Recently a colleague of mine asked me “what are the most important things to do when building an online community?” I got to thinking about it and quickly had a list of about 40 things you HAVE to do being technology marketers. After spending a little time looking at the list and matching up similar concepts, I reduced the list to about 10 really important things you should do not only build, but maintain a strong community. I’ve written this list as to be platform agnostic. Whether you have or are just starting a company blog, running a forum or bulletin board, or developing your presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc., these tips will be of some use to you. So, the term “Community” that I use throughout this article refers to your user base, your potential customers, your followers and in general everyone who engages in any way with your products, brands and/or information; not so much your specific type of online community.
That being said, here are my Top 10 Tips:
1) Post all the time – In the early stages of any social media operation, you’ll need content and lots of it. It’s what search engines index and what brings people to your site. When just starting out, your community will be quite small and there won’t be much organic posting. Potential users who visit and see little activity will likely leave and not come back. It’s up to you to create content that attracts eyes, generates engagement and grows your community. It doesn’t just have to be you. A small team can easily create 5-10 forum posts a day (or Facebook posts, tweets, etc.) or post at least a blog entry daily. Work with folks in your company for content support and turn to your moderators, pull in your friends or social media colleagues. Heck once you have a growing community ask them directly to write about something specific.
2) Create awesome content, or at least content that is interesting – When I say “awesome”, I’m not saying you need to write the next Harry Potter, just quality content that is relevant to your user base and invites them to engage, be it through text, video, or some other media. Keep up with the interests of your community, track what types of posts are most viewed through Google Analytics or your platform’s native tools. Know what they like to read and what drives them to engage, and then target your writing towards these topics. This isn’t to say that you should steer away from rote news, second-string information that relates to your industry, or niche topics that interest only a small portion of your community. You should continue to write about these things, but understand that the bulk of your time is best served covering areas that are of the most interest to your community.
3) Know what you want out of your community, but… There is a reason that your company has moved into the social media space. Whether it’s to cut down on service and support time, get user feedback and spend less money on testing, to get greater visibility for your brand and products, to create or repair your company’s image, to provide traffic to your main site content, to create evangelists, for user-generated content (UGC), or for direct sales and revenue generation – you need to be aware of the priorities and focus your community in that direction. But, you also have to be flexible because as your social media community grows its interests may shift a bit and develop different interests than originally planned. This is fine. Allow the community to become what it will and provide them tools to do so, but continue to root the site where your company wants it to be.
4) Set and maintain the proper tone – I’ve talked about this at some length in my own blog, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate here. Setting the proper tone for your community is one of the most important things you will do and will have the greatest effect on how your community will grow and what kinds of people you will attract.
5) Establish good site rules – Site rules tie in closely with setting the tone for your site. They create a safe community where users know what is off limits and give your moderation team guidelines to follow. It is important to note that no matter how thorough your blog rules are, they won’t cover everything that can possibly happen, so make sure to write something akin to these two lines into your site use policy:
- The owners, administrators, and moderators of this site reserve the right to remove, edit, move or close any post or ban any user for any reason. By agreeing to registering, you agree to this rule and to all of the other site rules and guidelines.
- These rules and guidelines are subject to change at any time without notice.
6) Find your 1% – Every successful community has its 1% of ferociously active participants who seem to live on your site. While small in number, they are your biggest generators of content, your strongest supporters and your best evangelists. They love your products, your brands, etc., so much that they will spend their free time writing about them and communicating with others about them. They probably know more about your products than you do. Locate these folks and give them additional tools to help support your site. Invite them to provide guest blogs, where they can write about their expertise and enjoy the privilege of by-line. Let them know they are important to you so they continue to provide quality UGC and provide user support so that you don’t have to.
7) Be a NYC doorman, not a bouncer – Remember, your goal is to grow your community, not to create an exclusive club. Be helpful and courteous to those who venture into your site for the first time. Even if a question is incredibly simple or has been answered 10 times before, make the effort to be welcoming. If a new user asks a question that you can’t answer personally, respond to them with a welcome message and find someone in your organization who can. The simple act of providing the welcome lets your new user know they are in a good place. This is also a major part of setting the proper tone. That new user could turn out to be your most helpful poster, a creator of awesome content and your strongest evangelist.
8) Keep up with your inboxes – This is something that can easily fall through the cracks if you’re not attentive. While you will receive personal messages sent to you through your social media platform, you need to follow up with all pathways through which users send communiqués. Make sure you are on the distribution list for any “Contact Us” links. This is where users are most likely to submit problems they are having with site or its tools. This is also one of the most direct ways to engage and support your user base. You find everything from users who need help with their passwords, can’t figure out how to post on your platform, or just need personal attention. If you are not paying attention to this inbox, a lot of potential users will get fed up and never come back. Yes, answering these questions and providing support is time-consuming but something that as a technology marketer, is crucial, and think of it as an investment in your community.
9) Be as honest as you can – If you are running a corporate social media endeavor to attract IT buyers, there are things you simply cannot talk about for legal, ethical or competitive reasons. Like it or not you are in the marketing business. As a company representative in a social media endeavor, you are on the front lines of communicating with your company’s community. How you act, what you say and how you treat people reflects directly upon your company. You don’t want to violate your company’s communication policies on things like stock prices, forthcoming products, shake ups within your organization, etc. If users ask about these things simply tell them that you cannot divulge that information. Be forthright and honest. Let them know that as soon as you can talk about it, you will.
10) Let’s see…you write, you support, you protect, you market…but that’s not all – As if you don’t already wear enough hats, you have to embrace your role in ADVERTISING as well. We all dream of that community that grows completely organically, with your desired users finding you without having to lift a finger, but that simply isn’t the reality. Since most companies will not spend a lot on advertising their social media presence, that responsibility will rest on your shoulders. You will need to engage in a number of advertisement strategies to grow and maintain your community. These include, but are not limited to smart use of SEO to get your articles ranked highly, use of social media sites to leave breadcrumbs to your content and engage users who may not have found your site, keeping up with and engaging with important industry figures that have a social media presence.
So what about you? What strategies do you find most useful for growing your community?
Have questions or want to know more? Follow Chris Leonard’s Blog Community Management: Tales of a Glorified Pool Cleaner, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org