About Laura Johnson

Laura - a Texas native & Southern California transplant - is a new breed of media mogul. With experience and interest in all sorts of industries – Tech, Finance, Fashion, Wine & Spirits, Journalism – It’s no surprise www.Follr.com swooped her up to head their social media and content strategy. Media and Journalism being in her blood (Dad owns Dallas-based media powerhouse Success Partners), she’s a fresh & well-rounded authority on all things currently taking over the universe. As for accolades, Laura started writing and editing for SUCCESS.com before she had her high school diploma. From there she organized and lead massive email and print campaigns for international social justice organization, Invisible Children’s some 500k donors and helped weather the media MEGA-storm that was #KONY2012. With degrees in International Business & Economics, Laura then left the non-profit world to become the social media strategist for a SoCal based fashion retailer. In addition to freelance writing and blogging, she spends her free time taking in as many beautiful San Diego sunsets as possible and perfecting the G&T (extra lime please).

Follr Releases New Community Features!

Follr New FeaturesSeveral new community features are up and running on Follr.com. With this latest release, communities can be created – and grow! – more easily. New capabilities include, among others, a more streamlined “joining” experience, more opportunities for customization by administrators, and engagement tools that make it easier than ever to communicate and connect with members. Four of the most game-changing features are described below.

  1. Custom Content

Community administrators can now add custom HTML to the content and sidebar areas of the community page. This means easy-breezy embedding of content from other sites. (Think YouTube, banner ads, Strava, etc.)

  1. Member Invitations

Inviting members to join your community is as easy as sending a quick email. Simply enter email addresses – or upload a whole list! – and Follr will check for duplicate or invalid emails before queuing up a default email for administrators to review and customize if they wish. Invites can also be sent via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+. As soon as invites are sent, admins can see progress on their dashboard.

  1. Messaging

Administrators can also direct message one, several, or all members at once via Follr’s new engagement capability. This is convenient for updating all members on important developments, starting private conversations, or connecting/introducing two or more members. Administrators can also authorize other members to use this messaging capability via an email request.

  1. Activity Digest

Follr will send a weekly engagement email to all members summarizing that week’s activity. The email will highlight community progress, popular content and interactions etc. This is a great way for members to be reminded of what they’re missing each week. And should there be a slow week with no activity, no email will be sent to avoid annoying, empty emails.

Visit Follr.com now to get started and let us know what you think of these new features!

Fool-Proof Guidelines for Online Community Building

Online Community Guidelines FollrBuilding an online community – whether it’s for your business, special interest, religious group, or even your child’s little league team – can seem like a constant uphill battle. If you’re struggling with your online community, or if you just want a few tips on how to enhance yours, we’ve got your all-you-need-to-know, comprehensive-yet-concise guide to online community building here. You’ll find tips on how to get started, what and when to post, and how to retain members/followers.

 

Getting Started

–               Once you’ve chosen your platform get to know the site by clicking around to other members’ profiles and communities. Take note of what you like and what you don’t like, a.k.a. learn from others’ mistakes.

–               Decide who your target audience is and don’t divert from it. Focus directly on this group of people and start following key prospective members on twitter and other social media outlets.

–               Search relevant hashtags and see what others are talking about around your topic or interest. This will tell you the kind of content you should start posting and discussing once you have your community up and running.

–               Keep in mind that building a following of members is not a one-time job. Keep searching and following, keep joining conversations and continue to invite key prospective people to your community. Shoot for one new active member per day.

–               Once you have a small community of members, start connecting them! Search their profiles for skills or interests they might have in common and encourage them to communicate with one another. If your followers see you as a connector who wants to help build their reputation and career, they’ll be more inclined to do the same.

–               When you get stuck, take a peek at this great list of Online Community Building Resources.

Posting & Engagement

–               Post content between 3-5 times per day and always once at the very least (yes, even if you’re on vacation!). Members want to see consistency and commitment.

–               Post original content – a link to your most recent blog post or, a conversation starter, etc. – at least once every other day, and post other relevant content often. Just make sure the source is credible and you’ve read the article in its entirety first.

–               ALWAYS respond to a member’s contribution with a thoughtful and gracious response.

–               Keep in touch with members who may become less active over time. Reach out and ask about a project their working on or a life event.

–               Frequent and meaningful Engagement is the key to scoring and retaining members. Keep at it no matter what and always be positive.

Member Retention

–               Offer thought-provoking content related to your topic of interest or business. Your goal is to make your community a staple of their online experience.

–               Try one of these 4 Online Community Engagement Ideas and see which one(s) your members respond to best.

–               Be candid. Put yourself out there. Tell the truth. Give members something they can relate to. They’ll feel more connected and feel drawn to keep checking in every once in a while to see what’s new.

Good Luck with your new online community!

Links we Love: Online Community Resources Edition

Follr Online Community ResourcesAs Follr gains traction and popularity, we wanted to provide our members with a list of some of our favorite resources for building an online community. The following is a compilation of rich, genuinely useful – and free! – online resources for you to visit and explore during the online community building process. We don’t pretend to know all the answers, but we do promise a ton of them can be found in the articles and guides below! A

Follr-approved Online Community Building Resources:

1. BuzzTalk’s Intro to Online Communities.

2. This Online Community Guide from FeverBee.

3. The Truly Monumental Guide to Building Online Communities.

4. Former Klout Community Manager, Megan Berry’s 10 Tips for Building a Strong Online Community.

5. Socious Software’s Online Community Blog.

6. These 12 Keys to Building Your Online Community.

7. Moz Blog’s How To Build an Online Community for Your Business.

8. Online Community Building by the Numbers from ClickZ.

Are there any resources we’re missing? Fill us in by commenting below and we’ll be sure to include them in our next Links We Love!

Types of Online Communities (and the importance of onions!) – From Our Friends at 4-Roads

onions (1)Please enjoy this post from Gina Narramore, 4 Roads Social Media & Community Manager. 

If taking steps towards becoming a social business is in your strategy, you are probably considering developing an online community.

One of the first aspects to be considered, and arguably the most important, is what type of online community will you create. This decision will largely affect how the community will shape up, and whether it will be a success.

As described in the 4 Roads ‘Social Business Cookbook’ your social presence should be a “complex menu of offerings to the audience. It is also layered like an onion.” 

Ideally, a true social business should be active in as many layers (of this onion) as possible. It will have an integrated presence in multiple layers, providing the audience a unified experience of your business.

Social networks 

The outer layers of the onion consist of social media spaces. This is the first layer of the different types of online community.

First there are ‘participating’ communities, which are formed on external social networks, such as LinkedIn, Facebook etc. usually set up by your customers, about your products or services. You can’t run these communities but you can participate, listen and monitor conversations taking place within them.

The next layer of this onion, within this social media space, is your ‘managed’ community for example, your own Facebook page or YouTube channel etc. This is where you are in control of conversations and messages, although you do not own the data being created. Social networks are great for building trust and relationships in your market, but this is only the first step in using online communities to acquire and retain customers.

Social networks and online communities do work together. Therefore, it may be wise to participate in these social networks, with an aim to attract some of that audience to engage more deeply, with your brand, on your own online community. Check out the differences between online communities and social networks.

Public online communities

The next layers of the onion are the spaces you own, create, manage, and control, and which can link to your CRM software. These ‘owned’ communities consist of public, private and internal communities.

Anyone can join a public online community and today, public, or external customer online communities are what most people think of when they think of online communities. Organisations such as Dell and Starbucks both have thriving customer communities, comprising of primarily customers that share common interests, product purchases, or support issues.

These communities refer to a company-owned online property, a branded community nestled in a company’s website or as part of the website. Within a customer community, you can talk securely with your customers and prospects and offer them a range of relevant content, products and messages to support the conversations taking place.

The focus of this type of online community is to help customers become more successful with a product and service and solve a customer or member’s most critical problems. A customer community can also address specific business challenges, such as the need for improved customer service, cutting down on service call outs, or making content more accessible.

Through a public community, the organisation is able to energise the market, position themselves as a trusted leader in its industry and reach out to brand advocates – in a way, which has never been possible before

Also within this layer is the extranet, a private space for developing your offerings and strengthening relationships with both suppliers and partners. Collaborating with these groups within an extranet, not only builds loyalty, but also strengthens relationships and increases satisfaction. Suppliers and partners are able to ‘self-serve’, which reduces sales, and support costs and creates more efficient supply chains.

Ultimately, an owned public online community increases the value of doing business with an organization.

Private online communities

In this type of community, which is at the heart of the onion, members must log in to the community to take part in most, if not all activities and social features available, which is subsequently integrated into the organisation’s CRM system or membership database. Members are either personally invited or screened in some way prior. Private online communities have a select target audience and members are often charged membership fees to join.

Often deployed by B2B or membership organisations, these ‘gated’ communities can create greater sense of trust and intimacy among members due to more in-depth profile requirements. This can lead to more open and focused engagement and collaboration between members and the organization.

This is a space where customers and companies can plan and build for the future. For instance, private online communities can be a part of an organisation’s product strategy or where trusted people gather and collaborate to steer innovation for the business. The topical agenda is highly managed and all member activity and dialogue within the community is considered confidential and protected, and not shared outside of community walls.

Internal communities

A form of private online communities are internal communities – a place where customers, employees, partners, and other stakeholders to come together to better serve customers and achieve business objectives. And because an organisation’s internal communications lies at the heart of the onion, they affect everything else the business is trying to achieve.

This is the place where employees communicate and collaborate within the business. These communities create a space for many-to-many communication and allow employees to share information, find experts within the business and collaborate on projects.

As the ‘Social Business Cookbook’ states “Unlike the layers above, which may be ‘new,’ every organisation naturally has some kind of channels for internal communication and places for storing and retrieving data and information – without them it would be impossible to function. Yet few organisations have truly effective platforms for internal communication even though these are particularly valuable if they want and expect to be using ‘social tools’ to engage with their audiences.”

Internal communities are more easily created after deploying internal collaboration tools and should involve all employees, from entry-level staff to CEO’s. Adoption of a social platform is often a challenge, as employees may be resistant to changing the way they work. Read more about the importance of business culture when starting any type of online community.

Conclusion

It is important to note that an online community doesn’t necessarily reside in a single location, it can exist in more than one place on the Web. For instance, it can start in a social network such as Facebook, and spread into others, such as your owned private community.

Accordingly, social media has been instrumental in the way online communities have evolved – it has provided a foundation on which to communicate, and a platform for organisations to have two-way conversations with their customers. However, the true sense of an online community takes social media to the next level, and opens up a world known as social business.

Becoming a social business, and choosing the right type of online community for your organisation is important, however, the key to success is to start small and think holistically. Each type of online community should be considered when starting a social community project. Every layer should integrate with each other: your main objective should be to gain membership and engagement in your owned (public and private) community, and both your participating and managed (social networks) communities should be used as channels to facilitate that.

As the Social Business Cookbook states “The most effective social businesses allow each layer of the onion to flavour the others.”

The Social Business Cookbook has been written to help businesses integrate social at the core of their activities – request your copy.

10 Great Articles on Community Building

Here at Follr, we’re always trying to put the best possible community building materials into the hands of our community managers. For today’s post, we’re sharing ten wonderful articles from our favorite blogs and community experts who know their stuff when it comes to cultivating community. Check out all or just a few – you won’t be disappointed!

 

1. These are the Top 5 Things You Should do First as an Online Community Builder, Follr Blog

2. You Need to Know: 5 Rules of Online Community Engagement, Social Media Today

3. 5 Tips for Building a Community Management Strategy, Social Media Examiner

4. The Different Types of Events, Ning Blog

5. 6 Tips for Starting an Online Community, Social Media Examiner

6. Fool-Proof Guidelines for Online Community Building, Business2Community

7. 8 Great Tools for Online Community Managers, Social Media Today

8. These are the Top 5 Things you should do First as an Online Community Builder, Business2Community

9. 5 Online Community Types: Which one does Yours Fit Into?, Social Media Today

10. 4 Easy Online Community Engagement Ideas, Business2Community

Don’t Ask Community Managers To Be Strategists by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

jack_of_all_tradesThe enterprise community manager position is sometimes termed a “jack of all trades” role. I know — I’ve said it myself. But I think we’re starting to take it a bit too far.

[In the past] I have participated in a suite of webinars and talks about online communities and their growing role in functional areas such as customer care. I have listened to, and debated with, countless community management specialists about community management best practices. I’ve heard a lot about keeping business strategy and community management aligned. There’s no question this is a critical success factor for social business — but the issue is whether or not this responsibility is part of the charter for the online community manager role.

Pity the poor community manager who has been handed a whole range of new and complex tasks, responsibilities, and accountability measures related to managing and monitoring business strategy — in addition to the normal work of running a community! It won’t work. Placing responsibility for business strategy on the community manager will ruin many a promising online community, with lasting negative consequences for the business, the brand and, most of all, community members and customers. Online strategy and online community management are emerging as two distinct roles in the rapidly evolving world of online communities.

Let’s look at the role of online community strategy. It starts at the highest level, based on the organization’s mission and vision, and then proceeds to the business goals and business processes for the community itself. It is a line-of-business function led by an executive stakeholder responsible for strategic alignment based on the goals, metrics, measures and ROI.

This means the leadership from customer care, the office of strategy management or even product development — depending on the mission of the online community — have the charter to ensure that the online community is tracking in support of their organization’s strategy.

The second role is that of online community management. The crucial task for this role is delivering value to the community participants – the members. Full stop. If the community serves member needs and builds high-value customer/supplier/prospect relationships, it can achieve the strategic goals established by the business organization.

Adding business strategy leadership to the community manager’s role renders them ineffective, unable to succeed at either task. Keep in mind the community manager is the voice of the members back into the organization, and is charged with serving member needs. Asking the community manager to view her community through the lenses of both the business and the members is a prescription for blurred insights, mixed messages and reduced trust on both sides. Community managers can and should take into account the firm’s business goals in the programs and engagement models they develop and produce. But determination of which best fit with the overall strategy is best left to those in charge of business leadership.

The reasons for this separation of roles is primarily around skill sets. A seasoned community manager typically grew up through the ranks of communication specialties, and has the unique and invaluable ability to facilitate ideas, grow thought leadership content and listen well. What they do, and the ways they have honed their methodologies and insights, constitute hard-to-find skills based on extensive hands-on experience. In contrast, the skilled strategist has a keen appreciation for the nuances of goal-setting, planning, and measuring results, involving technical, financial and organizational design skills.

Just as HR executives typically aren’t tapped to run adjacent lines of business like finance, the community manager may not be best at driving the business of community. While there should be a dotted line between the business and the community operations, asking online community managers to manage functions that are out of their realm of expertise jeopardizes both the community and the business. The corollary is that for your online community to succeed and deliver business returns, the roles of online community strategy and community management should be treated with the business respect they deserve.

[This work was originally published on Vanessa’s blog, Leader Networks and is reposted here with her permission.]

Page Load Speeds and Your Online Community – by Gina Narramore, 4-Roads

Please enjoy this first post from new Guest Blogger, Gina Narramore of 4-Roads! #Follr Gina & 4-Roads on Twitter and check out more about Online Community Strategy Org 4-Roads here

There is no denying – the way the Internet is presented is constantly changing. In today’s hyper-connected world, web pages are much richer and contain more functionality, which results in increased amounts of page data and external resources to power them.

As technology advances, web users have become to expect a visually appealing community sites, and fast page loading times. The speed at which a browser loads your community content, means the difference between engagement or abandonment – a problem which could be detrimental to your online community.

Often, efforts to optimize web code, including the reduction of overall site density to improve download performance, are not enough to ensure a healthy and successful online community.

Page load speeds have to be considered. This post shows how a decrease in page load and rendering times benefit an online community.

Reduce Bounce rate

A web user may be searching for a particular type of online community to satisfy a certain motivation they may have. Your community may appear in their results due to keywords you’ve selected or ads you’re displaying on search engines. But, when this user lands on your community site, they immediately see that you don’t have what they’re looking for and they click away.

If your messaging is correct and your keywords accurate, it is important to take a closer look at website download speeds as a contributing factor to higher bounce rates within your online community.

A key factor contributing to high bounce rates is slow download speeds, especially for mobile site downloads. A user may initiate a visit to your online community and because the page takes too long to load, they abandon the community almost right away.

Enhance SEO

Since 2010, Google announced that the speed at which a web page loads would impact search rankings. Additionally, at SMX Advanced, Google’s Matt Cutts said that mobile sites, which are slow in performance, would be penalised.

Research, carried out by Zoompf, concluded that both front and back-end performance factors do correlate to increased rankings. They also state on the Moz Blog:

“We do know that fast loading websites gain more visitors, who visit more pages, for longer period of times, who come back more often, and are more likely to purchase products or click ads. In short, faster websites make users happy, and happy users promote your website through linking and sharing. All of these things contribute to improving search engine rankings.”

This statement is also valid with regards to online communities – if members are happy, they return, engage, become brand advocates and promote the community to gain new memberships.

Increase customer satisfaction

According to Kissmetrics, a one second delay in page loading time will decrease customer satisfaction by about 16% and 44% will people will tell their friends if they have a bad online experience.

This is supported in a study by the Aberdeen Group, which estimates that this one-second delay in page load time also results in a 7% loss in conversions and 11% fewer page views. This successfully provides evidence that optimising how quickly your community site loads, can have a significant impact engagement, response, conversions, and sales.

Higher engagement

If a user can’t find the information quickly on your community site homepage or their search is hindered by slow download performance, they will go elsewhere – likely to be a competitive site that can provide the expected content and download speeds – resulting in loss of online community engagement.

The order of how community content is delivered through the browser has an impact on whether someone engages quickly with your community or not.  Ultimately, it matters more how quickly a user is engaged than it does how fast an entire page loads.

Increase conversions

As page-load time increases, likely conversion rates will drop. This is confirmed by Kissmetrics, which shows 47% of consumers expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less. After this peak the rate drops by 6.7% for each additional second.

A conversion is when a visitor takes any type of action on your site. Within an online community, a conversion could be a membership sign-up or when a member submits a post within the community. As these are obvious benefits – which could ensure the health of your online community – taking steps to increase conversions should be considered.

An online community may already be seeing an adequate number of visitors, but there is failure to convert them in to members. Other than providing engaging and relevant content, download speed could be a factor that is impacting conversion rates.

For more of Gina’s expertise stay tuned to the #FollrBlog as she’ll be guest-posting on a bimonthly basis! 

Five Reasons to Start an Online Community

To Inspire FollrCreating an online community – especially one on Follr.com! – can be so rewarding. One of the first steps is to get in the mindset of  your target audience and define what it is you want he or she to gain from your community. Do you have special or unique knowledge a member could benefit from? Could you provide a new connection or idea for their business? In order to have an active and thriving group of members – or customers! – on your site, stay true to one of the reasons below.

  1. To Entertain

How many people spend a portion of their day reading blogs or visiting other social networks? I’ll tell you: everybody and their mother. People have long used the internet to relax, zone-out or just take a short break from work so use this fact to your advantage and create a community around perking up people’s down time! Pick a favorite TV series, movie franchise or book as the launch pad for your community.

  1. To Boost Business

Giving your small business a leg-up online is one of, if not THE, most popular reasons for starting an online community. Whether you choose LinkedIn, Facebook or a custom community platform like Follr, building an online presence for your business is a crucial – if not imperative – key to success.

  1. To Connect

One HUGE reason potential members join online communities is affirmation and praise. Completing the registration process and clicking “Join” means they want to be heard, appreciated and noticed for their accomplishments and accolades. Online communities for scholars, writers or more specific groups of achievers are great reasons to start or join and online community. Remember to engage with members directly and often!

  1. To Inspire

Another hot online community focus is self- help and improvement. In this current news era, happiness and mental health are more prominent that ever. Everyone wants to do what they can to better themselves. Offering a quick, easy and welcoming online group with which to do so is bound to have members flocking.

  1. To Fix a Problem

If I had a dollar for every time I looked online for a solution to a problem or a quick fix, I could probably retire! The Internet is so accessible that most people reach for the keyboard before the user manual. Establish an online community as an expert of something you love or create a question and answer forum for specific issues/needs – cooking tips, smart phone fixes, travel and vacation ideas, etc.

Do you have any online community ideas like the ones above? Tell me about them in the comments section below and you could be featured on Links We Love!