Read about community development.
Forget all about the internet for a weekend. Discover the ideas of people who have been building communities for centuries. If you enjoy building communities, then this should be a lot of fun.
Dig as deep into the theory of community development and pull out a few great ideas. It’s an easy way to be better than other community builders.
Communities are about people, not technology.
Here are three books to get you started.
You shouldn’t target the influencers just yet. Not if you’re in the very early stages of building your online community.
Right now, you just want people who are enthusiastic, technologically capable with the time to commit. You want people that are easy to reach through the noise, not those bombarded with it.
When your community has been going a month or two, that’s the time to target the influencers.
One more thing. Tackling poverty has never been so easy. Every single person can now make a colossal difference, so long as we care to.
Distance, knowledge and financial barriers have been obliterated. You can find a person, family or village in poverty, talk to some experts about what they need to solve their problems and set about doing it.
You don’t need the blessing of anyone. You could do this right now. All the experts, the means of collecting money and the means of sending money are right at your fingertips.
Isn’t that brilliant? We live in a society where most of us can make a major difference to poverty without standing up.
It’s Blog Action Day. That’s a big problem for a lot of people. How do you get people to go from talking online to taking meaningful action?
This challenge trips up more online communities than I care to remember. How can you get your community to take action without compromising your trust with them?can you make take action without it coming as a shock? Or compromising what brought people there in the first place?
Here are 3 ideas:
1) The Cause. Build a community to achieve one objective. Strive to fix something in the world, perhaps poverty. Every member joins knowing that they are working towards taking a real-world action.
2) Build up actions. Get your community used to taking actions. Begin simply. Maybe ask members to vote on a poll in a rival site, or participate in a discussion elsewhere. Then e-mail or write a letter to an editor or person of importance. Then arrange meetings, co-organise events, donate money, recruit others. You can even create roles for people in charge of activism.
3) Who’s In? Demanding your members take action, or spamming them into submission, are two very bad ideas. Instead, set out a clear agenda and then ask “who’s in?”. These people get real insider stuff. They get invited to a secret community that the others don’t have access to. They get made to feel a part of something special. You have the armed forces, then you have MI6. Make this a community within your community.
It’s dangerous to force an action upon your community. Tread carefully doing it, and work with sensitivity.
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.