How To Start An Online Community

February 26, 2013Comments Off

We've covered this before, but many people are new here. 

Skipping the internal aspects, this is our process. We've simplified it as much as possible. 

 

Build up a list of 50 to 150 potential members

Build up a list of 50 to 150 potential members of the target audience. You can find these people through a variety of channels. Existing relationships/contacts/customers works best, social media channels is secondary. There are lots of examples here.

As a tip, look especially for words or actions members of your target audience are likely to do. 

 

Make contact with each of these members

This is a full-time job. Begin outreach messages to each of them. Ask them an ice-breaker, something that's relevant to who they are, what they do/have done, or what they think/feel about a certain issue. If you can't establish these early relationships, don't even think about growing a community. 

This is when they list of 50 to 150 potential members begins to dwindle. Some you can't sustain relationships with, others simply won't have any interest in you. Especially to lose up to 50% at this stage. You can read Tim's post for some help on good outreach. Skip to a few paragraphs down, 

 

Interview them

When you have a good standing, ask them if they wouldn't mind speaking on the phone for a few minutes about a project you're working on. Specifically, you want to know more details about who they are (demographics), what they spend most time doing (habits), and what they think/feel about different issues in that sector (psychographics).

This is simplified, but specific questions we ask include: "What are your biggest problems/challenges", "What are your goals/aspirations/dreams?". You can base your entire community concept around this. 

Importantly, at the end of the interview ask if they would like to be one of the founding members of the community. These people are the first members of your community. You want to have good relationships with each of them. It helps if you're already a prominent, participating, member of the community. 

 

Conceptualize the community

This is a huge topic, see here. Based upon your data, decide the following:

1) Who the community is for (pick a specific sub-group of the interest to begin with. Use demographics, habits, or psychographic clusters)

2) What the community is about (similar to the above, be specific. i.e. This is a community for {x} that believe/like/do/are {x}.

3) What type of community it will be (action, place, interest, circumstance, practice). Use your competitive analysis here to make sure it is the only community of its kind. 

4) What will the community aim to do / What will happen in the community. These two are connected. 

 

Build a founding members group

Begin inviting these founding members to a mailing list, Facebook/LinkedIn group, or some other simple platform. Invite a few members per day. Initiate regular discussions based upon the biggest challenges they highlighted in the interviews. Directly reach out to the people you invite and ask them to give their opinions on the discussions. Continue inviting a few more people every day until you reach the 25 to 50 mark. 

Remember, if they're not actively participating, it doesn't count.

At this stage you typically rejig the concept around the topics that got the most discussion/generated the most excitement in the community. This is a quick process of testing different community concepts until you find the one people love the most. 

Once the platform is ready, move the discussions across and use the initial group as the insider/volunteer/meta group.

Keep inviting new people, initiating discussions, soliciting responses and building relationships with key members. You will find it soon begins growing by itself. it will begin taking off by itself. You will also find you can begin initiating regular events/activities for the community, plan out a regular content schedule, and focus on other elements of the community management framework

Good luck.

If you want to learn more, sign up for our training day on March 9th at the London School of Economics. 

 

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