Buy what you sell. It’s advice from Zig Ziglar, and it’s well suited to building online communities.
If you’ve been hired to build a community of green shoppers, then you need to become a green shopper. If you’ve been hired to build a community for Virgin Atlantic travellers, you need to fly Virgin Atlantic.
It works, it really does. Less apathy, more passion, stronger connections.
Sometimes new members do find their way to your community. Sometimes they do invite their friends. Sometimes you don't need to do much work to make this happen.
It's probably not a good idea to bet your client's fee on 'sometimes'. A better approach is to think of tactics and a process to stimulate growth.
Here are a few ideas to grow your community from existing members.
- Ask members to invite friends. Very simple, often overlooked. Doesn't always work without a reason though.
- Keep score of top recruiters. If a member gets 5 friends to join, reward them. If they invite 10, give them a super reward. Better still, keep score and reward the best each month. If each new member helps you generate a profit, share it with whoever recruited them.
- The "share this" page. Whenever anyone adds content, use the confirmation page to let them tell their friends. Maybe by e-mail, msn, Twitter or share it on their blog/delicious etc.
- Encourage Pride. Related to the above, tackle a sin (pride, wrath, greed). e.g. Imagine you run a poetry website and a budding author is criticised, encourage all authors to get their friends to support them.
- Competitions. Competitions work, especially ones where the winners are decided by popular vote. This means participants rally their friends and colleagues to visit and get involved. Be sure to keep these newcomers involved.
- Give members something for their friends. Empower members to become super-popular in their social circles. If you run a wine community, offer a bottle of wine to every friend of who joins.
- Share the wealth. If there are points, air miles or any sort of currency involved. Let members share it. Let people give their air-miles to people taking a trip soon. Let everyone try to beat the system.
- Provoke debates between popular groups. If you say Arsenal are rubbish. I'm going to say you're wrong. In fact, I'm going to rally my friends to get involved and say you're wrong. Many blogs and news sites are thriving by provoking political debates. Find the major issues in your community, and explore them.
- Birthdays and celebrations. If someone's in your community, it's a safe bet they care. So let them create a birthday list page of products they might want from your company, and offer their friends discounts/bonuses if they buy from that page (remember to get their birthdays too). Amazon and JustGiving run do this well.
- Interviews. It's no surprise when you interview someone, they're likely to get their friends to read. So keep these newcomers in your loop, at the end of the interview ask them to participate in a poll on a topic that came up during the interview, or discuss the interview in the forums.
- Appoint recruiters. Find the true believers in your community, and put them in charge with recruiting new members. It's like outsourcing your marketing, only to people who love to do the work.
- Delegate Jobs and Ownership. Let the people who want to be more involved, become more involved. Give them part ownership, maybe even establish a little democracy (with voting off course). The more they feel in control of the community, the harder they'll try to recruit friends – and election season will swell the community quicker than any natural force of nature.
- Make membership exclusive Why not close membership and instead only let each member nominate 1 person per month. Imagine 100% growth every month. Even better, why not 1 member per 3 months, or year? 100% growth every year isn't bad. Scarcity is great.
Some of these ideas overlap, some ideas are missing. Be sure to add any great ideas you have.
You’ve already done the hard bit, you’ve found your customers. Aside from advertising, how else can you make money from your online community.
Using yesterday’s Divorce360 as an example, here are 10 ideas which might work.
- Ask the community what their dream legal, financial and counselling services would be, then create them. Members only.
- Arrange events for the group to attend, and charge entry. Maybe hire great divorce experts to speak.
- Write a book and sell it to the group.
- Better still, let your best members write an eBook, then sell it to others (or give it away free with advertising).
- Affiliate Marketing. Find perfect products for your group, put them on the approved Divorce360 list, and sell them via an affiliate scheme to your group’s members.
- Find the products your group most need, buy them in bulk and sell them via an online shop (or dropshipping).
- Close the group and charge for entry. Remember to give a % of the profits to the best and most active members.
- Add in a premium headhunting/referral/dating service.
- Encourage your best members to offer a premium service/advice line to newcomers.
- Create an educational/tutorship program.
Some of these ideas overlap a little. If you have more, please add them.
Divorce360 breaks all the rules.
It’s a thriving online community that shouldn’t exist. Sure divorce is an ugly issue, but more it’s that Divorce360 defies most common logic of launching an online community.
Here are 7 rules that Divorce360 has broken, I’m sure there are more.
1) They launched big. Typically the biggest online communities start small, build up a following, and then go on a promotional spree. Divorce360 went straight for the kill – and it worked.
2) They rely on advertising. This is an online community that began with profit in mind. Not one that evolved into a profit-machine. They have no services to offer, and instead, rely on big page views to generate ROI from advertising.
3) The members are occasion orientated. In theory members should come for advice when getting divorced, stick around or a few months, then vanish and forget all about it. Instead the members are making lifelong friendships and connections. They pass on what they have learnt to others. It’s like a pregnancy group.
4) They rely upon search engine traffic. This community relies upon search engine traffic. Search engine traffic is usually a bouncy, unreliable, means of building a community. It’s hard to connect people together if this is how they’ve found the community.
5) The founder has never been divorced. Imagine that. The founder, a happily married male, has never been divorced. Yet he managed to start and connect others together.
7) They have high overheads. The companies employs 6 full-time members of staff. That’s some overhead to cover before you can even think about generating a profit.
So what does this all mean? With the right people, the right interactions and a flair for community building – almost any community can work.
Or we try to. Most of the time I suspect these good motivations are a cloak for fame, money, power, sex and influence. Which is why it might make sense to build a strategy upon a sin (sorry church-goers).
Here's a list; Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride. If someone's pride at stake, you can bet they'll join you're community.
If you think this is inherently bad, remember how many marketing strategies are built upon envy, greed and lust. Even better, consider how many good causes are built upon wrath? Save the _______, environmental Groups, even top 10 charities
Me and Sally have been debating copyright. Perhaps a little more heatedly than we should. Her web copy has been stolen and she's furious, as most people would be.
So does she get legal on the thief and have the copy taken down? What about next time? What about if 50 people do it? Or 500? How much time and money can you spend chasing up your copyright? Especially when programs can be written to automatically steal your web copy the second it's published.
What options does she have? If she lets it slide then she risks losing clients who fear their competitors will get the work they're paying for, for free. If she spends her time and money chasing it up, you have to feel that will be at the expense of current client work.
I'm on the unpopular 'change your business model' side of the fence. I think we need to make our work more copyright proof. If you do web copy, maybe you should advise your client to make their products and services so unique it doesn't make sense anywhere else.
Nobody steal's Apple's web copy, nor Dyson's. Their copy wouldn't make sense for anyone else. Nobody steals Tesco's low-prices and uses them on their site neither. The fact that Sally's web copy, especially product descriptions, can be stolen and used on another website says something about the lack of difference between the two companies.
Isn't technology amazing? You can watch the Inbound Marketing Summit Live through my blog. I'm not even there. It's a massive testament to the spread of ideas and technology. Here's the schedule (local time).
Think about this; for your next product launch you might not need to invite anyone. You just need to make sure the right bloggers have the right code at the right time. Incredible stuff.
It’s amazing how easily you can reach your client on the phone when they are paying good money for your services. Money is respect, and good money raises you a few notches on a client’s to-do list.
Is it far-fetched to believe the more you charge, the better co-operation you will have with your client, and the greater the success of the project?
Martin Reed has recently launched a new online community for women.
Martin makes a great point: “when developing any website, you need to accept that it will never be perfect and it will never be ‘finished’. A website is a living entity – it should be continuously developing, maturing and improving.”
If you let a client spend $20,000 building the website, they’re going to want a return on that investment as soon as possible.
Lets the expenses mirror growth. Maybe begin using a free forum. Grow a little, then spend on a new forum, or website. Grow a little more, spend a little more. You can’t be disappointed.
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.