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Monday, October 5, 2015

Community Building Secrets: they might come, but will they stay?

Have you really ever built a community? Like authentic community where people talk to each other, they identify with the community, shared philosophies, and were friends outside of the communication platform? If you're a brand, does your community align with industry organizations and the community? Does the community and industry organizations align with each other? Ideally, brands, communities, and industry organizations should overlap with each other.

Maybe you have and maybe you haven’t. Many website and fan pages may boast large numbers of users, but they still lack a community. These sites might have transient users, users who don’t interact with each other, and users don’t identify with the site or activity.

The dirty truth is that building a real community takes hard work and long hours. You must nurture it, protect it, and lead it. You can’t just build the infrastructure for a community (like a Facebook page) and expect it to grow.  I've seen many organizations assume that just because they have infrastructure, they deserve to own the community members. Sorry, it just won’t happen. Here’s a great article by Erik Martin on managing Reddit’s community. Also, users aren't owned by organizations or brands unless they are paid employees.
The disadvantages of having a communities are that you are pretty much there, 24-7.
I’ve build several sites, and they don’t always have to be a community. It is nice to set a goals and boundaries on what you want for your website, blog, business, or hobby. Otherwise, building an online community can take over your entire life.

Follows are some basic activities that you must do when building an online community. They might seem pretty obvious, though in talking to people who seek answers on why community members never arrive or fail to stay; these are the core activities that are forgotten. I cannot stress enough the importance of each of these activities.
An example of a social graph.

  • Be present - Be there online. Be there offline. Be here at industry events. You can’t lead and you can’t build if you are not there. I hear people complain about the lack of attendance at events and lack of members, and my first question is “was all the leadership in attendance?” You might be surprised at how often that happens.
    • Be available - If you do in-house community management for a business, it can be rough looking at your feeds after hours. You need a break too; so spread out the monitoring duties with other team members or only check for urgent messages every few hours. My rule of thumb is that if it is an emergency, I’m available. Otherwise, it can wait.
  • Make connections - While building a community often means that you know everyone, one of your jobs should be that other members get to know other members. You need to make connections. It’s a group thing.  
    • Coordinate efforts between members - active and committed members in communities like to do things, and they are often the same things. Help members coordinate efforts and activities.
  • Recruit - for more mainstream communities (like food and automotives), content marketing and SEO may be great starts for a community. However, niche communities may require some serious recruiting. For some communities, I search in related groups or I call people, like with a phone. I actively ask people to help me recruit. I ask them to be ambassadors, and I ask for their feedback.
  • Market - think of the social benefits of your community, and market those value propositions. If your community has a bad rap, you need to re-position and re-brand your community. Focus on the value your community brings.
  • Create culture - make sure you curate in the fun and curate out the trolls and ugliness. Things people write on the Internet can be horrifying. No one wants to read that. Create a welcoming culture otherwise people will flee.
    • Stop the bickering - people will never agree on the Internet, but they can set aside the bickering and have fun instead. Life is too short to have thin skin or waste it being unhappy.
  • Create or integrate structure - Your community might already have some ongoing online or offline events. Create some online activities or integrate with other events that are already happening. In one of my niche dog groups, I do a monthly birthday card for all the dogs’ as well as yearly in-person events.

If you build it, they might come. If you nurture it and protect it, they will stay.

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