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?
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.
Here is my point. You can't protect your brand name online. If NelsonMandela was registered then I could've picked NMandela, Mandela, NelsonM, Nelsieboy etc…If those were all taken on Twitter, I could've used Plurk or Jaiku. I could've registered NelsonMandela.typepad.com or on wordpress or blogger. I could've posted comments as him on any number of political forums.
If I'm really determined to impersonate Nelson Mandela, I'm going to find a way to do it. Likewise, if someone is really determined to impersonate you or your brand online, they're going to do it. This could drive some people crazy. If I could do this to Nelson Mandela what could I do to your brand?
Not much. I can't sabotage Nelson's brilliant reputation with fake announcements. I can't sneakily declare war on RobertMugabe (who's also available – thanks Stephen), and I really doubt @GordonBrown, @GeorgeBush or @JohnMcCain are doing much damage neither. Letting those people bother you, is the same as being bothered about what every mindless critic might think.
If you want to engage, then engage. If you don't, don't. Whatever you choose, you shouldn't worry about something you really don't have much control over.
And don't sweat, I'll delete the account next week.
89. That’s my final count. That’s the number of separate people I have communicated with today.
- 3 mobile phone calls
- 6 Texts
- 2 Skype voice chat
- 1 Skype text conversation
- 11 on Instant Messenger
- 8 people on Twitter
- 21 e-mails
- 7 in a forum
- 11 on Triiibes
- 13 separate blog comments
- 4 Facebook messages
- 1 Suspect Washing Machine Repairman
- 1 Unimpressed girlfriend
This is a conservative tally. It neglects people who read my blog, or follow me on Twitter, but didn’t share a unique communication with me today. It’s also a lower number than usual, I didn’t leave the house today. I really have no idea if 89 is a high number or a low number? What would you guess your interactions to be?
Here are my key points:
- Over the 13 hours I kept this tally, I communicated with close to 7 people an hour. That’s more than 1 every ten minutes. How do we get things done?
- I recalled the key points of all these communications without writing them down. I think our memory is getting better at filtering out the small talk and plucking out the key points
- Only 8% were real-time voice chats. Will my generation lose the ability to talk in person?
- Distractions. There are too many of them. We need to be better at saying “we’re too busy to talk”. More than that, we need to be accepting “too busy to talk” without offense.
- My girlfriend, an architect at site meetings most of the day, just guessed 19 for the day. Clearly there’s a big gap here. Where do you fit in?
- If I had a message I wanted to get out to as many people as possible. I could do it well. If I had a more complicated message to get out, demanding more attention and real-time communication, it might be more tricky.
None of you would ever know. Would you? My blog would stay inactive until my debit card was cancelled and my Typepad account expired. It would be a mystery unless you checked my Facebook page. I’m assuming some friends might comment on the wall – which in itself might become the ‘new’ obituary.
That just feels wrong somehow.
So here’s what I think. I think I should tell someone else about my password and my social media profiles. I think it should be very easy for someone to access my profile on such an occasion and mention I’ve passed on. I’m sure some people would want to know (wouldn’t you?)
Social Media is such an important part of my life. It would be tragic if nobody ever knew I had passed on. If I died relatives and loved ones would be able to access my home, contact my bank and otherwise represent my interests. So why not my Social Media Profile? Shouldn’t we treat our online presence and our online contacts, with a little more respect?
Two strange things happened last week. The first is this fake Guinness advert that’s caused quite an uproar. The second is Janet, an ExxonMobile employee speaking for the company on Twitter, was exposed as a fake. How do you handle this?
Brand-jacking, as Jeremiah likes to call it, is the cheapest and most effective means of making a protest we’ve seen in a while. Imagine what activists groups, wronged employees and even competitors can do pretending to be you? What’s stopping me from registering a Twitter account as you and circulating fake news? If your answer is my good conscience, you should read the rest of this post.
Shel thinks think the solution is to claim everything. That would mean registering the RichardMillington domain and subscribing to every service possible (Jaiku, Plurk, Twitter, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Facebook, MySpace, etc etc) to claim my rightful name. That doesn’t work for two reasons. The first is that I share my name with many other Richard Millingtons. The second is that new services will always be created. It’s just not worth the time and effort to claim them all.
For the same reason you just can’t monitor everything. Even with the greatest Google alerts and monitoring software out there, new services and comments can always slip through the net
A Simpler Solution
There is a simpler solution, just have a base of operations for all your online efforts. Somewhere for all your fans/followers/customers to see who and what you are.
For the corporate companies, that’s your website. For the individuals, that’s probably your blog or Facebook page. I suggest every company should have a page on their website (if not from the home page itself) that serves as their base of online operations. A page that lists the blogs of employees, YouTube adverts uploaded, Twitter accounts, LinkedIn, everything that you want associated with your company. This will do two things. It will make it almost impossible for your company to be brandjacked (or at least brandjacked visible by people who care about you and your company), second it will publicise your efforts to those that do care. Lets turn the website from a page into a conduit.