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!

How To Share Content Across Multiple Social Networks With One Click

We’ve rolled out lots of new Follr features and here are details on one of the more popular. If you have news or anything you want to share with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, Follr allows you to do that with one click!

Having logged into your account click “Manage”:

Follr - Manage Updates

and then select each account you want to connect:

Follr - Update Networks

Return to the homefeed page, type in your update and make sure the ‘All Networks’ box is checked:

Follr - Update

That’s it!

Check back for details on other new Follr features and if you would like to see something added please let us know.

Leveraging Technology To Power Online Communities

In the following video, from the Flight to Freedom event held in San Diego, CA, Follr CEO Stephen Fells discusses how Follr technology is powering online communities and helping organizations distribute content while protecting brand and generating revenue.

The event, for entrepreneurs, investors and philanthropists “is designed to enhance collaboration between the vibrant entrepreneurial community in Bay Area and other groups around the world.”

Flight To Freedom Small

Information about this years Flight To Freedom event will be posted shortly. In the interim click here.

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!

Companies With The Most Successful Online Communities Have These 4 Things in Common

4 Things in Common FollrCreating a thriving online community of customers is no easy feat, yet companies succeed at doing it every day. Sure they probably have teams of social media experts and customer care professionals, but at the heart of it, it really comes down to having these four things on lock. Read on to see if you’re putting any of best practices to use… and if you’re not… well you know what to do.

 

  1. All innovation and R&D is done IN CONJUNCTION WITH customers. These companies no better than to make changes without soliciting loyal customers’ advice.
  2. Every single employee has been trained to put the customer first. No matter which department you work in or what your job description entails, you know that customer service is paramount and feel compelled to act accordingly. Zappos, anyone?
  3. Employees are encouraged to interact candidly with customers online. None of that stiff business language allowed – these employees are expected to be real, open and honest with customers over social media. Simply put, transparency is key.
  4. There are protocols in place for negative feedback. Each and every employee tasked with handling online activities knows exactly what to do should a customer get frustrated. Situations can be mitigated easier and faster because there are practiced steps in place.

Do you practice any of these online community engagement principles with your business? Let me know in the comments below!

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?

Online Community Health Check: Start Here by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

Contributor: Vanessa DiMauro (Leader Networks)

Online Community Health FollrOur lives are filled with checkups. We get checkups for ourselves, our kids, our aging parents. Even our businesses have checkups to make sure all those important systems are working properly. We find personal coaches, attend parent-teacher conferences, go to the doctor with Mom or Dad. In business, we have board meetings, conferences with attorneys and accountants, seek advice from coaches and, yes, consultants.

Every dynamic system requires a checkup because, well, change is inevitable. We would rather things improve than let entropy have its disorderly way with us or our activities. This is especially true for delicate, difficult or nuanced activities such as building online communities for business. These online social organisms are, after all, made up of lots and lots of people. Change is built in. To keep one of these entities growing and thriving takes present attention, past insights and good deal of foresight to manage the present, learn from the past and keep an eye on and plan for the future.

The word is out that online communities yield substantial business results for those organizations that do them well.  Numerous recent studies document the strong top line results when social business initiatives succeed.  However, while some are thriving, many social business initiatives are failing. Worse yet, some of their owners and sponsors don’t have a clear idea if they are failing, how they are failing, or why.How could this be? Online communities are tough to launch, and even tougher to sustain.

The finest social business leadership team or community manager can benefit from a little outside guidance, fresh ideas, new perspectives and best practices to keep the social business machinery humming. The good news is that successful communities can perform even better, and laggards can make significant improvements, when the right strategic, tactical, operational, technical and organizational changes are implemented.

That’s the key: identifying and implementing the right changes to keep your community on track. What kind of activities, practices and behaviors should be assessed to ensure it is healthy and operating efficiently to generate the greatest returns?  There are well over 120 checkpoints to assess an online community’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth and greater success.

These include factors such as:

  • Strategic viability – Are operational practices in alignment with business strategy and goals?
  • Business plan integrity – Does the business model match up with community strategy and operations?
  • Operational performance — Is the member on-boarding process efficient? Is the community growing at the right rate? Are outreach efforts fruitful? Are success metrics on track? Are they the right metrics?
  • Technical framework – Does the community face technical limitations that inhibit use? Does the chosen technology platform support the business model? Are the community technologies moving towards greater integration with core business processes? If not, what are the implications of this divergence?
  • Organizational practices – Does the organization have the right skills available to support online community and social business? Do the social business initiatives have sufficient visibility and executive support within the organization? If not, what should you do?

That’s always the real question: what should you do? So … to help every online community become a winner, we at Leader Networks offer our Online Community Health Check. Here is a brief overview of the service and  more detail about the process.  This in-depth research-based assessment tool evaluates your online community’s capabilities and opportunities. Based on our years (decades, really!) of experience, we understand how best to create online environments that combine your network and business needs with the needs of those all-important people – your community stakeholders. Social business success is built on a deep understanding of what it takes to connect and engage the right people around topics that matter to them.  Our health check process identifies critical online community success factors we’ve developed and proven through scores of engagements across various industries over 15+ years. We also enhance our practical expertise with an ongoing research agenda which uncovers and applies new understanding for best practices to your online community. If you would like to find out how your community is doing – is it already a winner or would some tweaking and coaching help it succeed? —  we would be delighted to discuss how we can help your social business initiative succeed and thrive. Start here.

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