I think you should have one.
Any time you see anything that makes people unite or come together, you should rip the core of the idea and stick it into your playbook.
I don’t care if it’s a news story, a marketing strategy or even something that happened on the way to work. Find the chewy centre of the idea and figure out how it can be done online. Any event, any person and catalyst that brings people together, even if just for a matter of moments, is worth adding to your playbook.
Imagine you did this once a day for a year. You would have 365 ‘plays’ you could make to build an online community. That sounds quite impressive to me
It’s quite easy to spot what’s going wrong.
If the people you invite don’t visit the website, you’re invitation isn’t good enough.
If the people visit but don’t sign up, the interface isn’t right.
If people sign up but don’t stick around, you’re not properly welcoming them into the community.
If people become regular members but don’t invite others, you’re not motivating them to do so.
If people invite others but they don’t join, you’re not giving them the tools and information they need to do it.
If people don’t visit the website as much as they used to, you’re not fostering the relationships and involvement they need.
It’s very easy to spot what’s broken. So fix the problems quickly.
So spend more time on newcomers than on your regulars. Plan a schedule to keep newcomers engaged for the first 21 days. Here are a few ideas to get those creative juices flowing.
- Early Achievements. Casinos are designed to give people small early payouts. Games like WoW let people accelerate through the early levels quickly. Early achievements work suck people in for the long haul. Find a way to let newcomers achieve something with a limited amount of effort.
- Newcomer of the month award. Tell each member they’ve been entered for the newcomer of the month award. Create a hall of fame and a criteria. Makes it competitive.
- Buddy System: A little cheesy. But why not pair new members up with a buddy for their first 21 days? Or give them their own groups. If they go missing, the buddy can chase them up.
- Newbie Rituals. Have something every newcomer passes down to the next person. Maybe a secret password? Perhaps an eBook which everyone can contribute a page to?
- Weekly Newcomer List. Everyone gets a chance to write a sentence that best describes them, introduce themselves to the group, highlight what they wan to contribute.
- Introduce new members to groups. Ask newcomers what their interests are, then specifically introduce them (CC e-mails!) to people with similar interests.
- A topical primer. Send all newcomers a quick overview of the hot issues in the community. Then invite them to offer their fresh perspective. Be sure to respond to their posts. This gets them caught in the whirlwind of discussion (which keeps people coming back!).
- Assign a role. Give newcomers a sense of responsibility over something. Perhaps something simple, like ideas for improving the joining-process. Or encouraging new members to be engaged.
- Have a graduation. What can you offer once they’ve stayed engaged for 21 days? Why not have a mini-graduation for new members? Let them customise their pages more or join more elite groups? Give them a badge for their profiles. They can even brag about achievements.
Do you have some experience of keeping new members engaged for the first 3 weeks? Post them in the comments here.
Invite people to join your community one at a time.
Spread the invitations over two weeks
Invite the best people last.
The more invitations you write, the better they become. By the 20th e-mail, your invites should be perfect. This means you need to spread the invites out over a week or two. This gives you time to see what’s working, and perfect your later invites.
So the people you most want in your community, should be the last ones you invite.
I have won a prize.
The University of Gloucestershire has awarded me the Chartered Institute of Marketing Prize. The annual prize is given to the marketing student who graduates with the highest scores.
I'm proud to have won it.
I think you need to redo the website.
Or demand your legal team lets you say whatever you want.
And convince your CEO to participate in the forum.
Any community builder can complain about the constraints. The best work their magic within them. You’ve probably been hired for just this reason, the client couldn’t make it work within the constraints.
Your job is to stretch the infrastructure wider, spread the resources further and prove that some constraints can be conquered.
So be creative:
If the interface is too complicated to newcomers, create a simplified 101 training course. Award some members expert status and let them buddy up with newcomers. The more people the experts pull through, the greater reward. Make it a competition with a huge prize.
If the legal team wants everything moderated, don’t bemoan them, bring them abroad. Invite the legal team to train a group of community members into a Reporting Squad. Their eyes and ears on the community. The group runs every comment and notice against a checklist and highlights causes for concern quicker than the legal team could catch them.
If there is something you can’t do, spark the initiative in your community to do it themselves. Looking at the free software available today, there’s very little that motivated groups can’t do for free. If you can just motivate them.
Turn every constraint into an opportunity. If you really can’t make it work, don’t whine, just quit.
Does your community struggle with people disappearing?
Create a weekly missing person's list.
Keep it fun. Each week, create a list of 10 – 20 members who haven't been such much recently.
Each name has a very brief bio, maybe a 'last seen' and a means of getting in touch. Then call upon your community to invite them back. No-one gets left behind!
Building a community is like pushing a car uphill. It’s a lot of effort. Gradually you build momentum and the hill gets less steep. Then you get to a point where the car starts to roll away from you, and you walk away happy*
Managing a community is keeping that car on the road as it speeds away. You have to make sure it doesn’t crash, run out of fuel or neglect it’s maintenance.
to put it more literally: Building is about creating the right structure, cajoling the right people and creating an autonomous group that can thrive without you. Managing is about keeping the group together, keeping clear communications between client/community and ensuring the community doesn’t collapse.
* Please don’t ever do this.
This is a complicated, but brilliant, idea. Grab a big sheet of paper and draw out how the community is going to work. It forces you to think with absolute clarity.
Think of it as a flow diagram, only a little more fun. Here are a few of the things your diagram might include…
- You: Create yourself as a square, circle or whichever shape you like. You community begins with what you do, what your actions are, who you contact. So be specific about what you (not the client, not the customers) are going to do.
- Client. Where is the client in this, what inputs/work will they need to put in? Draw out where.
- People. Hopefully categorised people. Which groups are going to do what?
- Links: Show the links (communications) between people. Each link (a line/arrow) should have 3 things: Motivations, Methods and Message
- Motivations: On each line connecting people include explain why they are doing it. What’s the benefit to them?
- Methods: How are people going to communicate with each other? Is it going to be by e-mail, in person, through forums, by phone via blogs?
- Message: What are people telling each other. Don’t leave anything to chance. Work out what sort of messages you believe people need to say to each other.
- Two Loops. Your diagram should have two very important loops. Without either, you’re guaranteed to fail.
- Loop 1: The first loop is what is going to keep existing members coming back. e.g. Facebook has people writing on your wall and sending you e-mailed notifications.
- Loop 2: The autonomous loop which gets existing members inviting new ones into the cycle without you. Sure you can keep fuelling the fire, but it shouldn’t burn out as soon as you’ve gone.
- Tactics to Grow. Create boxes/shapes for tactics/strategies you want to use to grow the community. Place them at the points you believe they are needed to grow.
The more detailed and precise this diagram is, the better and easier your community will be. You can also test it in stages, or create alternative routes if something might not work. What else would you add?
If you can’t draw it, you can’t do it.
Please don't give in to temptation. You can invite thousands of people to join your community in minutes, but don't do it.
This is the single, most critical part of your work. If you get it wrong, you've just repelled thousands of potential members. Probably for good. Every e-mail can spell the difference between a lifelong customer or a customer vigilante.
With that in mind, here is a good list of Dos and Don'ts in your outreach. Please forgive the torrid HTML.
|Personalise every e-mail with this information||Mail-merge or copy/paste e-mails|
|Carefully select who, when and how to invite||Invite everyone indiscriminately|
|Explain why you selected them||Cluster people into general groups, e.g. "farmers"|
|Call members if you know them.||Call numbers from a list|
|Treat the e-mail as the beginning of a conversation||End the e-mail without a question or an opportunity for them to consider|
|Ask for their ideas to improve the community||Fail to act on them, or celebrate those that suggested the idea|
|Offer something scarce or unique to every person||Offer money|
|Offer to contact anyone else they know for them||Demand they "send this to everyone in their inbox"|
|Ask if they might be interested in contributing a regular column/feature||Offer this to people who are awful at writing|
|Name-drop people they know who have joined||Throw numbers at them|
|Be as brief as possible||Use anything from the marketing collateral|
|Have a list of bullet-points you need to cover||Work from a template e-mail|
|Be informal||Unless you're addressing formal groups|
|Try to strike an emotion or inflame an ambition||Think everyone is motivated by the same things|
|Explain the dream/vision/purpose of the community||Be dishonest. If the client wants something explain what|
|Leave recipients alone if they don't reply||e-mail until you get a response|
|Understand outreach takes a lot of time. Full-time.||Get the work experience kid to do it…in his own time|
|Remember to explain who you are, and what you do||Pretend to be anything you're not.|
Reaching out to people is a really delicate process. Don't try to bludgeon your way through it. It's not a process to be rushed, it's one to be enjoyed.
Plan who you're going to invite, what you're going to say and put in the time. The time you put in here will pay itself off many times over.
Martin Reed wonders if you should invite your friends to join your online community?
Friends, he rightly reasons, have a vested interest in your success. They're more likely to help you out and get the community going.
I still wouldn't recommend it. Instead, find the first 10 to 20 people you would love to have in your community, and become friends with them.
By the time your community goes live, you should feel more than comfortable about inviting them.
As I see it, there are 9 major stages of building an online community. They go a little like this…
- Defining the Cause. Why does this community exist? Does it fit into one of these categories? What advice can you give to the client about how to build a community that matters?
- Creating the Plan. What resources do you have? How can you stretch them to the max? What is the plan for the first 3 – 6 months? What's the architecture?
- Finding the first 10 people. Who are you going to reach in the beginning, and why? What do they want from a community? Can you get them talking to each other before it's built?
- Develop the interface. Function first, form second. Advise on what works.
- Outreach. How, when and why are you going to approach people?
- Internal Growth. What tactics will get people to tell their friends? How can you tighten the group?
- External Growth. Go for the big influencers, media, important types. Add that extra 0 to the community.
- Autonomy. How can you get this community to run itself? Can you make it self-recruiting? Self-growing? Self governing?
- Quit. Can you quit? Focus on something else? Move into a more overseeing role? Can you create a powerful niche group? Can you elevate key members into positions of real power and responsibility i.e. with a budget.
What do you think? Is there something missing? Have you noticed that developing the interface is just one stage? How does that affect your actions (or your budget)?
Hiren Patel has replied with his ideas.