5 Tips to Jump Start Your Online Community

Whether starting a new community, or moving an existing one, the foundation is the strength of the conversations and content within it. Those conversations go a long way to assure longevity of the community.

Life, online or off, is built on a series of relationships, those with our family, friends, and fellow fans. Part of the process is the introduction and sharing of basic information, to establish a comfort level and open channels of communications.

Creating this comfort then allows the community to connect more with each other by sharing common interests, goals and ideas. Building upon the contribution of each member you will then see a more organic growth in the community as well as “natural moderators” will begin to establish themselves to help in maintaining the desired tone and direction of the community.

These 5 “no fail” tips and techniques will help you keep your focus, refine your tone and build a strong and engaged community with longevity.

East Fishkill Spurs

1. Be Welcoming, Be Disarming
Each time a new member joins your community give them the opportunity to introduce themselves. The best way to do this is to establish a set of between three and five questions for each member to answer.

Making these questions fun and non-threatening will encourage the new community members to engage, be at ease and “let their hair down”. Of course, the tone of the community will determine how “silly” these questions would be, but keeping it “light” will help gain more interaction from your community members.

Some sample questions along these lines are:

  • “Who is your favorite player?”
  • “Tell us how you became a fan”
  • “What was the best goal we ever scored?”

It’s like an online icebreaker. Ask silly, even ridiculous, questions of your members. Don’t be afraid, even in a serious forum, this allows people to connect in ways that are non-threatening and create a comfortable environment despite the tone of the serious topic that might be involved.

Believe it or not it is often more difficult for someone to share serious answers than silly answers.

2. It’s OK to Lurk
Everyone was new to online communities at one point. Try to encourage interaction and engagement, but recognize that some people might just want to watch (lurk) and adjust before they dive in.

Often times those that spend the most time lurking end up being the most engaged in the long run. Some people just need more time to adjust and acclimate to a new environment.

It is actually preferable to have someone lurk and acclimate to the tone of a community rather than jump in prematurely and risk being misunderstood, this could result in a lot of turmoil within a community.

3. Encourage Engagement, Be Appreciative, Be an Example
Actively engaged community members create opportunities for existing or new members to connect with each other, establishing a solid communal relationship. Be sure to thank people for posting, also try to positively acknowledge participation at any level.

Be a guide, or a sign post, direct your community to great content of community members, inside the community or outside, and bring the conversations to them. Be an example, by linking and sharing outside content but housing the discussion within your community.

4. Promote Great Community Contributions and Content
A solid community needs to be fed to continue to grow that community. That food is demonstrated by promoting the community and member contributions. Make it a habit to regularly promote your community members.

The conversations and sharing are the lifeblood.into other social networks. By doing this you will be promoting your community and the members, helping others find you and ensuring a continued growth in your community.

5. Appreciate Everything, Don’t Take Community for Granted
Appreciate your community. Understand that each and every member has made a choice to be a part of the community, and recognize that it’s a choice for them to remain in the community.

Never take your community for granted, if you do you will discover that they can quickly move on to what they perceive to be “Greener Pastures”. Keep it fresh, keep it lively. This is where building a community on a topic you are passionate about makes it a lot easier to grow and maintain.

If you keep these 5 tips top of mind, and try to make a habit of doing these things, you will guarantee your success is building and nurturing an amazing community!

Social Media Manager vs. Online Community Manager: Same or Different?

Source: Vanessa DiMauro

Slide1One recent morning I saw a post in one of my LinkedIN groups asking “what is the difference between a social media manager and an online community manager?” Easy, I thought, and offered a quick response on my mobile … “Social media managers bring the guests (clients, prospects) to the table and community managers welcome them in!”

Ahh, but wait. This may require more words than I can manage on that little screen. So, naturally, I turned to trusty Google to see what others have said on this topic. Among the first mentions I came across was a CMSWire which discussed the confusion between social media and online community management, and suggested the two roles have become blurred.

In my view, the confusion often begins with job descriptions, which are rarely written by actual practitioners. For larger organizations new to these rapidly evolving specialties, they strive to find and describe the commonalities rather than highlight the differences in the two roles.
Next, I sought out my trusted peers and colleagues to see and hear what they had to say. In a post by the very knowledgeable Blaise Grimes-Viort from the UK firm e-Moderation, he shared the following definitions of these two roles:

· Community Manager: Operates from deep within the company, managing customer relationships with a brand or product, and each other. Potentially she can be a fully Enterprise Community Manager, involved in facilitating efficient inter-team and staff communication and collaboration. She is focussed on the flow of information and knowledge, strengthening relationships and promoting productive collaboration, which may include moderation and hosting of both micro- and macro-events on the company’s community platform. Placement within the Organization chart is more likely to be connected to Editorial, Product development, Business development, and Marketing. In addition, I would add Customer Service/Support to the list of org chart nodes above.

· Social Media Manager: Operates from the edges of the company, managing brand recognition and reputation outside of the scope of the brand website. He is focused on listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks on social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to facilitate depth of communication. He will usually be found within the Organisation chart connected to Marketing, PR, and Sales.

Another aspect of the blurring and overlap in roles is the type of organization doing the hiring — what is the business focus for the role? Business-to-business (B2B) and consumer companies have very different requirements. In consumer organizations, the community focus is individual consumers, and consumers generally frequent public social media channels with broad reach and large numbers. On the other hand, B2B organizations focus on building customer intimacy using channels such as online communities, customer councils and executive briefing centers along with offline outreach. For B2B, the desired relationship is deeper, just as the purchase cycle may be longer, revenue potential much greater and the depth of engagement (think suppliers and partners as well as customers) may be much greater and more complicated. In B2B organizations the social media manager is part of marketing and PR, facing outward for the most part. The B2B community manager has some outward responsibilities, but is connected to more core operations at the firm.

These distinctions are especially visible in the success measures for each role – the key performance indicators. Of course, both roles may share responsibility for a number success metrics and will need to partner effectively to deliver results. Here is a short tabulation of key B2B success measures, the role involved and the organizational accountability path.

B2B Success Measure Role Accountability
Drive leads Social Media Manager Marketing
Raise awareness of products or services Social Media Manager Marketing
Visibility of company, products, services or thought leaders Social Media Manager Marketing
Increase sales Social Media Manager Sales
Event attendance Social Media Manager on public channels, Community manager on community channels Marketing
Customer questions about how to use a product or service Community Manager Customer Service
Learn from customers (e.g. feedback into product development) Community Manager Product Management/R&D
Customer retention / satisfaction Community Manager Sales
Call center reduction/ Improve customers’ ability to get help from each other Community Manager Customer Service
Increase utilization of the products Community Manager Product Management

Note that in the B2B world, where customers tend to be other organizations purchasing complex and expensive products and services, the lines between the social media manager and the community manager roles can be more clearly defined than in consumer space. B2B and consumer prospects have very different information and relationship needs, and when the sale is made the customers require very different levels of ongoing engagement and support. The overlap between the B2B social media and online community manager roles is usually much less than for those roles at a B2C firm.

5 Tips to Jump Start Your Online Community

Whether starting a new community, or moving an existing one, the foundation is the strength of the conversations and content within it. Those conversations go a long way to assure longevity of the community.

Life, online or off, is built on a series of relationships, those with our family, friends, and fellow fans. Part of the process is the introduction and sharing of basic information, to establish a comfort level and open channels of communications.

Creating this comfort then allows the community to connect more with each other by sharing common interests, goals and ideas. Building upon the contribution of each member you will then see a more organic growth in the community as well as “natural moderators” will begin to establish themselves to help in maintaining the desired tone and direction of the community.

These 5 “no fail” tips and techniques will help you keep your focus, refine your tone and build a strong and engaged community with longevity.

East Fishkill Spurs

1. Be Welcoming, Be Disarming
Each time a new member joins your community give them the opportunity to introduce themselves. The best way to do this is to establish a set of between three and five questions for each member to answer.

Making these questions fun and non-threatening will encourage the new community members to engage, be at ease and “let their hair down”. Of course, the tone of the community will determine how “silly” these questions would be, but keeping it “light” will help gain more interaction from your community members.

Some sample questions along these lines are:

  • “Who is your favorite player?”
  • “Tell us how you became a fan”
  • “What was the best goal we ever scored?”

It’s like an online icebreaker. Ask silly, even ridiculous, questions of your members. Don’t be afraid, even in a serious forum, this allows people to connect in ways that are non-threatening and create a comfortable environment despite the tone of the serious topic that might be involved.

Believe it or not it is often more difficult for someone to share serious answers than silly answers.

2. It’s OK to Lurk
Everyone was new to online communities at one point. Try to encourage interaction and engagement, but recognize that some people might just want to watch (lurk) and adjust before they dive in.

Often times those that spend the most time lurking end up being the most engaged in the long run. Some people just need more time to adjust and acclimate to a new environment.

It is actually preferable to have someone lurk and acclimate to the tone of a community rather than jump in prematurely and risk being misunderstood, this could result in a lot of turmoil within a community.

3. Encourage Engagement, Be Appreciative, Be an Example
Actively engaged community members create opportunities for existing or new members to connect with each other, establishing a solid communal relationship. Be sure to thank people for posting, also try to positively acknowledge participation at any level.

Be a guide, or a sign post, direct your community to great content of community members, inside the community or outside, and bring the conversations to them. Be an example, by linking and sharing outside content but housing the discussion within your community.

4. Promote Great Community Contributions and Content
A solid community needs to be fed to continue to grow that community. That food is demonstrated by promoting the community and member contributions. Make it a habit to regularly promote your community members.

The conversations and sharing are the lifeblood.into other social networks. By doing this you will be promoting your community and the members, helping others find you and ensuring a continued growth in your community.

5. Appreciate Everything, Don’t Take Community for Granted
Appreciate your community. Understand that each and every member has made a choice to be a part of the community, and recognize that it’s a choice for them to remain in the community.

Never take your community for granted, if you do you will discover that they can quickly move on to what they perceive to be “Greener Pastures”. Keep it fresh, keep it lively. This is where building a community on a topic you are passionate about makes it a lot easier to grow and maintain.

If you keep these 5 tips top of mind, and try to make a habit of doing these things, you will guarantee your success is building and nurturing an amazing community!

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.]

Building on the Basics: 3 Steps to Be an Online Community Builder

If you are already an online community builder or aspire to be one, our goal at Follr is to make the experience as simple and fun as possible. As we continue our series on building a solid foundation for success with online communities we will focus on creating the community identity.

Become an Online Community Builder with your own Follr Community - simple, easy and freeWhen creating a community you should have a clear definition of the community focus and purpose. Creating the community mission statement, as well as a comprehensive list of related keywords, is more important than many understand. Focusing on the recommendations here will result in an increase of online community engagement, interaction and posting, once you’ve opened your doors to your new community.

As soon as people read the term “key words” their minds automatically connect the term with search engine optimization (SEO), in this case that is a secondary benefit of your primary purpose. The primary purpose is to help focus on the content and direction of the online community you are building. Once you have a good list of 10-15 keywords, or terms, related to the community you are building, and the mission statement you defined, you will see a true community begin to form.

3 Steps to Be an Online Community Builder resulting in huge Online Community Engagement

  1. Define your purpose: A Mission Statement

    It might sound tedious but taking time to plan and focus will help create a more viable, and vibrant, online community. When the purpose is clear then people will easily be attracted to the community, don’t allow confusion to be a barrier to community success. A clear definition and statement of purpose make a transition into a new community much easier for a potential member.

    People are hesitant, they resist change, for maximum engagement in a new community being clear in the focus and purpose will put them at ease. By defining this in the community description, and even seeding content into your community, will result in seeing conversations begin at a significantly faster rate than the average online community builder does.

  2. Keyword: Success
    Identifying keywords which relate to the community topic and purpose allows for powerful online community building tricks. The first is that now potential community members can be found via social search. Use your key words/terms to search and find those potential community members. The second is that if the goal is to ramp the interactions up in the community even faster, you can use those same words and terms to invest in SEO and purchase Adwords via Google.

    Notice the focus on sharing the community with people on other social networks. By being “discoverable”, and in turn discovering, a rapid decrease in the odds of community survival shift in the favor of the community builder.

    Using social search tools, you will find people who are “talking” about your topics and focus, and get into the conversation with them. If you have seeded enough content and encouraged your community members to do so as well, you should have no problem bringing the conversation back to your Follr Communities website.

  3. Target: Locked and Engaged
    Once you begin to identify people who are conversant on the topic for your community you want to begin to have conversations, on the topic with them. Create saved searches (eg Google Alerts) to monitor – blog posts, tweets, shares, statuses, etc. that have already happened or are happening live.

    Take time to review the conversations, be sure there is something relevant posted within your community. If not, consider posting something – take the topic and spin a question out of the conversation or post. Try to build a few responses to it from your community before you get into a discussion with the target of your attempts at engagement.

The goal of these key steps is to create a community alive with conversation and engagement. Searching for people and focusing on being found is a very genuine way of finding people who are like-minded and want to participate with you and your community. Don’t feel as though you are being “sneaky” – there is nothing sneaky about connecting and sharing with other people, it is the entire purpose of building an online community.

Show us how it works for you, create your Follr Community – they are simple online communities to build, with an elegant format similar to a template, and all you do is fill in the information and voila you are up and running.

There really is no simple way to be an online community builder than with Follr.

Why Sustainable Community is an Ecosystem

An ecosystem, in it’s simplistic form, is about balance. All the parts working, existing, interacting, together to create a balanced ecosystem. The result of that magical collaboration is a sustainable ecosystem.

An online community can be described as a type of ecosystem. The ideal balance between the members of the community and the value of the community, among multitude of other factors, results in a sustainable community, functioning as an ecosystem. Today we are taking a look at the reasons why an ecosystem is the perfect analogy for an online community and some touch points to remember when you are trying to reach “sustainable” within one.

Buzzword and hype, or valid analogy?
Ecosystem has become a business buzzword, partially for it’s universal representation of a successful system of multiple parts functioning as one. The analogy is accurate and possibly underutilized in communicating the relevance of many life processes and business processes.

What is an Ecosystem?

In an enlightening post by J-P De Clerk on the topic of social networks and organizations, Mr. De Clerk utilized a childrens website called KidsCorner (side note, interesting project in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service, do check it out) to provide the clearest and simplest definition of what an ecosystem is. The above image is from that website and gives you the definition of ecosystem.

Mr. De Clerk has me considering this. I have always understood and considered many things ecosystems in the precise and delicate balance in which they successfully exist. As I read his post, it got me thinking about all the ways in which the analogy is truly a wonderful way to convey the concept of an online community. A community is no different than any other ecosystem.

The Ecosystem we call an ‘Online Community’
In seeking to create a vibrant and sustainable community, you work with many potentially fragile parts that together create the whole. In this analogy we are specifically referencing the human interactions, as well as the contributed content, that builds the foundation of the sustainable community.

These relationships may require precise and measured amounts of encouragement, support and nurturing to ensure a truly balanced and therefore sustainable resulting ecosystem.

Understanding and Patience
As with any young plant or creature, a minimum level of focus and care is required to permit for the proper development and growth. If any of the necessary elements are withheld, you will see a failure to thrive situation in which failure is inevitable. Sometimes it can be recoverable, but many times it cannot.

An online community is no different than a living organism in this regard. It takes time and effort to reinforce the community interaction and engagement. If you even step away for an extended period of time, you risk the collapse of the entire ecosystem, as the caregiver aka ‘the custodian’ is no longer there to nurture and encourage the community.

This is essential the job of a community manager, whether you consider yourself one, or not, when you work with any form of network or community, there is a symbiotic relationship that is develops and along with it a form of dependency if not need or requirement, of the ‘nourishment’ you will provide that community.

Making an ecosystem accessible
Yes, this analogy can make it sound much more complicated than it really is. The simplest way to explain this is to suggest that if you contribute, monitor, engage, and encourage others to do the same, you will establish an interdependence among the members, establishing an ‘addictive’ pattern (aka habit) among the member of the community. Relying upon you, and the community that they have now embraced, as a trusted resource for whatever the particular focus is.

It returns to the basic rule of all social interactions – online or off, build a relationship, establish trust and give back to others to see the best success possible for your network or community.

What other ways do you help to nurture your community to grow a sustainable ecosystem?

Social Media Manager vs. Online Community Manager: Same or Different?

Source: Vanessa DiMauro

Slide1One recent morning I saw a post in one of my LinkedIN groups asking “what is the difference between a social media manager and an online community manager?” Easy, I thought, and offered a quick response on my mobile … “Social media managers bring the guests (clients, prospects) to the table and community managers welcome them in!”

Ahh, but wait. This may require more words than I can manage on that little screen. So, naturally, I turned to trusty Google to see what others have said on this topic. Among the first mentions I came across was a CMSWire which discussed the confusion between social media and online community management, and suggested the two roles have become blurred.

In my view, the confusion often begins with job descriptions, which are rarely written by actual practitioners. For larger organizations new to these rapidly evolving specialties, they strive to find and describe the commonalities rather than highlight the differences in the two roles.
Next, I sought out my trusted peers and colleagues to see and hear what they had to say. In a post by the very knowledgeable Blaise Grimes-Viort from the UK firm e-Moderation, he shared the following definitions of these two roles:

· Community Manager: Operates from deep within the company, managing customer relationships with a brand or product, and each other. Potentially she can be a fully Enterprise Community Manager, involved in facilitating efficient inter-team and staff communication and collaboration. She is focussed on the flow of information and knowledge, strengthening relationships and promoting productive collaboration, which may include moderation and hosting of both micro- and macro-events on the company’s community platform. Placement within the Organization chart is more likely to be connected to Editorial, Product development, Business development, and Marketing. In addition, I would add Customer Service/Support to the list of org chart nodes above.

· Social Media Manager: Operates from the edges of the company, managing brand recognition and reputation outside of the scope of the brand website. He is focused on listening and evaluating brand perception, planning campaigns and promotional material or initiatives to promote the company’s message, building and leveraging social networks on social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to facilitate depth of communication. He will usually be found within the Organisation chart connected to Marketing, PR, and Sales.

Another aspect of the blurring and overlap in roles is the type of organization doing the hiring — what is the business focus for the role? Business-to-business (B2B) and consumer companies have very different requirements. In consumer organizations, the community focus is individual consumers, and consumers generally frequent public social media channels with broad reach and large numbers. On the other hand, B2B organizations focus on building customer intimacy using channels such as online communities, customer councils and executive briefing centers along with offline outreach. For B2B, the desired relationship is deeper, just as the purchase cycle may be longer, revenue potential much greater and the depth of engagement (think suppliers and partners as well as customers) may be much greater and more complicated. In B2B organizations the social media manager is part of marketing and PR, facing outward for the most part. The B2B community manager has some outward responsibilities, but is connected to more core operations at the firm.

These distinctions are especially visible in the success measures for each role – the key performance indicators. Of course, both roles may share responsibility for a number success metrics and will need to partner effectively to deliver results. Here is a short tabulation of key B2B success measures, the role involved and the organizational accountability path.

B2B Success Measure Role Accountability
Drive leads Social Media Manager Marketing
Raise awareness of products or services Social Media Manager Marketing
Visibility of company, products, services or thought leaders Social Media Manager Marketing
Increase sales Social Media Manager Sales
Event attendance Social Media Manager on public channels, Community manager on community channels Marketing
Customer questions about how to use a product or service Community Manager Customer Service
Learn from customers (e.g. feedback into product development) Community Manager Product Management/R&D
Customer retention / satisfaction Community Manager Sales
Call center reduction/ Improve customers’ ability to get help from each other Community Manager Customer Service
Increase utilization of the products Community Manager Product Management

Note that in the B2B world, where customers tend to be other organizations purchasing complex and expensive products and services, the lines between the social media manager and the community manager roles can be more clearly defined than in consumer space. B2B and consumer prospects have very different information and relationship needs, and when the sale is made the customers require very different levels of ongoing engagement and support. The overlap between the B2B social media and online community manager roles is usually much less than for those roles at a B2C firm.

What It Means To Be An Online Community Builder by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

For the past 15+ years, cocktail parties were tough.  When people would ask what I do for work, my response, “I build online communities for business,” would serve as a natural repellant to further conversation.  Confused or suspicious about this mysterious response, the martini-holding listener would likely divert the conversation elsewhere in short order,  as they had absolutely no idea what an online community-builder is or does.

I am happy to report that my social life is getting better these days, as online communities are all the rage. There are still elements of mystery that shrouds the community-building profession – but there is also a new-found curiosity.

So, late one evening, I tried write a description of what it means to be an online community builder. And instead of developing a cohesive job description, I wound up with a pile of words. (Leave it to a community builder to approach a puzzle with a unique solution!).  While my outcome most certainly does not replace the utility of a straightforward party-line, I think it will resonate will community builders worldwide who have evoked a similar suite of words at the dreaded cocktail party… when faced with the question “what do you do for a living?”

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 2.09.03 PM

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