Month: October 2010
It’s difficult to get USA accountants to join a new online community. It’s dumb to try, they already have a community. They don't need another one.
You can't compete against big communities going head to head. You need to compete where they can't. You need to focus your efforts. Don’t target the total possible audience you want. Pick one segment, possibly two, and focus on them.
Accountants in Boston might be a good start. As might accountants in a particularly speciality or level of experience. You can cater your content and discussions towards them. You can write solely about then. You can give them an experience that none of the USA-wide communities can offer. You can build their peer group.
You can organize events for them, host awards, interview top people, become the go-to place for that group.
Once you have your stable group in place, you can expand…slowly. Develop a unique culture. Broaden your focus. Add all accountants in the state or in broader fields. There’s no rush. Just keep activity high. Ease your way in.
Don’t rush to target everyone. Fight the pressures of growth in favour of success. Pick your focus and build up pressure within that group. Provide an experience bigger communities can’t compete with.
Don't waste your milestones and achievements. By highlighting them you create momentum.
Momentum is appealing, infectious even. Many wont join any community until they see it has momentum. Then they jump aboard. Momentum increases membership, participation and improves the overall tone of the community.
So celebrate your 500th member, your 50,000th post, your first mainstream media mention, the successes of your members and any clear progress your community has made.
People want to be a part of successful movements, not stagnant failures. Celebrating small wins leads to big wins. The image of momentum becomes self-fulfilling. And if you create momentum, all your work becomes much easier.
Most communities are setup to repulse newcomers. You have to complete dumb questions when you join. Then you’re asked to introduce yourself to others.
You should welcome members, but not out of obligation, but with the firm intention of ensuring they begin participating and making friends within your community. This is the role of the welcome.
With standard participation rates so low, converting a newcomer into a regular is worth the extra time. These are several steps you can take to do this:
- Drop the automated welcomes. It’s impersonal and makes a newcomer feel like an anonymous outsider. Likewise, don’t use the same welcome for every member.
- Introduce yourself. Don’t send a standard e-mail. Welcome the newcomer, ask relevant questions (do you know anyone else here? The goal here is to begin a conversation, a conversation that continues past the initial interaction. Highlight discussions they might like to participate in. Give them something to do.
- Send them a welcome pack. A welcome pack brings newcomers up to speed with the latest happenings in the community and its history.
- Introduce others to the new member. Help to place the newcomer in a group with others. Ask those with similar hobbies, of similar age or location to introduce themselves.
- Automate discussions. Have answers to your awesome profile questions appear automatically on the user boards to the member gets replies and feedback on his/her discussion.
- Have a weekly update of newcomers. Every Friday, update your newspage with a list of newcomers and some information about them. Encourage people to say hi.
The more you design these processes to be efficient, the less effective they will be. The more time you spend with newcomers when they join, the more likely they will become regular members. These regulars are the backbone of your community, they're worth the time.
This happens often. You create a community website. People join. Many people follow. It gets popular. You get rich. A few members become unhappy about something. You don’t respond fast enough. Those members create a new community and a large majority of people follow them.
The biggest threat to your online community isn’t from external companies and organizations. It’s not from a rival planning something similar. Outsiders are usually irrelevant.
Overwhelmingly, when an existing community is overtaken by another, it's a former member of the community whom launched it.
Only your existing members have the contacts and reputation to bring a lot of people with them when they move. The biggest threat to your community is an unhappy member. Not an outsider.
A massive group of people don’t suddenly agree to talk to each other. They don’t suddenly adopt the same norms, values and understandings. A massive group of people aren’t going to suddenly want to be in a community.
No, first there are 5 people, then a few more join. Then others follow. Slowly and gradually it builds up into a good-sized community. But it all begins with that tiny group of people first.
If you want to have a large community, you need to have a small community first.
Your first job when trying to develop a community, is to bring those first 5 to 10 people together. You need to reach out to them, explain your vision, earn their trust and then facilitate conversations between them.
That sounds like a lot of effort just to reach 5 to 10 people. But these 5 to 10 people is the foundation of your community, not mass-messages to an uninterested audience.
Starting from 0 members is hard. We don’t discuss it enough. There are many ways to start an online community. It’s easier if you already have an audience. Darren Rowse, Ramit Sethi, Seth Godin etc can launch huge online communities in a matter of days (but they spent years building up that audience first). If you don’t have engaged audience, this should help.
First decide who your community is for. Be specific. Identify real people you want in it. Then try to figure out what they really care about. Your community doesn’t have to be about your brand. It’s usually easier if it isn’t. Look at what your potential members do in their spare time, what do they spend their money on? What image do they try to portray to others? What do they talk about online?
You probably have a rival community too. Spend time there. What will make your community unique? What aren’t they doing well? Will your community be for more hardcore members or a broader audience? Will it be activist in making change or pacifist? Will it focus on single issues within the topic or geographical regions? What will be the focus of your community?
Next, begin reaching out to people (do this before deciding the platform). Talk to about 10 – 15 members about an idea for an awesome community for that subject. Ask them for their expertise to help develop a community. Ask them what their dream community would be like. Ask them if they want to help build it with you. Then put them on an e-mailing list with each other (or a forum).
Now have some conversations. Ask them things. Ask them what an awesome community must have. Ask them what what the biggest issues in their sector is. Ask them who should be in their community (and who shouldn’t be). Make sure you have a stable base of 10 – 15 engaged members. This might take a week, it might take a month. But you need these stable members right now to catch the traffic later. This is how you seed a community.
Begin messaging these people individually. Invite them to ask other experts, celebrities or perfect contributors to join the community. You want the best people they know to join.. No promotion, direct referral only. Keep it tight. Make sure the conversations are being sustained. If someone goes missing, find out why then bring him back.
As you begin to reach 30 to 40 members, you will find that your mailing list is getting too busy to handle so many messages. It’s time to move elsewhere. Use something simple. Forums generally work best. Ning communities are cheap(ish). But there are other great platforms around too. Research a few. Facebook is simple, but risky. Ultimately, use a platform that your audience knows how to use.
Keep your focus on high engagement per member. Spend time talking to lots of members individually. Plan things together. Plan events. Write joint statements about relevant issues. Keep it invite only. Steady growth is good. Forget a launch day and celebrate milestones.
Begin discussing people in the community. Make sure people are talking about each other’s achievements. Peer groups are important. Gradually people will begin to hear about the community and join. Relax the invite-only status and let others apply to join the community.
Schedule your first meet-up. Make regular meetings a habit from the beginning of your community. Collaborate on a joint constitution for the community. Work together on a purpose (if you want your community to go that way). Ask others to help run the community. Appoint a new business volunteer to find ways to add value and make money from your community.
Once you have that steady base of members, ideally around 100, begin to promote it. Don’t grow too big, too fast. Write to relevant media and trade press. There are plenty of awesome promotional ideas. Just remember – after a point the level of participation decreases with every new member.
Finally, to keep participation incredibly high, begin to break your community apart. Highlight the most common topics and spin them off to their own areas within the community. Put the most active people in the topics in charge of these areas. Watch it grow. Arrange your first meet-ups and events. Invite guest speakers to join your community to discuss topics, work on a cause or achievement the community can aim for.
To learn more about building an online community from zero members, sign up for our on-demand course: How to Start an Online Community.
Communities are fleeting, non-committal and want instant gratification, according to Sonia.
It’s true, some are. But Sonia misses the point.
Communities that are built quickly using high-promotion, big launches and appeal to instant gratification tend to attract non-committal, fleeting members. These members have weak relationships with both you and your fellow members. People come, they gratify themselves, they leave. No interactions, no bonds, no sense of community.
Communities that are built slowly through personal invitations, referrals, welcomes and offer plenty of opportunities to participate last for years.
The pressure is always to build fast. Fight that pressure. Focus on deliberately slow, steady, growth and your community will last for years – maybe decades.
The longer you spend building your community, the longer it will last.
Lecturers could do a much better job in facilitating online communities.
When you register for a course, you also register for a private online community. In this community are your fellow students, former students of the course, your lecturers and any guest speakers.
Suddenly, it’s much easier to get help from others. You can see what previous students discuss have discussed. It would probably help to be able to read through frequently asked questions and responses from the previous year. You can compare notes, discuss ideas. You can do what many students are already doing in private Facebook groups already.
Not only does it build bonds between students, it decreases the barrier to communication and provides an increasingly invaluable asset for the university. All the best wisdom from previous students in one place.
Also, if crowd accelerated innovation is true, by being able to see what previous students have done – the following year’s students should be able to improve upon this. In addition, lecturers should continually be able to raise their game and turn out increasingly better students.