Building a community is like pushing a car uphill. It’s a lot of effort. Gradually you build momentum and the hill gets less steep. Then you get to a point where the car starts to roll away from you, and you walk away happy*
Managing a community is keeping that car on the road as it speeds away. You have to make sure it doesn’t crash, run out of fuel or neglect it’s maintenance.
to put it more literally: Building is about creating the right structure, cajoling the right people and creating an autonomous group that can thrive without you. Managing is about keeping the group together, keeping clear communications between client/community and ensuring the community doesn’t collapse.
* Please don’t ever do this.
This is a complicated, but brilliant, idea. Grab a big sheet of paper and draw out how the community is going to work. It forces you to think with absolute clarity.
Think of it as a flow diagram, only a little more fun. Here are a few of the things your diagram might include…
- You: Create yourself as a square, circle or whichever shape you like. You community begins with what you do, what your actions are, who you contact. So be specific about what you (not the client, not the customers) are going to do.
- Client. Where is the client in this, what inputs/work will they need to put in? Draw out where.
- People. Hopefully categorised people. Which groups are going to do what?
- Links: Show the links (communications) between people. Each link (a line/arrow) should have 3 things: Motivations, Methods and Message
- Motivations: On each line connecting people include explain why they are doing it. What’s the benefit to them?
- Methods: How are people going to communicate with each other? Is it going to be by e-mail, in person, through forums, by phone via blogs?
- Message: What are people telling each other. Don’t leave anything to chance. Work out what sort of messages you believe people need to say to each other.
- Two Loops. Your diagram should have two very important loops. Without either, you’re guaranteed to fail.
- Loop 1: The first loop is what is going to keep existing members coming back. e.g. Facebook has people writing on your wall and sending you e-mailed notifications.
- Loop 2: The autonomous loop which gets existing members inviting new ones into the cycle without you. Sure you can keep fuelling the fire, but it shouldn’t burn out as soon as you’ve gone.
- Tactics to Grow. Create boxes/shapes for tactics/strategies you want to use to grow the community. Place them at the points you believe they are needed to grow.
The more detailed and precise this diagram is, the better and easier your community will be. You can also test it in stages, or create alternative routes if something might not work. What else would you add?
If you can’t draw it, you can’t do it.
Please don't give in to temptation. You can invite thousands of people to join your community in minutes, but don't do it.
This is the single, most critical part of your work. If you get it wrong, you've just repelled thousands of potential members. Probably for good. Every e-mail can spell the difference between a lifelong customer or a customer vigilante.
With that in mind, here is a good list of Dos and Don'ts in your outreach. Please forgive the torrid HTML.
|Personalise every e-mail with this information||Mail-merge or copy/paste e-mails|
|Carefully select who, when and how to invite||Invite everyone indiscriminately|
|Explain why you selected them||Cluster people into general groups, e.g. "farmers"|
|Call members if you know them.||Call numbers from a list|
|Treat the e-mail as the beginning of a conversation||End the e-mail without a question or an opportunity for them to consider|
|Ask for their ideas to improve the community||Fail to act on them, or celebrate those that suggested the idea|
|Offer something scarce or unique to every person||Offer money|
|Offer to contact anyone else they know for them||Demand they "send this to everyone in their inbox"|
|Ask if they might be interested in contributing a regular column/feature||Offer this to people who are awful at writing|
|Name-drop people they know who have joined||Throw numbers at them|
|Be as brief as possible||Use anything from the marketing collateral|
|Have a list of bullet-points you need to cover||Work from a template e-mail|
|Be informal||Unless you're addressing formal groups|
|Try to strike an emotion or inflame an ambition||Think everyone is motivated by the same things|
|Explain the dream/vision/purpose of the community||Be dishonest. If the client wants something explain what|
|Leave recipients alone if they don't reply||e-mail until you get a response|
|Understand outreach takes a lot of time. Full-time.||Get the work experience kid to do it…in his own time|
|Remember to explain who you are, and what you do||Pretend to be anything you're not.|
Reaching out to people is a really delicate process. Don't try to bludgeon your way through it. It's not a process to be rushed, it's one to be enjoyed.
Plan who you're going to invite, what you're going to say and put in the time. The time you put in here will pay itself off many times over.
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.
No Online Community succeeds because it looks fantastic.
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.