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.
Only about 5% of Facebook groups are active. It’s because most aren’t built by people with any skill in building online communities. Facebook is a wasteland of inactive groups.
Here is the problem…
When people create a Facebook group, they send invitations to most of their friends to join. Being friends, many accept and the group grows at a speedy rate. Too speedy.
It grows too fast to develop any relationships. Too fast for the creator to identify the important contributors. Too fast to develop some culture, traditions and etiquette.
All in all, it grows too fast to do the foundation work a community builder does.
Once people join there is nothing to keep them coming back, they have nothing invested in the success of that community. They have no relationships to keep up, no time and ego invested and nothing to gain. At no point did these members want to be part of the group.
This is the equivalent of mass e-mailing your customers and inviting them to join your community. It’s the easy road, one that lets you skimp on hiring community builders and get a quick result. The result being a list of members you just e-mailed.
Why not have a yearbook for your online community? Everyone that pays for a copy is included.
Everyone can submit pictures they want in it, and their best memories of being in that community. You could hand out awards too. It worked at high-school.
For that matter, why not start a company that lets people create their own year book? You can pick who you want in it. You could select which Facebook friends they want in it, add a bit of editorial and in-jokes and send to the printers.
With few exceptions, most campaigns to save a TV show fail. Rightly so. Viewing figures just don't lie, if a show isn't making a network enough money, it's gone. My favourite, Angel, had 4 million viewers in the USA alone when it was cancelled.
Many of these 4 million fans were furious. They mobilized themselves. They launched letter-writing campaigns, online petitions, blood and food drives, advertised in trade magazines and attempted to convince other networks to buy the show.
What a waste of time.
Today fans of cult shows can save their shows. The key is to stop trying to convince television executives, and start trying to convince the producers of show.
Negotiate a rate with the producers say $70m for a series or $10m for a 2 hour special. Now you just needs a means of collecting the money. If you don't reach the limit by a set date, everyone gets a refund.
How about £20 to watch the series as it's released (this gets you the DVD of course)? For £40 you also get a big dollop of merchandise? £400 gets you a spot as an extra on the show (yes, you get to meet the cast). £2000 gets you a speaking role. That's a quirky birthday present. If just 1 in 4 fans of this show's worldwide audience are happy to chip in, you should more than have enough to keep the show going.
Sprinkle in a little advertising revenue, and anything else you can make from merchandise, live events, behind the scenes etc and we're starting to make some headway. Don't convince the television execs, become them. Imagine how much the producers might enjoy making a show free from the mainstream pressures of television? It's exciting stuff.
Now, here's my favourite twist; imagine the power the fans suddenly have on the show. Jar-Jar Bink-like characters can be nixed in the bud before even reaching the screen. You can take this concept much, much, deeper. Fans can decide upon plot lines or opportunities, maybe even decide how much the stars should get paid?
These cult shows are the ones that can make the real money. Cult shows are the ones that fans will determinably watch, no matter what hoops they must jump through to do it.
If you want to learn how to build online communities. I can't think of a better place to start. Pick your favourite TV show and try to bring it back. Perhaps just a Christmas special. It's a cause, with an established audience and a measurable goal. You probably wont succeed, but what a way to learn.
Most online communities want a few members to contribute their time. So they put up a post asking for volunteers. They’re usually lucky to get any dedicated members.
Not many people want to do a job that the majority can’t be bothered to do. Fewer will take pride in doing it well.
Where is the appreciation and respect? Don’t invite contributors, headhunt them. Approach people you think are perfect for the positions, and tell them so.
Don’t try to build a community all by yourself.
It’s more work than any sane community builder should try to take on. Are you really going to produce every scrap of content yourself? Recruit and welcome every new member? Resolve every dispute?
Don’t try, it’s crazy.
Instead you need to find people who will enjoy doing this work. This means it’s your job to make this work enjoyable, and seek out the people who will enjoy it.
This isn’t the same enjoyment as watching a film. It’s something else. It’s the same joy of volunteering for charity, or contributing your ideas for free and just helping out someone else. This is the same joy that comes from deep human needs and desires, like being wanted, having power and feeling appreciated.
To reduce your work load, make your work enjoyable to others. Just don’t try any trickery, no-one’s going to paint your fences for you.
I have a new word, powerizing. It’s like unionising, only it sounds better. Adding to Seth’s piece today. Swing and independent voters should powerize themselves.
If you’re a swing voter or independent voter, then you absolutely must find every other swing or independent voter you know and build an online community. Think of the power. You’re in the 10% that will decide the election.
You could sell advertising to candidates and arrange your own events. You have the candidates at your mercy. If you think this through, you can do it for your local elections, anything that you have a democratic vote for.
You probably wont get anything as good as this though. Thank heavens for PMQ.
Stick with this second one, it’s brilliant.
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.