Month: March 2011

Adding A Community Twist

March 19, 2011 Comments Off on Adding A Community Twist

Local newspapers do this often. They take a national news story and give it a local twist. This usually meant finding someone it affected locally.

Putting your own community’s twist on a major news story usually helps to strengthen the community bond and provide interesting content.

Also, it’s not too difficult to build a community with a geographical twist. Take a large common interest (for example, Lady Gaga fans) and create a community for Lady Gaga fans in Detroit (or your city).

You can do this within an existing community (as is common) or build separate communities for each city.  It focuses your efforts, provides a greater common bond between members and makes real-time meet-ups much more possible.

Social Media/Community Manager Jobs

March 18, 2011Comments Off on Social Media/Community Manager Jobs

You wouldn't apply for a product buyer/sales job would you?

Yet both involve talking on the phone to people in faintly related tasks. Yet they're two fundamentally different jobs. One is purchasing from people the other is selling to people.

Likewise, you shouldn't apply for social media/online community manager jobs. They are two very different roles (believe me, I've done both). You can't do them both at the same time, certainly not very well.

Social media managers are usually responsible for a handful online communication channels. You might develop a strategy, send out messages and reply to people and try to grow the total audience you're trying to reach. It's you talking with members. 

Online community managers are usually responsible for a group of people who talk to each other around a shared interest. You bring in others with that interest, initiate discussions, activities and create content about members with that interest and further develop their sense of community. It's members talking to each other. 

If you're an employer, decide which you want and hire someone specifically for that. If you're looking for an online communications job, decide which you want to do and look for that. 

Brands Must Use Their Unfair Advantage To Build Online Communities

March 17, 2011Comments Off on Brands Must Use Their Unfair Advantage To Build Online Communities

It's hard for brands to build successful communities. Especially if they're competing against existing communities.

You can only succeed by using your unfair advantage. You can only succeed by bringing something awesome to the party, something no amateur community can match. You have to offer a community environment which is better or entirely unique amongst other online communities. Your members have to feel like you're serving them, not them serving you. 

This might include: 

  • Direct impact. People want to feel that what they do matters a great deal. Brands can offer people a chance to have a direct impact on products and issues they care about. It might be an impact on the marketing plan, an impact on the products, an impact on some special issue of the industry. Call for opinions then make changes based upon those opinions. Take those opinions to the people in the industry who matter and make something happen.
  • Ability to reach cool people. Your brand probably has relationships with important people in your industry and sector. You can do interviews with them, invite them to provide content for the community or, even better, even them to directly participate in the community. A community in which top professional participate will be huge draw for others to participate.
  • Exclusivity. I'm a member of a exclusive community for a major brand. It feels good. Only the best people get in. We come together because the brand has clout. Your brand has clout too. You can leverage your brand to attract high-level people to talk about issues they care about. Then you can let them decide who else to get in, keep it cool and exclusive. 
  • Put on the best events. Your brand can put on the best events. Activision dominates the World of Warcraft community through it's amazing events. Many organizations have a successful history of building a community by putting on the most remarkable events, speakers, entertainment at their events. These events can be online or offline. 
  • Job opportunities. Brands can hire motivated and knowledgable employees directly from the community. Brands can advertise job opportunities their and look to see their history of contributions to the community when making a hiring decision. 
  • Free products. Brands can offer community members exclusive access to try out new products and possibly even give out a few to some top members of the community. They can proactive solicit the opinions of members on products. 
  • Exclusive news. Brands can release exclusive news in a community first. They can make the community the place where people find out the information before anyone else. They can deliberately drip-feed news to members. It can be industry news, product news or people news. If your community always gets the news first, people will want to join.

There are many more. Find the advantage you can offer that no other community can offer. What can your organization do to gain an unfair advantage on other communities? It's not going to be competitions and incentives to join. It's going to be related to leveraging your brand, utilizing your resources and using the initiative to make things happen.

Join the Professional Community Management mailing list for detailed articles and case studies in building branded online communities.

Making Major Community Changes – When To Involve Members

March 16, 2011Comments Off on Making Major Community Changes – When To Involve Members

If you're going to make a major change in the community, you need to decide when to involve members. Too soon can cause problems in what you're trying to achieve. Members don't see the big picture as you do. Too late and members feel left out, disconnected. 

Here are a few options:

  1. What would you like to see in the community?
    This is the absolute beginner stage. This is a completely open question. You hope that members will identify the problem you have and come up with viable solutions for them which you can implement with their full support. This rarely works. The answers will usually be difficult to implement and unlikely to identify the major change you would like. However, anything that is identified will get full community support. Ultimately, however, it's not very strategic on your part.
  2. We need to change because {reason}, how should we do it?
    This is another open question. You establish the reason for change and ask them what approach to take on it. This is the most common, members usually don't know how to do it. You're the expert, not them.
  3. We're doing {activity} because {reason}, how should we design/do {specific element}?
  4. Here, you're asking for open input on a specific element. You explain the problem and the approach to solving it, but they come up with ideas for that specific approach e.g. ideas for the new website. 

  5. We're doing {activity} because {reason}, which of these {specific elements} do you like best? 
  6. This is a closed question. The problem, solution and implemention is mostly decided by you. However, you give members a choice between three different specifics as determined by you (so all are acceptable).

  7. What do you think of {changed elements}. We had to change them because {reason}.

Most communities seem to resort to the extremes of options 1 and 5 in soliciting feedback from their community. They ask for their opinion after making the change or ask them for feedback without providing any clear context for that feedback. 

In my experience, variations of options 3 and 4 usually work best. 

The real message here though isn't just to involve members, but to actively decide when you will involve them and for what reasons. Decide what level of upset you can tolerate in a community (Facebook, for example, are happy to ride it out) and the potential for members to provide actionable feedback. 

Online Community Newsletter Clinic

March 15, 2011Comments Off on Online Community Newsletter Clinic

This is an e-mailed newsletter sent weekly from W14 – an online community for people that live in the W14 area code in London.


W14 is one of the better hyper-local communities, but their newsletter could be a little better.

  1. Pick a name for the newsletter. Newsletter W14London doesn’t sound great. Pick a community symbol and include that in the name. 
  2. Big story in the subject line. Think of this as the headline of a newspaper. Pick a story, person or a question that will persuade people to open the e-mail. "e.g. JoeSmith sees a robbery in progress!"
  3. Short introduction. I like the brevity, but this is too brief. How about a single paragraph from the editor briefly summarizing what to read. Highlight the one thing to read. 
  4. Use names religiously. Mention names in nearly every headline. Show who this news is affecting. Look to local newspapers for guidance here. The more names you use, the better. Without names you're not building a genuine sense of community.
  5. Don't copy your sector's news. The above headlines read too similar to a local newspaper. They're boring. Focus on different stories. Focus on discussions people can participate in. Highlight issues that have divided the community. You can rewrite local stories. e.g "Ole Mexico Restaurant applying for licensing" becomes "How many of you WANT to drink at Ole Mexico Restaurant?" and "Robbery outside Charleville mansion – Can you help?" becomes "Read JoeSmith's account of a daylight robbery outside Charleville Mansion – how would you have reacted? Did you see anything?"
  6. Promote the top members. Your newsletter is a place where you can shine attention on the top members. Find ways to highlight these. Consider a short interview, a guest column, a member of the month profile or a top-5 suggestions pieces. Or, my favourite, day in the life of…. <- always popular.
  7. Religious tracking. Scientifically measure your community newsletter and the links members click. Identity the most popular types of stories and repeat them more frequently. 

Community newsletters are an excellent way to develop a sense of community amongst members. They engender a spirit and recollections of local community newspapers. Make sure you make the best use of yours. 

12 Tips For Successful Branded Online Communities

March 14, 2011Comments Off on 12 Tips For Successful Branded Online Communities

Brands need to abandon the marketing mindset and embrace the community approach. This community approach involves many elements. These include:

  1. Use a unique URL. Communities need their own identity, not a community tab on the main website. Give them their own URL that relates solely to the community. This will solve many of the audience targeting issues you will have with putting community news on your company's site.
  2. Create a unique name for the community. A community needs a very special identity. It needs a unique name that is representative of that group. Using a symbol they already identity with helps. 
  3. Use forum-based software. Don't try to be too clever with your community platform. Make sure it's something that's simple to use. This usually means a forum-based software package. Use a popular one with plenty of community support. You can build the site and content around the forum software. Make sure you can show the latest discussions on the landing page of the community.
  4. Sell a product/service worth building a community around. Most products and services simply aren't interesting or important enough to build a community around. We don't feel a connection with others that buy these products/services. The products/services aren't representative of our self-concept. 
  5. Limit mentions of your products/services by you. By all means respond to such discussion and occaisionally start relevant discussions, but otherwise strictly limit discussions of your product started by you. Instead focus on starting discussions about members. Write content about what your audience are doing. Plan cool events and use them as the basis of activity. 
  6. Target your existing audience. You can't build a community around people that don't know you exist. They wont have any connection with each other. A community isn't an outbound process, you need to have the attention of the people you want to join your community.
  7. Use your unfair advantage. Brands have a tendancy to take from the community, they should be offering something to the community. They should bring something unique and exclusive that members can't get anywhere else. Ability to impact the products, have exclusive access to members, 
  8. Ensure your employees participate. A branded community in which employees participate (not just a community manager) is infinitely cooller than a community where your only connection is via the community manager. The community manager should be a great facilitator, but not the decisive link between the communtiy and the company. 
  9. Dedicate one full-time community manager to the community. I haven't seen a branded community succeed that only had a part-time manager. There aren't any exceptions to this rule. Either hire a full-time community manager, or don't build a community. Trust me, I know this puts some of you in difficult situations. 
  10. Reference your community in company literature. Talk about the community in your products, your press releases, in interviews, on your website. Look for opportunities to promote your community in major outlets. Take out a poster thanking them in a magazine if you like. 
  11. Meet them. Find a way to meet your members. If they're based globally, then meet the ones locally (cover their travel expenses). Go out to members when possible and have unique interactions with them. 
  12. Encourage off-topic discussions. In many communities the general/off-topic chat is the most popular type of discussion. Encourage these – it encourages real relationships between community members. Don't worry if members talk more off-topic than on-topic – it means they're developing relationships beyond the specific topic matter. They will keep returning to the community. 

Join the Professional Community Management mailing list for detailed articles and case studies in building branded online communities.

Promoting Your Community At A Trade Conference

March 13, 2011Comments Off on Promoting Your Community At A Trade Conference

Trade conferences are fertile ground for recruiting active community members.

Hook up a big monitor. Load up your community. Have big questions appear on the screen. Invite passers-by to register and answer the question. 

Repeat as many times as possible. When people reply to each person's question – the former will receive a notification to visit again.

Powerful stuff. 

But make sure they only need to use their name/e-mail to promote their community. 

Mirror Real World Discussions

March 12, 2011Comments Off on Mirror Real World Discussions

The conversations that take place in a community should be very similar to those that take place in your day to day life. 

What are your day to day discussions like? Do you ask a bunch of people for their feedback, or do you talk about general chatter? Do you pay special attention to discussions within a group brought together by a common interest?

You will probably notice most discussions begin like this:

  • What do you have planned for this weekend? 
  • How was your weekend?
  • Anyone planning on doing/watching/reading {activity/event} this weekend?
  • What did you all think of …… ? 
  • I hated/likes/loved …. ? 
  • Do you think that …. ? 
  • Are you going to …. ? 
  • Did you see …. ? 

Now, start the same discussions in your online community. Don't go crazy. Let other people talk too. But, certainly, guide the community towards this tone and not a strictly formal community focused on a specific topic. 

Use A Symbol For The Community Name

March 11, 2011Comments Off on Use A Symbol For The Community Name

Naming a community is difficult. 

Most companies do a terrible job of it

Element14 is a good name. It's symbolic. If you're a part of the design-engineering audience that they're trying to reach, it's a name that has meaning. It's a symbol. It's a flag that indicates this is a place for you. 

If you're not a member, it's just another name and another number. 

StackOverflow (now $12m richer) is a good name. The insiders gets it, the outsiders don't. VirginMedia Pioneers is a bad name (sorry Erica). It isn't a symbol shared amongst members.

Naming a community is usually something to avoid getting wrong. The easy way to get it right is to use an existing symbol with shared meaning amongst the audience

How Things Are Done Here

March 10, 2011Comments Off on How Things Are Done Here

It would help to have a few written paragraphs explaining a few unwritten rules of the community. 

Sounds dumb, doesn't it?

But online communities aren't the same as real communities. It's harder to pick up non-verbal clues. We rely solely on what's written down to figure out how to act in any situation. Newcomers are pretty susceptible to embarressing themselves in front of regulars, and they know it.

It helps to write down a few general tips. If members typically don't criticise each other's skill in that field – it helps to write that down. If members usually welcome newcomers – it helps to write that down. If members dont mention certain topics, ask certain questions or reveal certain pieces of information about themselves – write that down.

Don't write down everything. Newcomers need to pick up on much of the community culture themselves if they are to feel a part of the community. But a few guidelines to help them committing a community faux-paux and feel confident to begin participating. These tips might also renforice the member's own sense of community. 

The Professional Community Management Course

March 9, 2011Comments Off on The Professional Community Management Course

How many businesses fail to get their community off the ground?

How many businesses struggle to sustain high levels of active members and keep members coming back?

How many businesses never get the benefits they want from their community?

Looking at the huge number of online ghost towns, it’s far too many. Businesses are wasting their time and money developing communities which have little chance of success 

The single biggest problem

The biggest problem is not enough people know how to build a community for a business. Too often it's left to the marketing team. Too often a marketing-mindset creeps in – which would be fine if fostering a sense of community amongst people was a traditional marketing skill- but it's not. 

We're going to change this.

The Professional Online Community Management Course

On April 3rd, we’re launching a comprehensive course in Professional Online Community Management. This course covers the key skills your employees need to know to develop a successful community for your organization. This course will take your employees through every step of developing a thriving online community.

This course combines expertise in building communities for businesse, proven theory from social sciences, case studies from branded online communities, checklists of steps to go through, resources, live-webinars and, most importantly, hands-on development of their own online communities. 

Pass or fail?

This course is pass/fail. Members can't passively receive information and complete the course. They have to progress through the course. They have to learn, they have to put what they learn in to action and they have to pass. 

This is the first course of it’s kind. This course is aimed solely at organizations that want to train their employees to develop thriving online communities. 


Is this a course you're interested in? Is it right for you or your employees? Click here to join the mailing list to find out more about the course and have the first opportunity to sign  up.

Critical Mass of Activity

March 8, 2011Comments Off on Critical Mass of Activity

Communties succeed when they reach a critical mass of activity, not a critical mass of members.

If you think you need lots of members to get activity, you're wrong. You need lots of activity to get members. 

The goal then is to reach that critical mass of activity amongst the members you have. It might be 5000 interactions when you have 100 members and 25000 interactions when you have 500. 

Naturally, you need a few members to get started. Members need others to talk to. But this number if far, far, far, lower than we think. Any community that begins with a big promotion push fails. It's the communities that start small, reach a critical mass of activity per member, then keep growing at that level of activity which succeed.

This means, right now, you need to focus on starting discussions and measuring the outcomes. Find the themes that work best and use them frequently. Write content about the community, and measure the types of content that work best. Ruthlessly measure the level of activity per member and adapt as you progress. Organize events for members, engage in hundreds of personal interactions with members, provide them opportunities to get more involved in running the community or stand out amongst the community. 

There isn't a critical mass of members, it doesn't exist. Luckily, a critical mass of activity is very much possible – and not as hard to achieve as you might imagine.

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