Not everyone seems to know why they want to build an online community. It reminds me of this great video:
Here's my take on it.
Step 1) Build an online community.
Step 2) Ask them what products they want, then make those products. Sell these products to them, and encourage them to sell to their friends.
Step 3) Profit.
Sure there's increased brand loyalty, market research opportunities and cost savings on advertising/PR. But if you need an explanation of what to do with your shiny new online community – this might help. It's easier than collecting underpants.
How about finding the community manager first and letting her scope out out the community a little? Let her develop the online profiles of the audience and then hire the techies…if you need them.
If the people you’re trying to reach only use Facebook, then a dazzling blog with an integrated wiki/YouTube platform, wrapped snugly in the client’s branding, isn’t helpful. Worse, the client will want to use it, because it cost a lot.
The difference, is the community builder has a vested interested in building a thriving community. I like to point to previous communities I’ve built and say “see, I can do this”. A techie wants to point to the best-looking infrastructure possible and say “you see, I build that. It looks great!”.
Which will work best for your business?
Part of the community builder's job is to find and train his/her replacement. You don't want The Apple Dilemma; one great leader propping everything up.
But how do you find your replacement?
Give your community members as many opportunities to put themselves forward. Here are a few ideas:
- Open up forum moderation duties
- Ask for help creating content
- Create a size-limited committee to discuss community issues and strategy.
- Who wants to help create a new logo/design?
- Arrange an interview with your client or someone within your field, and call for questions from the community. Who submits 1? Who submits 5?
- Create new roles, and see who wants them "head of growth", "traffic analyst" hmm..
- Run a campaign. Say you're leaving in 3 months and you need a replacement. The community gets to campaign and vote. Watch out for rifts (and Alaskan pitbulls).
When you find a replacement, or several, be sure to give them responsibility. And some money would be nice too.
Every so often, a big company realises they need to provide their customers with a platform to talk to each other.
It's tempting to launch big, promote heavy and ramp up to 80,000 registered members. I think that's a mistake. The outcome can be a mess that drives either newcomers or existing members away. Here are two different approaches:
1) Launch Elite: Use the big company's connections to recruit the most elite and highly regarded community members possible. Make this a community everyone else wants to join. Then let these people decide who else they want in and the structure.
2) Launch niches: Launch by area, topic, or any other niche. Then go about connecting the niches to each other.
Start small, get the right interactions, the right structure and grow steadily.
A lot of people are arriving here from Seth's blog at the moment, so here are 5 things worth knowing.
- I'm a British community builder. I help companies build online communities and then ride away into the sunset.
- I'm currently working with Seth Godin in New York (until Nov 22).
- I'd love to hear about communities you're building and discussing ideas.
- Offers of work are greatly appreciated, though advance notice helps (unless you urgently need me in Hawaii).
- I'm writing an ebook about building online communities. Could use an editor/feedback.
And here are a few of my favourite posts to get you started:
- 6 things only good community builders can do
- How not to launch an online community
- Should you kick people out of your online community?
- No-one wants to do the hard work
- How to spend a £30m marketing budget
- Building a 12,000 strong community
Hopefully you'll visit again.
So say you hire me to build you an online community.
I do my job well, I build relationships with the key members, tighten the group around me and you pay my invoices on time.
Then one day something goes wrong.
Maybe you pay an invoice late, or I want to up my rates. Does your community belong to you and me? Can you stop me from using my relationships and emigrating with your community? Maybe to your competitors?
It's a predicament. If you don't get involved, you could be in trouble.
So it's best to take an interest. Make sure you get the consultancy, as well as the labour, from your community manager. Why not ask her "so who are the key members?" and drop them a nice e-mail from time to time? Discounts, sneak previews and fancy offers work well.
If you wouldn't give one salesman responsibility for all your big accounts, why would you give your community manager entire responsibility for your community?
I'm flying out from Gatwick to New York tomorrow morning.
Will blog when and where I can.
Whether it's an online community, YouTube competition, Facebook group or even a blog, you need to have a core group of people already there, already engaged.
Chris Brogan thinks you need to plant seeds. Maybe start some conversations for people to get involved when they join. He's right (he always is), but you also need to focus on getting to double-digits before promoting it around the web. I prefer the party metaphor. Imagine inviting hundreds of people to turn up one at a time to a party. If nobody's there, they will leave. It don't matter how good the venue looks, or how tasty the snacks are.
That's why you should always, always, begin you're online marketing efforts by making as many individual interactions as possible. Try to get 10 to 20 people together, and tighten the group a little. Now you can encourage them to invite friends and eventually promoting your online effort. Wait as long as you can possibly afford.
It's easy to take this a step further. Find those 10 – 20 people first, and ask them what sort of community, competition or blog they would like. It's easier to find the first 10 – 20 people then.
No-one turns up to an empty party twice. If you launch with nothing, you're ruining your chances of engaging these people in the future. We only have one shot at getting this right.
Jason Calacanis is the most disliked web 2.0 celebrity.
This is the great connector of Silicon Valley only a decade ago. He founded Weblogs Inc, sold it to AOL for $25m and launched a new semantic web-search engine, Mahalo. He's achieved more than 95% of the web celebrities on the list. He should be loved.
But for all his great achievements, his online ego precedes him.
There was a time when you could be mean on the internet. It was fun. You could log in, indulge your ego, argue about movies and get into heated scraps. Now you can't. Now you have to act like you're in a room full of people.
Technology doesn't matter anymore. Maybe it never did. If you say mean things on the internet, you're a mean person. If you rave about yourself, you're are narcissist. And never, ever, trade personal insults.
It goes beyond this. Would you desperately prove someone is wrong online when you would normally agree to disagree? Would you post an anonymous comment when you wouldn't mumble it under your breath? And would you ever join a mob and attack someone you didn't know?
These are symptoms of thinking the internet is a place. It isn't, not anymore. Only spell checkers still capitalise the I in internet.
Kicking people out of a community can be one of the best things you can do. Here's why:
- It proves you're not playing the numbers game. You're committed to quality over quantity.
- It motivates members to contribute more often.
- The community will move quicker, and achieve more.
- It rewards the members that do contribute. They're now in an exclusive club, not many can get in.
- It makes communication easier.
I might go one further and suggest putting caps on your community. This focuses your efforts from the beginning. Even better, you can have a waiting list.
So go and start kicking out those pesky lurkers and leeches, just be prepared to stand your ground against unamused clients.
“Can't anyone do it?”
That's what a solar-panel installer had the nerve to ask me on the train 2 weeks ago. Can anyone build an online community?
Sure they can. Anyone can learn how to install solar panels as well, or even perform open heart surgery. Anyone that's dedicated enough can learn to do just about anything. I think his question was more about what's the difference between a good community builder and a bad one. What separates the seasoned pro, from the newcomer off the streets?
For community builders, the answer is the process. Here a few things only good community builders can do:
- Use different strategies to go from 0 to 10 members, 10 to 100 and 100 to 1000.
- Work out how long it's going to take to build a community
- Identify the people that matter in the community
- Keep the management happy and patient with the progress
- Charge a good rate for the work
- Pass leadership of the community to itself, and walk away happy
Yesterday Dell launched a new online community, www.digitalnomads.com. Like it's name, it's a community site for people who seek freedom from the office, to come and connect with each other.
I think this is brilliant for six reasons.
- It ties in perfectly with the company. It's not a community about Dell, it's a community about working remotely.
- They have some superstars involved to help launch it.
- They've discovered the cause to attract people, it's not Dell laptops, it's office freedom.
- The content looks like it will be great, with plenty of great advice about working from anywhere and tips for finding WiFi hot spots.
- Dell's promotion is kept to the minimal.
- It's perfectly tied to current and future trends
What Dell get right, and so many companies get wrong, is the dream. Very few products are capable of bringing people together. It's difficult to form a community around your solar panels, it's a lot easier to form a community for people who want to generate their own electricity. Find the cause or 'dream' that your product fits into, and create a community for that.