with members to issue a 'statement from the community'.
It might be about a news story, a product development, a congratulatory message. If you do this well, the statement carries great meaning. A shining endorsement or a devastating criticism.
It also unites members, increasing the bonds and is a great promotional tool if it’s picked up by the press. So send it to press outlets too. Enable comments, comment on responses to it. It might even create the change you want.
So why aren’t you regularly issuing statements from your online community?
A great community oscillates at the same emotional frequency. They are happy together, sad together, angry together etc…
A local community might be excited about an upcoming festival. The environmental community might be angry with BP. The scientific community might be sad at the death of a respected member.
Feeling the same things at the same time is the vital element in developing close community bonds and a true community spirit. It puts the unity in community (sorry).
Sometimes you get lucky. Like the examples above, events happen that cause your community to have an emotional unity moment. But waiting for luck is a fool’s game.
Put together a plan of action to create this emotional unity. Highlight or arrange events the community can be excited about. Set expectations for developments in your topic. Issue a statement from the community about a negative development. Arrange a meet-up to celebrate a milestone, demand changes from industries in your sector.
There are dozens of ways to create an emotional unity amongst your community’s members. It doesn’t necessarily matter which you use, as long as you proactive do try to create the emotional connections you need to develop close bonds between members.
You can only build a community for a topic your members really care about.
Brands struggle with this. Very few brands are important enough to be frequently discussed or caring who else uses that brand.
Most of the time, you shouldn’t build a community around your product, even your brand. Instead, look for the role your product plays in something bigger. Something that people care a lot about. How does it fit in with the life story and needs of people?
People buy products to do things. They buy laptops to work, cars to travel, toothbrushes for hygiene, phones to communicate, clothes to look good, coffee to have energy. How can you tie your product/brand into this bigger interest?
Find the passion point, team up with other companies in that passion point, reach out to all manner of connected groups and individuals. Develop a community with them. You will grow faster and stronger.
Your brand wont have all the attention, but that’s a good thing. You get to talk to a far bigger audience.
You want to know what others like you are doing.
So you need a news page. You need to create the a place where people come to find out what others like them are doing.
You need to segment beyond just the topic interest. Consider using internal characteristics that people feel are important. e.g. age, location, income, job roles, gender etc… i.e. Instead of a community for people working in technology, consider, tech PR, under 30 in tech, in London Tech, female in tech etc…
The opportunities are limitless. If you are an account executive at a marketing agency, you would probably read a news page talking only about account executives at marketing agencies.
Create the news page, enable comments, interview people frequently and as you build up traffic expand to add a forum.
You can always tell if your potential employer has no idea about online communities. The job ad will include a line similar to this:
Are you a ‘LinkedIn Star’? Do you tweet and use Facebook and YouTube every day, all day?
Being very active on social media and getting others to interact are two very, very, different things.
I had a post scheduled to go live at 7am tomorrow titled how to find an online community manager job.
Blaise beat me to it (and did it better).
If you’re looking for an online community manager job, make sure you read his post: 10 tips on finding that Community Manager job you want.
How do you handle an important community member who is causing problems but you don’t want to lose?
Most punishments (removing posts, reprimanding, banning) exacerbate the issue and further alienate the member.
The Situationist offers another option. Ostracize the member. Don’t respond to her comments. Don’t answer her questions. Don’t give her any recognition. If you’re as well connected with your key members as you should be, ask them to do the same.
The best way to maintain cooperation in large groups isn’t to punish members directly, but to work with other community members and ostracize the member until she comes back into line.
Does it take more effort and coordination? Absolutely. But if the member is really worth keeping, then this just might be your only choice.
If members are contributing their advice, it's because they want to be seen as smart.
If members are arguing, they probably feel insecure.
If members are demanding, they probably want to feel important.
If members are making jokes, they want to be seen as funny.
You should be recognising these, not just with public acknowledgement but with real action.
If a member gives a lot of advice, offer them a top-tips feature to manage. Give the jokers an opportunity to poke fun at the community. Offer those who argue a chance to control the debate of the month section – where each can give their own view and rally others to their side. If a member seems power-hungry, give them responsibility (control of their own group/forum).
When you give members what they want not only does their activity rate increase dramatically, but so does those around them. When they feel respected they're also far more likely to invite dozens of others to join the community. Finally, it show other members that they can get what they really want from the community, if they contribute.
If this was the first thing you saw when you visited a new community, what would you do?
No-one is going to waste time posting comments on an empty forum. When you launch a community, make sure it looks active. Better, make sure it IS active. Make sure you have a small fledgling community already using it.
If you're going to seed an online community, do it properly.