Never Hire A Marketing Agency To Build Your Online Community

September 30, 2010Comments Off

I want every reader who works for a brand planning to launch an online community to join Generation Benz. It’s the best example yet of how to do just about everything wrong.

Generation Benz an online community for future buyers of Mercedez Benz.

You will have to join it to see how bad it is (you have to register to see any content). Amongst it’s highlights are:

  • It’s built entirely in Flash 10. Many users wont have this, iPads users can’t visit it, it’s slow and buggy. It’s also unfamiliar, big hurdle to those unused to flash.
  • The registration process takes ages. Plenty of irrelevant questions are asked. It feels more like a market-research survey than a simple registration process.
  • The registration process is also about five pages long.
  • There is virtually nothing to do once you join. Only 3 discussions to participate in, most gaining less than 3/4 views per day.
  • They have tabs such as live polls which feature no content. Most of the website is quiet and/or dead.

Feel free to enjoy their completely unreadable rules of participation too.

A lot of money has been wasted on a terrible community that breaks all the rules of what makes communities successful. If you’re going to create an online community, copy successful online communities – don't try to break the mould.

If you’re going to hire someone else to build your online community, make sure they have experience developing successful online communities. Look at the number of people participating, now the aesthetics of the website.

Businesses Around Communities

September 29, 2010 Comments Off

It’s easier to build businesses around successful communities than communities around successful businesses.

Most businesses weren’t created to foster communities. This means businesses have to change. That change is hard. Most businesses refuse to do it right, so the community fails.

Increasingly, however, we’re seeing businesses formed around communities. Look at Mashable, Techcrunch, Mumsnet, SK-Gaming and PoliceOne etc…All are building profitable business models from successful communities. 

First comes the community, then comes the business.

You will also notice they’re not relying on advertising alone. Advertising is a lazy way to make money from communities. They’re creating increasingly diverse income streams which include affiliate sales, events, merchandise, products, market-research opportunities, sponsorships, training/coaching, recruitment etc…

This is such a staggering opportunity for anyone (including you) to become an entrepreneur with very little investment. Seize it.

When To Ask For Referrals From Members

September 28, 2010 ,Comments Off

I joined the Delivering Happiness online community. Moments later, I received an e-mail welcoming me and asking me to invite more people. They provided easy links.

But why would anyone invite others to a community they've just joined. It might be awful, is that worth risking their credibility for? 

Send me an e-mail after I’ve posted my 50th comment asking me to invite friends. Send me an e-mail after I've got 10 friends. Send me an e-mail after I've been in the community for a few months. 

When you e-mail your members, distinguish between newcomers, regulars and your top members.

An Easy Way To Start A Community

…is to write about the people you want in it.

If you want managers of London advertising agencies to participate in your online community, then create a community just for them. Write about what managers at London advertising agencies are doing.

You might write what advertising campaigns they’ve just launched, interview one a week, write rumours and gossip about managers at London advertising agencies, rank them and have a manager of the month.

Very few people can ignore a community about them and their peer group. Keep it specific to content about managers at London advertising agencies.

Who Is Important In Your Community?

September 24, 2010 Comments Off

Your community needs regulars, stars and celebrities. But you need to treat them differently.

Don’t confuse them or how they help your community.

  • Regulars are people that visit your community often. They keep the activity going. They’re the key members. They're the most active. They stimulate and sustain activity. You need to spend most of your time interacting with these people. Your community is for your regulars.
  • Stars are the people that do amazing things in your community. They’re the people that figures out how to complete a take a photograph in an entirely new way, They give you great content and things to write about. Stars are the people your regulars admire and aspire towards. You need to interview these members and promote what they do. Give them opinion and advice columns. Promote their successes externally. Make their successes, community successes. It bonds members and increases participation.
  • Celebrities are the unreachable members of your community. They’re usually too important and busy for your community. World famous photographers probably don't participate in photography communities. Celebrities are good for content, gossip and potential VIP visits. They're people you want to endorse your community.

There is always the risk to spend your time fighting the flamers and attracting newcomers. I bet, however, if you look after these 3 groups well you will never be short of members, activity, successes or promotional material.

Using Communities To Change The World: What Non-Profits Need To Change

September 23, 2010 Comments Off

Most non-profit social media efforts are broadcast-focused and achieve little more than short blips of awareness. This is such a waste of the internet and the self-organizing power the medium offers.

If you’re working for a non-profit, split the issues you’re involved with into separate chunks and build communities around each. Keep these small, tightly focused, communities working on real achievements.

UNHCR, with whom I worked, helps displaced people. There are lots of displaced people, approximately 40m. That’s too many for everyone to care about all of them. Building a community around UNHCR is a bad idea, building a community around the displaced people makes sense. It’s a stronger issue.

You need to pick major issues within the work you do; e.g. urban refugees, Somali refugees, stateless persons etc and build tightly focused communities around these. Use your existing social media platforms to ask who wants to help on each and then use these as the founding basis.

Feed these groups with focused content, set progress targets and provide constant updates, interview people affected for audiences that directly care about them, celebrate success, be honest about failures, champion top members, help your members them set up fundraising operations where they live.

The goal, obviously, is to build small, but highly engaged, audiences around issues that you then help provide content, interviews, encouragement etc. Now you’re not sending similar stories to increasingly worn out audiences. You’re sending stories to the audiences that care a lot about the issues. You have an solid base of supporters/volunteers ready to leap into action when the situation calls for it.

My message to non-profits on social good day, is to switch their social media managers to community managers. Focus on building communities of interested people around issues they care about. If you do this, you have a sustainable digital strategy with unlimited potential for growth. If not, you can best hope for short blips of attention.

Happy #SocialGood Day.

7 Contrary Truths About Online Communities

September 22, 2010 Comments Off

There are many contrary things to what is frequently assumed about online communities. These include:

  1. Online communities should be small. The bigger a community gets, the less people participate. This creates wastage and makes it impossible for the community manager to identify and work with the top members. Better to extract 1 hours a day from 100 committed members than have 50,000 mostly inactive lurkers. Stay small and extract maximum value from the few, not a little from the many.
  2. Famous online communities are terrible examples. Most successful communities were usually lucky. They’re bigger than yours will be. You will have unrealistic expectations, strive for growth and ignore proper community management. Look for mid-sized communities instead.
  3. Fights are good for online communities. Fights are healthy forms of expression and self-disclosure. Shut them down if they get personal, but let heated debates happens. No-one quits a community because it’s too active with fierce debates, they quit when it gets boring.
  4. Online community websites should be cheap and ugly. People hate learning new things. Fancy community websites need to be learnt. It’s usually easy and better to use a simple forum platform or mailing list for people to participate.
  5. Publicity is bad for online communities. Traffic is useless unless you have the foundations of a successful community (regular members) to catch it. Forge a regular group of members first, then try to grow. Early publicity creates dumb expectations and destroyed the first impressions.
  6. You should kill your registration page. Registration pages restrict the number of people who participate in your community. We’re in the age of OpenId, Facebook Connect and dozens of data-portability options. Use them.
  7. Don’t ask influencers to join your community. Influencers are too busy with their own communities to help. By far, the overwhelming number of active community members are those given the platform for the first time.

Some of these are difficult to accept. They’re contrary to what works elsewhere. Those that consider community work to be similar to marketing are going to be especially disappointed.

Which Communities Tend To Succeed?

September 21, 2010Comments Off

Obvious rule, the more something affects you, the more likely you will participate in a community about it.

It’s not surprising that communities about health do so well, nothing is more important to us. Likewise communities that touch upon the very essence of who we are usually succeed. These include communities of sexual orientation, locality, profession etc…

These are followed by communities about things we do for fun, our hobbies, or for those in a similar interest group. 

However, the further away you move more from that immediate self-concept, the harder it becomes to create a community about the topic/issues. It's why most communities are doomed before they launched, the subject just isn't important enough to it's member to participate.

Also, most communities about products are doomed. Very few products are important enough to our self-concept. Motorbikes and iPhones perhaps, toothbrushes and furniture certainly not.

If your product isn’t that important, the only option you have is to build a broader community beyond just the product. Instead of toothbrushes you’re building a hygiene community. Instead of furniture you’re creating interior design and perfect home communities.

It Should Work, But Doesn’t

September 20, 2010Comments Off

Finding connected people to help develop your community sounds like a strategy that should work. It doesn’t.

These connectors are too busy. They have their own audience. They usually don’t want to help. They’re happy doing whatever it is that made them connected. Sometimes this is their blog, sometimes it’s a different audience.

The people you want to target are the ones that are most passionate about the concept. You want the most dedicated. You usually want people that have never properly participated in an online community before.

Go for the passionate fresh-faces, not the relationship-weary connectors.

Daily News Posts

September 19, 2010Comments Off

If you post at least one news item in your community per day, it give members a reason to return to your community every day. 

Stopping Human Spammers

September 17, 2010Comments Off

Stopping the bots is easy. Stopping a real person from joining your community and spamming people is much harder.

I was asked this week, how to stop human spammers without changing your community platform or spending more time removing them once they’re identified?

You can’t. They’re real people. You do have a few options.

  • Approve all members. This is a pain as members can’t participate when interest is highest. However, if the story is members have to apply to join, this works well.
  • Ask a question only someone interested in the topic would know. This is a great verifying question, have a few questions that only someone with an interest in the topic would be aware of. This should stop most human spammers.
  • Referral codes only. Close your community, only let existing members invite newcomers.
  • Force newcomers to fill out profiles first before they can message others. The extra step should scare a few more members aware.
  • Give newcomers limited access to the community. Limit the number of forums or pages that newcomers can do for the first week.
  • Approve a newcomer’s posts before they go live for the first week. When a newcomer joins, approve their posts for the first week.

This is also why most community guidelines are a waste of time. The people that are going to break them, aren’t the people that read them.

Most Community Halls Are Empty Tonight

September 16, 2010Comments Off

There is a gap in the market for genuine sense of community. 

Churches no longer unite us. We don't find that sense of community in our lives much these days. Community participation has been dropping since the second world war. Most community halls are empty tonight.

Organizations can step up and provide these community experiences. (Note, that's experiences folks, not products. There are enough products in the world). Genuine communities are rare.

Companies already attract people with a similarities. It's not a huge leap to give them a platform to talk, things to talk about and experiences they can share. It's simple, even. However, if you're trying to promote a product on the cheap, go elsewhere.

If you're genuinely trying to be that new place for a community of people to gather, then be genuine. Don't disservice members by persuading them to join then trying to promote products or guide the conversation. Don't make any demands. Just be that place they go to. Be genuine.

We are social beasts, we still need a community. We spend a lot of time searching for them online. Right now, on the internet, it's clear the more you genuine you are, the more you will stand out.