Events ALWAYS help build a sense of community, have lots of them.
Competition unites and separates people. A competition within your community will divide it. A competition against the ideals of another group will unite it. Having a common enemy is good.
We like heroes. We want people to cheer for. You can create heroes in your community (at iGUK, we used to do this as routine).
If you’re hosting an event, collaborative extensively with the hosts (your audience). Otherwise they get grumpy (especially when told not to travel around their own city!).
Ranking is a double-edged sword. It can encourage the results you want but for the wrong reasons.
Good sportsmanship (and most goodwill gestures) are almost always reciprocated. You can initiate many, many, cycles of positive reciprocation in your community.
Open and close your events with a bang (not literally).
Traditions are important. Create your own flame and let members take turns carrying it.
Events that look empty destroy the atmosphere of events. It’s better to reduce the numbers that can attend and turn a few away.
People like underdogs. You can identify and support these.
Topical activities are great conversation starters.
Use polls during topical activities.
Don’t schedule your wedding to clash with the Olympics opening ceremony!
We always want to know who is the best. Can you identify who is the best in your field? No? Let members vote on it.
Events are an EASY source of new content/discussions.
It’s hard to foster new ideals on people. It’s easier to get them to agree on what they believe their ideas/goals are and work with that.
If you’re hosting online/offline events, don’t forget sponsorship. There are probably relevant organizations that want to reach your audience – even if it’s just 50 to 100 people.
If communication slows down, people get upset. Aim to over communicate (even if you’re saying that you’re not sure what’s happening yet).
If you’re hosting an offline event, plan out in detail every possible way people can get to the venue, where they can stay, and negotiate a group discount.
A community needs highs and lows. Don’t fear failures, just be open about the failure and put it in perspective.
Diehard fans/participants can drive away other people. Don’t be afraid, just be aware.
With the right training/coaching, you an do almost anything better than you can now.
That gap between the best and worst is huge. It’s often hard to identify what the best do that makes them the best.
Water polo probably shouldn’t be an Olympic sport.
Dodgeball probably should be an Olympic sport.
Over the years, we’ve learnt an important lesson over the about building internal communities; forget the internal part.
For an internal community, try to forget that you’re building an internal community. Focus on building a community. The rules here remain the same.
You need a specific group of people with things to talk about. The more they interact with each other, the more likely they are to take the actions you want them to. But, first, you need to build that community between them.
You might want members to share best practices, collaborate, generate great ideas, and a range of identified benefits. But you need to build that community first to facilitate this.
That means you need to initiate discussions that get people involved and talking to each other online. You need to recognize good participants. You need to schedule regular online/offline events. You need to accept and encourage discussions which might sound frivolous (e.g. “Does anyone have any coffee brand preference for the machine?”) yet gradually build that community.
As you build the community, gradually introduce the opportunity to generate ideas, collaborate on projects, share/document best practices. It wont (and shouldn’t) ever be the sole goal of the community. Yet, it will get you what you want.
To get a community going, you need a base. The base is a core group of regular participants.
This core group doesn't have to be big, perhaps it's 10 participants, perhaps it's 150? Maybe it's 500 (we generally aim for between 50 – 150).
Your sole aim when starting a community is to build that core group.
Nothing else matters; not technology, not content, not big promotional ideas.
Because the base doesn't have to be big, and you only do this once, every new regular participant is a big win.
This means, at this stage, you must spend a lot of time focusing upon one person at a time. If you don't build this base, your community fails. Strip your community management process from all distractions.
It's only once you've built this base and reached critical mass that you shift to macro-level interactions.
The old model of launching a platform and spamming the web to get thousands of visitors is dead. I'm not sure it ever worked in the first place. It doesn't build a base. If you want a high-profile failure, spam the web. If you want a steady success, focus on getting one active member at a time.
It might seem like a slow way to start, but it's better than the alternative.
If you want a free ebook about launching a community, click here.
Tests of knowledge tend to work well.
They're easy to create. They're fun to participate in. They can be a great source of activity.
They can also be a great source of quality information.
Even if you know the answers, put together many of the regular questions asked by members with testing questions about products/services/experiences into a regular quiz of 10 questions. Give people 24 hours to answer it. Let the winner have bragging rights.
If you like, alternate between multiple choice and more open-ended questions where you get to pick the best responses.
It sounds like a frivolous activity. Yet these regular sources of activity, traditions, and shared ideas are exactly what helps develop a community.
I'm suspicious of communities that grow too quickly.
1000 active members in the first week is not a good sign.
There is no history, no culture, no relationships between members. A community that grows quickly tends to dissipate quickly too. Novelty only carries a community so far.
Sure, there might be a handful of communities that witnessed and sustained rapid growth. These are the exceptions. It wont happen to you. Don't aim for this. Don't set these expectations.
Instead, you're going to have to work really hard. You're going to go through the community lifecycle. It will probably take you 3 – 9 months to get through the inception stage, 6 – 18 months to get through establishment and around 2 – 3 years to reach maturity.
That's a long time to be constantly pushing and developing the community. That's a long time to worry about it taking off. We've spoken to many organizations in recent months that are on the verge of killing their communities because they 'haven't taken off'.
Yet this wasn't true. These communities are exactly where they should be in the lifecycle. The problem wasn't progress, it was misplaced expectations. Too often, we aim for the quick win and ignore the process of building a community one active person at a time.
For a simple rule of thumb; if the numbers are gradually edging upwards, you're doing ok.
You can hope your community develops quicker than that, but it's better to plan and prepare for a long-term process. Misplaced expectations can be fatal.
Take a look at this image below:
That's a LOT of things a member can do.
Needless to say, most communities don't need any of these. For most communities, I'd remove document creation, blog posts, polls, events, ideas, videos, and anything else that distracts from creating discussions.
It's only once the discussions are going that you might want to consider adding new features. For now, it's a distraction.
Even better, why not gradually let members have access to more features the more they have participated? Create multiple access levels and enable new features at each new level.
This motivates members not only to participate in more discussions, but to actually use the new features they now have access to.
We will soon be launching The Pillar Summit's Professional Community Management course in Australia.
The course is run by the expert community management team at Quiip.
If you're in Australia (or surrounding regions) and want to become a world-class community manager, click here for more information.
You have one week left to sign up.
I like themes.
By theme we're talking about a related set of issues within the topic. A theme is something the community discusses in depth for a period of time.
If the community discussions have become stale or repetitive, use your subtle influence to guide the discussions in to a new theme.
You need to initiate topics about important issues, slowly evolve the discussions to related issues, and create associated content. It should all be linked.
A community can go through 2 – 3 themes a year.
Initiating a new discussion is fine for a quick blip of activities, but having a regular programme of themes for the community to discuss sustains a high level of activity.
Don't jump around from one topic to the next, move through a related set of issues. Move through unique themes.
If you have a strong sense of community, you can overcome anything.
We measure the sense of community for our clients. It's a tedious process. It involves surveys. We need to use robust sampling techniques.
But it's an important process. It shows whether members feel they are part of a community. It shows whether the community is likely to overcome its various obstacles.
The communities that survive the longest, that overcome the obstacles of technology changes, outages, disruption, that deliver the highest value to organization, are those with the strongest sense of community.
This means we need to work really hard on the tactics that create a strong sense of community.
The WELL is slightly older than I am.
It's been around for almost 3 decades..
It's been through a lot. It's spawned a number of great minds. It's been managed (and mismanaged) over several decades, and survived. Members are currently donating $1k a piece to buy the community back from Salon.
Think about this. If a community (in an era with 0.1% internet penetration) can survive for almost 3 decades, how long do you think your community will last?
Online communities aren't the trendy thing. They're not the quickest thing. But they are something that you can create now, slowly build and nature, and they will continue to pay off for decades. They shouldn't be never be used solely to accomplish a short-term goal.
They're a long-term approach. They take time to develop but can last indefinitely.
You can choose to be in the business of building stronger relationships between customers because you know that it pays off through repeat purchases, higher retention rates, reduced costs, innovation etc…You know it becomes a sustainable competitive advantage for your organization.
Another thought, every action and decision you take can have ramifications for decades.
I hope the WELL survives. It's not just an important piece of history, it also proves how a strong sense of community can see a community through any number of obstacles.
The end result of community management isn't engagement.
The end result isn't improved satisfaction ratings, better sentiment, greater awareness, or great feedback. The end result (with a few non-profits aside, is greater profits).
This is true of everything an organization does (amateurs/hobbyists can skip this post).
We need to get good at talking about the realized benefit, not the step before the benefits.
For example, increased engagement/sentiment might lead to repeat purchases, improved retention rates, new customer acquisition. If that's the case, then measure repeat purchases, improved retention rates and new customer acquisition amongst the people in your community.
In our survey a few weeks back, many people working on internal communities wanted to help employees share information. That's great, but what's the end result? Is it reduced costs, increased productivity? You can measure this.
Link the thing you're immediately trying to achieve to the end result for the organization.
Are the people joining your community new to the topic, new to the idea of participating in a community about the topic, or simply new to your specific community?
Let's begin with new to the topic. These are people that have only recently become interested in the topic. e.g. I join CoinTalk because I've recently become interested in coins.
If most of your newcomers are new to the topic then you need to provide them with content that is useful to newcomers to the topic. This means beginner-level guides (created by the community), frequently asked questions, opportunities to ask the most obvious questions, how to improve quickly etc.
If most of your newcomers are new to the idea of participating in a community, you need to educate them about communities. You need to teach them about socializing online, demonstrate simple, fun, interactive experiences. You need to satisfy their need for information through the prism of interaction. You need to help them build early relationships.
If your newcomers have participated in similar communities before, you need to educate about your specific community. That means community history, regular culture-orientated material, and information about top members in the community etc…
Of course, it wont be this easy. You might have 50% new to the topic, 30% new to the idea of a community, and 20% new to this community only. That means either performing a difficult juggling act – or catering to the one group you believe is most likely to become regulars.