Month: July 2010
Helping out in the community used to be a feel-good chore. You could organize a local book club, write leaflets about local safety, volunteer at the retirement home, help out at a youth club, mentor a few students etc…
Most people, sadly, don’t do this. It’s forgivable, few people want to volunteer our precious free time to do things they don’t enjoy.
But today, you can help an online community. You can volunteer to do something fun and get that feel-good reward. You can organize local-meet ups, help moderate forums, organize guest-chats, help promote the community to others, develop community-branded products, help recruit sponsors and much more.
If your community manager is good, she’ll let you help. If she’s great, she will ask how she can support your work. And if she’s fantastic, she will actively foster a growing group of community volunteers.
Joining an online community should make that activity/interest more fun.
Your community needs to use the usual elements of fun (some unexpected) to increase participation in your online community. What is fun?
- Competition/Comparison. The most fun element of joining an online community is it lets you compare yourself to your peers. This level of competition, of trying to be better and knowing your standing amongst others is vital for a passion to be more fun. It gives you targets to aim for.
- Improving yourself. It’s fun when you can improve at what you do. By sharing advice, interacting with others, picking up tips you can be better. That’s fun.
- Feedback. If you’ve read Flow, you know feedback is important. Alone you can’t always get feedback, with others you can get immediate feedback on your abilities, your posts, your videos, your impact as part of the wider group. This spurs you on further…which is fun.
- Making friends who share your hobby. Feeling a part of something special is fun. You can’t do that alone, you need others. Having friends who share and validate your interest makes your interest more fun.
- Mentally focused. Being a part of a community increases your focus and interest in the topic. You spend more time on your interest, become more engaged and learn more about it. You’re more mentally focused on your passion – that’s, you guessed it, fun.
How does this translate to your community?
If you’re giving members opportunities to interact and you provide the opportunity to compare themselves. When they share advice, they can improve themselves (you need to solicit their best ideas). When members share their experiences, they get feedback. Over time they make friends in the field.
You can (and should) influence how much enjoyment people gain from their chosen activity/interest.
There are unlimited pools of potential communities who just need a clear visible sign to rally around.
You need to create a sign which a) Fits perfectly with what people care about b) Solicits a social response and c) You can build upon into a cause/mission/common-interest group.
A newspaper article can be a sign. People read and rally around it. They discuss the story in the comments and a community forms from it.
A tweet can be a sign. People see the tweet, reply and engage with it, a community rallies (see Motrin scandal and #amazonfail).
A friend lives in a building with 8 other tenants. They didn’t speak to each other until, last week, he put up a sign on the communal door asking them to sign if they wanted to hire a gardener . It started conversations between a group of people who never spoke before.
A sign is quick, simple, viral, cheap. Instead of developing bespoke community websites or developing extravagant strategies, focus on putting up the strongest possible sign for people to rally around.
Governments struggle to improve communities because they try to appeal to the collective good rather than individual self-interests. Collective good is noble, but impossible to predict. Whereas everyone acts in their own self-interests. That’s much more bankable.
If you want to revitalize a local community, you should act more like an online community. Drop the civic-good angle and try the following:
- Begin hyper-local newsletters for people in that area. Include a person of the week, interview people and add an anonymous complaints page (lets people vent about issues in the community without fear of reprisals). Distribute it for free (or try to sell a few ads). The deep desire to compare yourself to neighbours has a strong appeal.
- Arrange for cool events that appeal to self-interests. e.g. A plumber to teach locals how to do their own plumbing in group session. Same with electricians, restaurants (how to cook great meals), car mechanics etc. Anything that forces people to be in the same place for a reason of self-interest.
- Create a borrowing/sharing platform. Have a place where members can buy/sell/share/borrow any extra stuff they have. Easy to borrow a ladder from someone down the street than buy one. Maybe share a barbecue too? (again, clear self-interest).
- Get an exclusive. Get exclusive discounts, prices, first-look, early-bird tickets, anything that forces a member to acknowledges being a member of the community to receive the award. This is a simple approach to create a bond. It also offers a cool reward to being in the community.
- Interview a member. Interview a member in your community, but ask interesting questions. What has been their best or worst experiences? What’ their average day like? What’s the one problem they would love solved? What do they think of their neighbours? Ask them to nominate the next person to be interviewed.
- Find an issue to campaign for. Now you mean business. Find a cause that matters specifically to your community and fight to get it fixed. Ensure members sign up their support. Challenges bring communities together. It’s also still in their self-interest to fix the problem.
- Chart progress. Chart your progress on the issue. Keep regular updates, use emotive language and be clear how people can help.
- Call for nominations for community member of the month. Linked to 6 & 7, begin a community member of the month. Make it a small trophy. Something meaningful and a clear profile.
- Ask for votes/opinions. Ask people to submit a vote or an opinion to be collected amongst others to show what people think of a topical issue in the community. Ensure people are making an investment in the community beyond being passive.
- Arrange a meet-up. Arranging a meet-up for a local community might sound dumb, but try it. How about a barbecue exclusively for people in the community. Mention people by name that you want to go. Ask people to say what food they’ll bring. Ensure they’re invested in the idea before agreeing to attend.
This wont work for every community, but it would be much more effective than the stakeholder/’persuading everyone to get into the same room and talk about relevant issues approach’.
To revitalize a local community begin by engaging self-interests than gradually shift to the collective will. Just as true for local communities as online communities.
My girlfriend is taking Architecture classes. Last week she went to a small group. It was intimate, she made some friends. This week it was a big group and nobody talked to each other.
You’ve probably noticed this before. When you’re in a small group, you talk to people. You have a stronger connection with them. When you’re in a big group, you don’t.
Now imagine when you’re in a small online community. People are more likely to talk to each other. Now imagine you’re in a huge online community. Nobody talks to each other.
This isn't to say your community should be small. It's to say your community needs to be a collection of smaller groups of people. You need to cultivate these groups within your community.
Talk to the people you want to be in your community.
If you can’t find the people you want to reach, if you can't get them to respond when you message them, if you can't engage them in a sustained conversation – what chance do you have of building a community from these people?
I've seen dozens of online communities launch without ever having spoken to the people they're trying to reach. That's a lot of time and money to lose because you didn't take a few hours to talk to potential members.
Communities wont work if the prospective members are closed to new things, uninterested in talking to each other or too busy to even acknowledge something new.
The first thing you should do, when you want to start a new community, is try to have conversations with the people you want to reach.
Don't invite everybody to join your online community at the same time. You wouldn’t invite people with nothing to contribute to a business meeting would you?
So why invite everyone to join your online community regardless of what they have to contribute? You should have a fixed criteria for new members. Criteria for picking new members might include:
- They know you.
- They know existing members of the community.
- They’re very passionate about the field/jobs/interest matter.
- They have a point of view to express.
- They have an important skill or experience to contribute.
- They have a great personality or ambition that suits your community.
- They lead others they can invite to join.
If you don’t have a criteria, you don’t have a focus. Without a focus you’re lost in the sea of inviting random people to join the community. Good luck with that.
The best content for any online community is content about the community. Too many communities focus on advice or industry news. You should focus on community people and activities. Here are 20 fantastic ideas you can use:
- Week ahead. Write a weekly piece about what members can expect in the week ahead.
- Events preview. Write an events preview, include predictions from members, short snippet of interviews and other material that involves a broader group.
- Events review. Review recent events. Let others contribute their opinion. Members can reflect on the event together.
- Predictions. Invite members to make predictions about the future, everyone loves to do it.
- Interview members. Members interviews should be cornerstone content. It creates engaged readers for life, encourages referrals and gives people means to compare themselves to others.
- Interview VIPs. VIPs are usually eager to talk to connected groups of people. Mumsnet has interviewed no less than two Prime Ministers. Who is a VIP in your industry?
- Product reviews. What products are members likely to be using in the future? Can you review some?
- Member achievements. Who has achieved something fantastic this week? Ask members to submit their achievements.
- Gossip column. Risky, but often popular. Invite members to submit topical gossip and publish it as a weekly column. Go easy on the venom, heavy on the fun.
- Member of the week/month. Like the above, but a member of the week/month tends to be popular. Use promiscuously.
- Statement from the community. On a frequent basis I’d ask members to contribute to a statement from the community. i.e. We’re furious bank fees are going up, please input on what you would like in a statement from the community.
- People on the move. Who is moving? It might be people changing jobs or people moving house or any relevant ‘move’. Hard to resist this sort of content.
- Latest news. Overused in most communities, but often useful. What’s the latest news in your topic?
- Job vacancies. Any jobs available? Reach out to recruiters or compile a job tips page. Any information that would encourage people to participate in the job vacancies page.
- Competition. I ‘usually’ hate competitions. When they’re done right they’re really a lot of fun.
- VIP spotted. Has any member spotted a VIP at an event recently, submit it here.
- Opinion pieces. Give people in your community a chance to give their opinion in a rotating-authorship opinion section. Everyone gets a turn.
- Guest columnists. Will any relevant business in your sector write a guest column?
- Advice section. Summarize the latest advice, what’s the general consensus of the online community?
- News round-up. What is the round-up of the news this week? It’s a simple place a member can visit to see what’s new without trawling various sources of industry news.
Do you have more? Please share them.
How do you earn money without selling out the community?
I’d suggest you create a package which businesses can buy. This package would include something similar to:
- A dedicated section for sponsors to talk to members. A corporate can access a forum created for them to talk to members. Members will be encouraged to visit here, ask questions about the product, post complaints, give their ideas and interact with the business.
- Advertising. Usually a waste of time, so include an education guide on how to advertise to members. Only allow targeted adverts that reference the community itself.
- Product focus groups. Issue a call to members to put themselves forward for focus groups or idea generation sessions that the sponsor can run.
- License out the community name. Let the business create community branded products. Your members will probably buy them.
- Editorials/polls. Put some strict guidelines in place of what’s newsworthy/pollworthy and let businesses publish an article on the topic.
- Host online chats/events. Let the company put together a sponsored online chat/event. Members can be informed of this upcoming event and the company can have it’s named featured as it likes.
The key here is to have strict guidelines in place which force the company to act like a community member. Remember, you’re here to protect members – so do so.
I worked in the video game industry for 5 years. I knew all the top people, wrote regularly for relevant magazines, and understood the sector better than any newcomer could. It was relatively easy to develop online communities for different businesses within this field.
You can do the same. Pick a sector, become well known within it and then sell community building services to businesses within that sector. You have the solid track record, clear advantage over others and should charge a premium for the service.
I’d be happy to pay it.
Aside, hiring an existing community manager within the sector you’re developing a community for makes a lot of sense.
Here are a few numbers to have in mind.
Communispace charges a whopping $15,000 – $20,000 per month for communities of 300 – 500 people – mostly market research projects. Great work, if you cna get it.
Some companies charge per day, e.g. moderation for £200 – £400 per day. This doesn't include developing your online community and driving interactions etc…
Companies like Telligent and Jive Software offer a premium platform packed with analytics, hosting and excellent features/support for around the $15 to $40k per year mark. This doesn't include active management.
Some companies charge by a cut of the value generated e.g. 30% of all affiliate sales from the community. This is risky (the business might not give you much support). Not recommended, but if you decide this charge a high %.
Salaries average around the $75k – $85k mark (depending if you're male/female, surprisingly).
My retainer-based fees generally range from £4.5k – £9k per month, non-inclusive of expenses and costs involved with the community (e.g. hosting events, developing a website etc..).
The range is determined upon a broad criteria. Namely how hard it will be to develop the community, what the value of the community is (e.g. I'd charge more to build an online community for billionaires than a community for a local gym club) and the level of support being offered to develop the community.