You have to look at the community from it’s member’s side. Take your organisation out of it, and answer “why would people join this community?”.
The purpose of your online community should fit into one of these 4 categories.
Leisure: Some people spend their leisure time in online communities. People come together, talk about games, sports, TV, music and have fun doing it.
Relationships: The world is a lonely place, it’s hard to approach a strangers. You might try to find fellow recovering alcoholics, expand your business network or be seeking true love.
Fix Something: Something isn’t right in the world and you want to fix it. Maybe the environment is going to hell, your politician is doing a bad job, or Microsoft Vista isn’t as good as it needs to be.
Self-Improvement: You want to improve your life. Perhaps be better at your job or expand your reputation? Maybe it’s to save time or seek help in finding the perfect pair of shoes?
Perhaps the very best communities can fit into all four. However, if your community doesn’t fit into one of these, it’s going to be much harder to build.
The products are more fun when shared.
It’s harder to build an online community for corner shops, television suppliers or interior designers.
I hope this means a community builder also needs to be a consultant who encourages clients to turn their products into something sociable.
I heard about Cramster yesterday. The online study group site is shockingly successful, and has just received $3m in capital to expand. Here are five great ideas you can tinker with to boost your online community
- Are you a parent? Sign up your son or daughter: This is very clever, how can you get friends to sign up their buddies for them?
- Karma Points: Those that help answer a question are rewarded for Karma points which can be redeemed with gifts and rewards. Tougher questions offer greater Karma points. Having more points for tougher questions is a good idea.
- A Score Board. Keeping score of a member’s post count often encourages spam. Keeping score of how much you’ve helped someone else, is genius.
- Online Study Pals: Find people that have helped you before, and invite them to be part of your study network. Genius.
- Facebook App. Cramster offers one of the best Facebook widgets I’ve ever seen, and perfectly targeted at to it’s audience.
It’s nearly always worthwhile spending a few minutes to join a community and find out what makes it tick.
The members of most communities are polyamorous. This means your community’s best members are also in your biggest rival’s community.
You begin fighting for a greater share of the audience’s time, rather than a greater share of the audience. This has 3 interesting implications.
1) Not all time slots are equal. Would you rather have a visitor at 7.30m or 11am? Which is more valuable?
2) Analysing time-slots. Knowing how to analyse which time-slots are the peak-slots for your community is vital.
3) Attack time-slots like market segments. If different time slots have different value, then attacking the important time slots can be important. Imagine creating discussions, hosting events or releasing information at 7.30pm to 8.45pm.
Attacking time slots wont work for everyone, but having an engaged member at a peak time is far better than a passive member at a fleeting hour.
An easy way to bond a community together is to send them to war.
Not so much the gory guns and killing kind, but a war of pride. If your online community has a big rival community, challenge them to a contest. It can be a quiz, a content creation contest, a battle of skills – just keep it relevant to your community.
Perhaps find some respected independent judges to rate who wins. This should rally your community together, and attract members from your rival.
Have fun with it. The winner gets to brag, the loser demands a rematch.
I just wonder if it might be impossible to buy an online community. Imagine the hurdles:
- Deciding what to buy: Do you buy the website? Rights to the Facebook Group? The e-mail list of members? The forum profiles of the community manager? The Ning group?
- Lack of ownership and control. These aren’t employees. The community might suddenly decide to stop talking, or worse, fragment/implode. Imagine if a popular community member receives an offer from your competitors to take a big chunk to them. Ouch.
- The community doesn’t want to be sold: I’ve seen a fair few communities not appreciating the idea of being sold. They have done all the hard work, why aren’t they being rewarded?
- Who are you buying the community from? Are you buying it from a webmaster who set up a website and might not even be aware of how popular his forums are? Are you buying it from the people with the most visibility? Are you buying it from somewhere in the right position to sell it? If so, what happens when that person then hands the community over and walks away from it?
- There are no benefits to buying an online community. If you want to advertise to this community, then pay for adverts. If you’re going to spam them, they’re going to disappear. IF you’re going to make radical changes, they will leave. If you’re hoping to engage them more in your product, why aren’t they engaged already?
If you can’t build one, it really isn’t practical to buy one. The money could be better spent becoming a prominent member of that community and orientating your business to attracting it’s members.
If you absolutely feel the need of some sort of control, then place a value on the community. Divide that value by about 12 and use that as a monthly fee to pay those you think have ownership of the community (it might be more than just the webmasters). These are wages to help you become the owner of the community.
If it’s clearly not working after 3 months you can save 75% of your money.
If you’re trying to reach someone important, it might help to create a welcoming page just for them. Roll out the red carpet. You can fill it with references to previous conversations or articles they have written, links to the most important information they need and you can write it in a tone and style you know they will prefer.
Whether you’re trying to convince a key influencer to join your community, a journalist to write about your company or someone to hire you, there is no reason why you can’t do this. It’s all free.
Research your prospect, create the page, and hyperlink the link on the e-mail or press release back to the page just for them.
Even better, you can track if they visit the page and how/if they progress through your website. I’m willing to bet that the extra effort will pay off.
I loved the concept of Dell’s Digital Nomads site recently. So did others, I was thrilled when Bruce commented on my blog a fortnight ago.
However, given the size and scale of Dell, I’m really disappointed by how dry the content is. Not to mention the lack of interaction between members. Shouldn’t we be sharing ideas and responding to each other’s questions on here?
So I wrote down a few ideas to improve Digital Nomads, some of it is about content, some of it is about direction. If you have more, add them in the comments and I will include them in the list.
- Advice to Non-nomads. The Digital Nomads seems, largely, an aspirational group. More people want to become nomads than are currently nomads. So can we create a 101 outlining real, practical, steps to become a digital nomad?
- Badge of Honour: The Digital Nomads badge isn’t getting used much. I think that’s because it’s free. So can we make it a badge of honour? Lets people submit their digital nomad stories, and if approved (I suspect most of them will be – it’s extra content) then create a Digital Nomad badge (with their name on) which they can proudly display on this blog. This should mean the best digital nomads are encouraging others to join the group.
- List of the top Digital Nomads. Lists are fun, they keep people entertained. Maybe combine this with the first idea – I bet everyone wants to be on the approved Digital Nomad group right? Maybe the top Digital Nomads in the UK, or the 10 Digital Nomads who spend the least time at home. It wont be precise, but it will be great reading.
- Best Digital Nomad Pictures. On a beach? In a Bar? Blogging on top of a mountain? Lets get the wackiest and best Digital Nomad pictures.
- Digital Nomad Tracker. Break out the Google Maps, let people share where they are right now. However use an optional GPS system, where people can log on and reveal where they are in the world. Optional of course. Maybe it will let some Digital Nomads meet up in passing.
- Digital Nomad Packages and Discounts. Let the experts agree on the best Digital Nomad gear – then negotiate discounts for Digital Nomad members.
- More Useful Content. I want to know which trains have Wifi, how much coffee should I buy to justify working in a café for 6 hours, what are the most picturesque locations in the world to work from? Will my laptop get overwhelmed by grains of sand if I work on a beach. Are there any celebrity digital nomads?
- Close the Group. Can we close the group and let future people apply to be a Digital Nomad. Maybe once a month, approve everyone that applies. It gives people in the group that insulated, connected feeling, and it gives people outside a group they want to get in to. Those in the group get more help from Dell (maybe a special customer-service line (or twitter account) to resolve any technical issues.
These are a few ideas, I’m sure you have more. If you add them here I will submit the link to the people behind Digital Nomads at the end of the week.
It's a job that didn't exist a decade ago, and we're still a little vague on the specifics. Everyone does it differently. Here are some of the things I think a community builder does.
- Planning. First the client tells you what they want to achieve. Then you write out a plan for getting there. The plan should go into detail about who you want to reach, what you're going to tell them, what the technical aspects are likely to be and how much it's going to cost. This plan should hopefully include elements of the following.
- Profiling. Like most jobs you'll need to research and profile the people you want to reach. What social media tools do they use? What language/style/tone they do they use? This leads into the next two points.
- Finding The First 10 People. With or without your clients existing contacts, you should find the first 10 people, approach them and build a relationship with them before the community is launched. These people become something of a focus group for the community. So you usually need to research the first ten people, put together a decent e-mail and begin conversations with them before the community is live.
- Copywriting. Once the engineers have done their thing, it's likely you need to add some copy. This might be website copy. Use your profiling to know what tone to strike.
- Talks To Most Members Individually. Unless your community is huge (100,000+) you should be able to communicate with every member individually at some point. E-mail five a day, welcome new members. Why not have a welcome list of new members? Ask them a few questions, make everyone feel welcomed.
- Adding the Next 0. Now you need to reach out to more people you want to join. If it's an open group you want people who are likely to spread the word and invite others to join. If it's a closed group you want important people that will make this a valuable and attractive community to join.
- Editorial Role. Content is important. You probably need to write the first blog posts. The best content is a mixture of (relevant!) news about the client, and throwing the spotlight of the community. Maybe interview existing members, invite guest posts etc.
- Invites Contributors. A major objective is usually to get the community to run itself. For this you need to contributors. So a lot of time is spent talking to community members individually and finding which would like to contribute.
- Creates Structure. Linked to contributors is the structure of how this community will run itself. At iGUK we built a management committee, elected by members, every year. So create roles of significance that fuel, not stifle, the community.
- Tightens the group. A major goal of the community builder is to reduce the gap between members, both mentally and often literally. So arranging events works well here. Maybe it's a 24 hour idea blitz, or a meet up in a coffee house. Maybe it's just Skype chats with a special guest. A community builder is part events-organiser.
- Promotes the community. Once you've got the community to a good state, it's usually time to have a 'launch'. Only it's not a launch, it's an outreach campaign to reach people who think your community is perfect for themselves and their followers. This provokes the next point.
- Becomes the community. A little big-headed this one. But the best thing to do is become as big apart of the community as possible. This means all the usual blogging tactics. Commenting on other blogs, e-mailing ideas to popular figures, meeting members in person. This helps many times over when you need to reach out to key people for promotion.
- Plants seeds and creates momentum. Point out things that can be done and support anyone that steps up to achieve them. Share stories about people that are doing amazing things. Highlight the best examples, ignore the worst. Create a positive environment for people that want to use the benefits of the community to achieve something.
- Let others take over. At some point people are going to come along and take over the community. Don't fight them, let them. Even ask for people to take over if you need to. Or invite the community to nominate someone to take over.
- Develops a participation-reward ladder. The people that participate the most are the ones that get extra rewards. They get invited to meet with the CEO, or given tickets to attend games. Maybe their advice is the first sought for new products, or they get first look. The more people participate, the greater their rewards. String this ladder out as far as possible. Look to MMORPGs for inspiration, WoW has over 60 levels – thousands of players are committed to reaching the highest levels.
- PR. Like outreach, but to more traditional media. Once the community has reached a significant size, it's time to target the big media outlets and add the final 00s. Forget press releases, focus on getting individual journalists to join and enjoy your community, then write up their experiences.
- Quit. Once the community is at a self-managing stage, quit. Focus on building a new community for the company, or convincing the company to target it's efforts to it's community.
There is more than this, a lot more. For starter's this is missing the client-side work. Establishing expectations. Persuading clients to dedicate resources and attention to the community, and much more. If you had more ideas of what a community builder does, please add them.
Update: Jess, the brilliant community manager of Triiibes, adds:
- Resolving Disputes. Not everyone is going to get along. You need to be a great moderator of resolving disputes.
This is about the numbers -vs- engagement battle. This was highlighted by Seth and Scoble back in June. There is absolutely no point in having a member in your community who doesn’t participate. It’s an irrelevant figure. If you couldn’t measure inactive members, you would ignore them right?
The opposite is to have a waiting list. What’s the maximum number of conversations you can have without overwhelming members? You can grow your community in blocks until it feels right. New people can join a waiting list. Every month you kick out the members that haven’t visited or participated and invite people from the waiting list. 1 in, 1 out.
You can really have fun with this. Why not create a quick separate group just for people on the waiting list? What would happen if they could do things that would move them up the waiting list? What if you let members voted who should be on the waiting list.
Having a waiting list costs nothing and increases the value of community. Imagine a community without idlers, a community with everyone participates.
How many marketing plans include the line “and if that fails, we’ll try this…”
If a plan fails, you’re out and another agency is in. Both sides are unprepared for failure, namely because neither dared to bring it up at the beginning.
Why not be brave and include failure as part of the strategic plan for success?
Can’t we have a line like “and if this strategy fails, we’re going to try this”. Can’t we have five different strategies to achieving an objective instead of one? Try them one at a time, learn together with your client, and find one that works for you both.
I’m not so sure you can build a community management agency. It’s just not ripe for group-play.
I do think you can train, license and franchise community managers. This isn’t about an industry body. It’s about great community managers training, licensing or franchising others.