Month: July 2010
Imagine you have 30 people that want to meet up. Where would you do it?
You could meet in a bar or cafe, but it will probably feel a little too loud and squished. You could meet in an exhibition centre, but it would feel too empty and lack a close atmosphere.
Or you could meet in a local community hall. It's cosy, not empty.
This is just as true for communities. When you launch a community you want to focus your activity in as small a place as possible. Don’t use all the features you have available. Hold some back for when the community grows.
Concentrate your activity and add more areas when you need them.
Mumsnet is the UK's best online community. Mumsnet is proof that if; a) you pick the right topic b) Run it professionally and on behalf of members and c) do lots of cool things; you can create a profitable online community.
Here are a few things Mumsnet does really well.
- Independence. Mumsnet is independent of any corporate owner. Corporate communities are fine, but don’t think you can speak on behalf of people rather than products.
- Homepage. The homepage is incredibly active with a clear mixture of content created by editors and content by users.
- Parenting news. Is summarised in a paragraph with the most topical issue to be debated in the forums.
- Discussions of the day. Clearly visible, what a simple way for members to see what they can do right now.
- Mumsnet Campaigns. Mumsnet has a staggering record of campaign success. It identifies issues its members care about and campaigns strongly against them. This created emotional unity between members and increases activity.
- Product reviews. Good content, well written and allowing for feedback from others.
- Latest activity. A clear display of the very latest activity in the community. Encourages members to engage in debates in near real-time.
- In the news…A great list to show where else the community has been mentioned. Develops the bonds between members, they can be proud of their community.
- Regular live events. The community hosts regular live events and guest chats.
- Competitions. I’m not usually a fan, but they manage to do them well.
- Community guides. Mumsnet offers a good array of official guides by the Mumsnet online community. Highly recommended for an array of topics in your online community.
- Quote of the week. Shines the spotlight on members and is fun. Encourages others to put more thought in to their comments.
- Useful links elsewhere. The community isn’t shy about developing it’s own tools (ovulation calculator) or providing very useful links elsewhere.
- Tip of the day. Who wouldn’t want to receive a tip of the day from people that are like you.
- Mumsnet local. Mumsnet makes it easy to find other members in your local area. Very smart.
I’m betting nearly every online community would benefit by adding some of these elements to their own.
An online community manager plays five roles. Friend, recruiter, editor, enforcer and entrepreneur.
- The friend: engages people individually. He participates in an online community, he messages lots of people to get them involved, he takes the time to cultivate loosely interested members into regulars.
- The recruiter: persuades people to join the online community. He finds people that have something to contribute and builds relationships with them to join and invite others to do the same. He ensures steady supply of members to replace those that leave.
- The enforcer: The enforcer keeps things clean. He removes the naughty posts, scolds the bad members and ensures nothing gets in the way of members participating in the online community.
- The editor: Implements much of the community strategy. He solicits content, decides who/what matters. He has the power to shine a spotlight on members of the community and reward positive actions. Whenever you want the community to do something, he motivates them to do it.
- The entrepreneur: is to an online community what a business development manager is to a business. He looks for opportunities to add value to the community. Creates alliances, advocates on behalf of the community and generates the income.
If you’re community is growing and you need to recruit more people, it makes sense to split these roles. Let the editors focus on content, the entrepreneurs focus on business development and the recruiter recruit.
Membership cards are cool. You can carry them in your wallet. You can show them to friends. Maybe you can use them to get into events or get discounts on relevant products?
But, if you're running an online community, you probably don't want to give a membership card to every member that joins. That could get expensive, right?
So why not give a membership card to members after 100 topic posts? Or 50000 karma points? Why not giving the membership card some real meaning.
It’s not cheap, but it's a simple way of increasing engagement.
Your community effort will struggle if there isn’t some form of loose connections between the people you’re trying to reach. How else will members tell each other about your community?
Research informal connections before you start. How do your audience currently communicate with each other? Do they talk at the office? Do they have regular offline meetings? Is there a mailing list? Do people talk simple to their through e-mail contacts?
When you have this information you can be aim to be in those places and amplify those existing connections.You can reach groups of people at a time and help them bring their own network in. It's far easier than inviting every individual at a time.
The best community managers make cool things happen. They leverage the power of a connected group to gain exclusives.
You might get exclusive permission to live-stream a relevant conference, or get discounts for members.
You might get first look at future products and review samples from companies, or help design them.
You might be able to ask members to send questions to celebrities and get replies.
You might be able to contribute a weekly column on behalf of the community in a relevant magazine.
Not everything you try will work, but that doesn't matter. What matters is every day you're trying to push the boundary and provide more value to members. These bonus gifts are so important, they encourage more members to join, increase your community's visibility and ensures members stay active.