You join a community because members are like you, in some way. They buy the same products, live in the same neighbourhood, work in the same industry, support the same teams. You have at least 1 common interest.
But what if you had 2 common interests, or 3?
If you sell gardening equipment nationwide, you might start a national gardening community. Why not build a Wisconsin gardening community? Or a gardening communities for people in their 20s? Why not a retired-gardener community?
It’s easier to get 90% of Wisconsin gardeners to join a community than 1% of gardeners nationwide. It’s more fun too. Wisconsin gardeners will also be a closer, more focused and easier community to grow.
The beauty is you haven’t lost out on anything. You can start another community for gardeners in their 20s, or those who grow specific plants or even by the size of their gardens. There is no maximum on shared interest. The more people you target, the less connected they are.
If you’re struggling to build a community, add another common interest and focus your efforts.
Don't target eveyone relevant to you. Target eveyone relevant to them.
You’re about to start a community, but you find three thriving communities already. What do you do?
You add yours at the top. It’s a mindset change. You would be crazy to compete with 3 thriving communities, so encapsulate them in yours. Change the boundaries. Be the community that is the summary of those within it.
You can cover what current communities are doing. Create discussions out of their activities. Interview key members from each of these communities. Have a person of the month. Highlight the major events taking place in each of these communities.
Now your outsiders aren’t rival communities, they’re rival industries.
There is an easy way to measure how your community is doing.
Look at how people talk about themselves and each other. Do they use “I”, “s/he”, “they”? Or do they say “we” and “us”?
Now look at the language you’re using when you talk to your community.
Do you say “you should stop being mean to new members” or do you say “we should stop being mean to new members”?
“I’m going to find a VIP you can interview” …becomes… “lets find a VIP to interview”.
This is as easy to change as it is to forget and ignore.
It’s crazy to be annoyed with a community consultant that recommends you don’t build a community.
Trust me, only the good consultants will turn down the work. They’ve just saved you a lot of time, money and pain on something that wouldn’t have worked.
You can find 1000 community builders that will say yes. It’s much, much, harder to find 1 who will say no.
These are the community consultants you should recommend to others.
Launch a customer community council.
Invite your customers to join your council community council. Every 4 months the council is flown (expenses paid) to meet the CEO, R&D and marketing teams to improve the company for the community.
There are 5 council spots available. Any customer can put themselves forward. They register on your site, gain support of members and are voted in.
Lets take this further. Every council member will have a direct line to a senior customer-service member. Disgruntled customers can contact council members for help or grievences.
It shows you care and jump-starts your community efforts.
Many community consultants tell clients how to build a community.
That’s not enough.
Knowing how to build a community is easy. Having the resources, mindset, opportunity and the ability to build a community matter is harder.
If you’re a consultant, your advice and recommendations should cover the following:
- Is your product interesting enough to have a community?
- Does the boss see the benefit and importance of a community?
- Are all the key people within the company included in the project?
- Do they understand what makes a community unique from typical marketing initiatives?
- Does at least one person have responsibility for the community?
- Is it his/her full-time job?
- Do the people involved in the community respect the time-commitment involved?
- Is the company willing to adapt based upon the feedback and actions of their community?
- Have competitors tried to launch a community and succeeded or failed (with reasons)? How can you copy their successes and avoid their failures?
- Are potential members easy to identify?
- Are potential members easy to engage in a conversation? Do they seem open to a community?
- Can the company adequately reward members of your community with first-look, trial products, recognition, invites to events etc?
- Are potential members highly technical or less so?
- What are the big contentious issues to avoid?
- Is this a long-term project for the company?
Recommending not to have a community is as important a recommendation as deciding to have one. Create a checklist that a company should pass for you to recommend a community, and stick to it.
Are you going to build a community about your company or about your industry?
Your instinct is to build a company community. You have more control, bigger benefits and members gobble up everything you sell. You’ve probably heard more about the communities of Dell, Apple and Innocent Drinks than industry communities.
But you’re much more likely to fail. Most people didn’t actively participate in any company community.
Only businesses with a distinct personality, sell sociable products or make a big impact on their customers’ lives can build a company community. If you can’t change your business for your community, you’re not allowed to have one.
It’s easier to build a community for your industry. You’re more impartial and focused on creating a valuable community. You benefit with great feedback, having lots of people to talked to and becoming the one company in your industry that cares.
If you can’t align your business to fit your community, focus on creating a community for your industry.
Go with the members you’ve got, the rest will join later.
When you start your community building efforts, many people wont join. Not right away. It doesn’t matter how persuasive you are, many people just don’t want to risk their time on something ‘new’.
Others will act snooty towards it. They’ll bash it and criticise it until they can’t afford to ignore it anymore (See: Twitter/Facebook).
You can waste a lot of time trying to persuade these people to join. Ignore them for now (that includes their insults). Focus on the members that you’ve got.
Spend your time on those that believe in your community. Increase the value of your community from the inside. The rest will join later, if you let them.
If you’ve read this already, you might have missed some really important lessons.
- Don’t Set Restrictive Objectives. We’re not using Twitter as they expected. We send links, filter information for friends, share news/ideas and explain what’s caught our attention at any moment. If the Twitter team had tried to guide their community to set objectives, they would have killed the business.
- Spam-Free Philosophy. Twitter didn’t spam anyone to join. Friends of the creators joined, then their friends, and more people. No-one spammed strangers to join. You want 90% of your members to hear about the community from friends, not you.
- Ignore the Media. Twitter ignored the media. No-one pitched the press to write about it. Instead they grew until they became too important for the media to ignore. This works for niche communities too.
- Low Costs. Every community should cost as little as you can afford. The cheaper it is to launch the community, the less the need for instant results and profits. Now you can get on with doing your job.
- Don’t Ask For Anything. Twitter didn’t ask users for money, nor many personal details to join. They didn’t make us jump through any hoops or try to make money directly from us. The less you ask your community for, the bigger it can be.
It’s hard to imagine a toilet paper community. Especially one that benefits the client in a big way.
Some products are services just aren’t important enough for a community. If you have a dull product, you have 3 options.
- Build A Broader Community. Do you sell toilet paper? Start a community about bathrooms or hygiene. Your product doesn’t have to dominate a community, it just needs to be a small part of a good one.
- Run A Campaign. BlendTec’s Will it blend? isn’t a community. it’s a campaign. It’s a very clever campaign. If you’re going to buy a blender, you think Blendtec. What can you do for toilet paper? If I’m going to buy toilet paper, what’s going to make me think of you?
- Develop Evangelists. What’s going to motivate your customers to tell others about you? How can you make the telling easy? How can you coach them to talk about you? How can you reward them? Can you run an evangelist program? Perhaps each member can send 50 rolls of toilet paper to a friend every month.
The more dull your product is, the more creative you need to be. For a dull product you can create a community that’s more relevant, run a campaign with high impact for a very short time, or have a big impact on a much smaller number of people.
The answer is the same as the maximum.
One, and that’s you (say hi!).
Your community starts with getting yourself involved. If your mind isn’t really in this, if this community doesn’t sound like a place you’ll visit on weekends, then you have no-one to start a community with. And that’s just dumb.
Worry less about the minimum number of people you need to start a community. Worry more about who you’re going to invite next.
You don’t need to launch big, you need to grow big.
Once you’re in, you can invite 10 friends. Then 10 more…
But it all starts with you. Are you in?