Community Building: 3 Basics for a Solid Foundation for Success

To succeed in social media at any level means having a clear understanding of a few of the essential pre-game rules as well as the rules of engagement.

Our focus on the success of our community, and your community, is a top priority for us here at Follr, and in helping you succeed we want to offer tips, tricks, techniques and basics that will help you build a sustainable community and encourage interaction and growth.

The series begins today with 3 basics for building a foundation for success with your community, via social networks and the “rules of engagement”.

Success Starts with the Basics and a Solid Foundation
If you want to be ready for success with a Follr Communities Website, then you have to have a good foundation to build from. Whether you have been using social networking for years or are new to the digital world, it is important to learn the basics, or have a refresher course on what they are.

3 Basics for Building a Foundation for Success

  1. Understand the “Why”
    Before you can focus on the how, you need to have a basic understanding of the why. What this means is “Why are you here?” Just as with any good business plan you need to have an objective or a mission statement. Stop rolling your eyes, and realize that it actually helps maintain focus on the goal of being active in social networking and building your community.

    Spend time considering your purpose and objectives for the community you have built, be sure to write the ideas down. Brainstorm, don’t be afraid to make a long list and then narrow down the focus. If you start with the end in mind it often helps you figure out how to begin and gain momentum.

  2. Determine the “Which”
    Once you understand the Why, you need to figure out the “Which” meaning what networks or platforms work best for your purpose and to attain the goal you identified in the “Why” section. Determining which are the ideal platforms for your community, will help you achieve traction and community growth, as well as quality interactions.

    Being on the bleeding edge won’t necessarily help you – it’s not a race to be first, it’s a marathon of focus and engagement in the right places. If you are consumer focused you want to go where you will find your target demographic, your new audience. Take time to research platform use and study the most successful users, that will help you understand whether the platform will give you a good return for your time. Investing time in the wrong platform will negatively impact you costs in time and resources, be focused and efficient.

  3. Connect the “Distribution Points”
    The purpose of engaging on social networks for a budding community, or any entity, is to build relationships that will lead people back to you community, which is your home-base. Your Follr Community Website is Website 3.0 – it’s the new black and most fashionable way to provide information and encourage interaction. Consider it your hub, the social networks you select to engage on should all be connected back to your community and included in your social wall and links.

    Create the social network accounts, customize the profiles are you are nearly ready. Be consistent with user names on the various platforms, a unified identity is powerful. Then begin linking it all back to your Follr Community website. Next you will need to set up the social sharing feature so that your new posts and content are pushed out to the networks you just connected.

    You’re nearly ready to go…

Join us for the next post in this series to continue connecting the dots and bringing it all together for the most success with your Follr Communities Website.

Your success is our priority. We make it simple so you can focus on what matters, building your community.

Take your Follr Communities Website to the next level with upcoming coaching and webinars for our members. Make sure you watch for your Follr updates with information on upcoming enhancements and new features. Don’t have a community yet? Build your own, it’s Free and Fun!

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

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?

Join or Build: What Do You Need from an Online Community?

A lot of people wonder why they would want an online community. There are really two questions in the single statement. Do you need a community as a member? Likely. Do you need to build a community as a leader? Perhaps.

There are a few simple ways to help determine whether you would benefit as a member of a community or if you are better off building a community to meet your needs.

Here are some quick tips to help you know which decision is the one you need to make. Join or Build?

If you can't find what you need, do you create the solution to the need? Build or Join an Online Community?

If you seek it, you will find it. Or will you?
What information are you searching for? As you pour through search engine results, digging deeper and deeper, not finding what you are seeking. When you do, is the information timely and relevant? Or just keyword purchases misdirecting you to something you have no use of?

If the information you need is beyond the first page of results, there need to be more relevant and reliable resources on the topic you are researching.

If you are seeking it, chances are thousands of others are as well.

Overwhelmed by Results!
Your search returns lots of information, more than you have time to sort and review. How do you determine which results are credible and which are not? Social proof, and word of mouth marketing experts, would say that now you will seek the advice of your own friends, forcing more time spent on research, still seeking information.

You choose a link. There may be ads, live updates, pop-ups, and more. The stimulation alone overloads your senses. Overwhelmed, you give up.

Taking the initiative.
You ultimately aren’t happy with the options you have been presented with. You are an “initiator” and ready to take action. The “initiators” are a group of people that have the spark, enthusiasm and the drive to take the words “I can do it! If I solve it, they will come!” and make them a reality!

This is the birth of a community. The topic, the focus, the need, isn’t important. You can insert any of those, or business vertical, local community, government (the list is limitless) and you will have a need for a community.

Building that community should be intuitive, simple, easy and quick. You shouldn’t need to “code”. You require a simple, yet elegant, platform which gives you a place to build a vibrant community forum.

A place that people will want to flock to and enjoy returning. You want your community to be discovered, so having it a part of a larger network is ideal, but you don’t want that parent network to control it’s visibility.

Before you know it your community will take on a life of it’s own, becoming the sought after resource just waiting to be discovered by someone like you.

You made a connection, and you might have changed a life. What Community will you build to make a difference?

Secrets of Great Communities And Community Managers by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

honeypotSecret #1:  Great online communities are strategic.

Superior online communities, those that achieve breakthrough results for their organizations, all share a common trait.  Namely, they are treated as strategic initiatives and not campaigns, marketing programs, or skunk works efforts.  Great communities are holistic, integrated initiatives that support an important business need, accelerate a business process, or make something possible that couldn’t be done without an online collaborative environment.

Great community managers are the orchestrators of the strategies that are fueled by the lines of business. They reach out to business leaders to learn what they need and shape the responses by connecting the dots and maintain the tenor of collaboration.

Secret #2:  Great online communities develop a 90 day plan, every 90 days. 

The real work begins the day you launch the online community, and not the day you select or launch a tool. Too many organizations launch their communities without a 90 day plan which includes member acquisition, beta group participation, ongoing content and conversation programs, member outreach plans.  Great communities have a thoughtful program and revise it every few months to accommodate for the cadence of the community and business needs. As online communities have a doubling factor of 6 months, swift growth and participation is a bell-weather for future success.

Great community managers are great planners, know how to shepherd people to share in the initiatives, and are able to display urgent patience. Urgent patience means having a keen eye on tomorrow while being completely immersed in the needs of the day.

Secret #3People come for content and stay for community.

Creating meaningful content for an online community is a tricky business. Few online communities survive solely on member discussions. However, if online community management shares too much content of marginal value, members can be overwhelmed and distracted. And of course, too little content usually results in an empty community. So great content is the honeypot for great online communities. And not just any content will do!  It need to be largely derivative of the insights shared in the online community – of the members, about the members, but *not* entirely by the members. Highly curated and representative of the community members’ collective experience is the most sought after community content because it is that which cannot be gotten elsewhere.

Great community managers are great researchers.  They are able to create high quality content from the unstructured and structured data shared in the online community but bring an overlay of sense-making to the ideas so that the output is useful, useable and engaging for all.

Secret #4: When online communities become great, the members take control. 

The greatest fear many organizations have is that people will say bad things online about your company. While online communities (and any online activity) can certainly expose problems with products and services, social responsibility and customer care weaknesses, there are plenty of channels where customers can disparage your company. If you have failed them, it is most likely that customers are already “out there” spreading their message. And if they are delighted (as in most cases for solid organizations) you want to help them share their experiences. Great communities invite in the supporters and detractors and offer them a proverbial cup of tea. By engaging around hot topics, the company has a chance to learn more about key issues and resolve problems before they boil over.  In many cases, the most vocal outlier can become your strongest champion when treated with respect, and the brand supporters appreciate a vetted platform.

Great online community managers know how to share the reins of control, empower others, develop volunteer cadres, and support member-member interactions without losing control. They know how to lead and create balance in human power relationship.

Secret #5: Great online communities demonstrate tangible value over time. 

Great communities adhere to clear metrics and measures that align with the business (see Secret #1). Their value is firmly rooted in a business case that goes well beyond cost-reduction.  The metrics are focused on measuring the right things and not just that which is countable, regardless of whether the metric matters to anyone.

Great online community managers collaborate with business leaders (i.e. PSO, marketing, R&D, customer support) to develop meaningful business measures,  report outcomes (both leading and lagging indicators) on a regular basis, showcase progress against standard practice and serve the executive in communicating online community value in terms that matter to the business.

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

Simple Kindness Trumps Most Anything Else

Today’s post was inspired by my old pal (and I don’t mean age, because I trump him by about a month) Chris Brogan. In Owner Magazine, of which Chris is the CEO and Publisher, he wrote a thoughtful and thought provoking post entitled “When it All Starts to Work” – his work usually gets me thinking, this time it really nailed a truth, and reminded me of how Chris had offered kindness, help and inspiration as a mentor to me back in 2010. Thanks Chris! Keep up the work of being awesome and king of the Freaks (and Geeks) with Julien, Rob and Jacq!

When it all comes down to it, no matter how connected we are, the connection doesn’t matter if we don’t make sure the people know they matter.

Staying connected to your community, and therefore keeping your business alive means making sure you take notice of the things that matter to people.

Despite the vast size of the Inter-webs, we have all gained the ability to become more aware, better connected and more empathetic to the needs of those that exist on the planet around us. The community that is humanity is the most amazing community of all.

Online communities are no different, each individual is an important part of the whole. A community of one isn’t a community at all, a community is an ecosystem, a beautiful result of the efforts of many coming together to create something of value, something that can help and inform.

The online community is the Village of old, in the days before automobiles, even before steam engines, when horse and wagon might have been the only method of travel.

Finding moments to stop, look, breathe and appreciate what we have and how easy life truly is, is also the time to consider and reflect on what you bring to the Community.

It is time to find more moments of kindness, of thoughtfulness, to ask others what they need, how you can help, and for those you ask to know that the intent is truly there, it is not a nicety. We all need to connect with others in some way, we are not creatures of isolation, and humans are social by nature.

We need more communities. The recent trend toward smaller communities online supports our overall desire for a simpler, more basic existence. The cry for connecting, reverberates within us and we long for the “simpler times”. It’s why we now are clearly seeing the trend toward micro-networks, and micro-communities.

Where will this lead us? What will happen to the gigantic networks, the silos, as they struggle to define their existence, slowly strangling the young communities only just beginning to gain their legs, ready to sprint forward and change the world.

The next few years should be wondrous. Watching the evolution that I believe is inevitable, the great giants brought to their knees as people seek to reconnect with their communities, to matter to one another, to be thoughtful of others, to offer kindness to everyone. To encourage, promote and lift each other up, for when one person rises, we all rise together.

What do you think is coming next?

4 Easy Online Community Engagement Ideas

Follr Online Community Engagement IdeasDo you ever feel out-of-touch or disconnected with your online community? It can be difficult to feel connected to your online community in the same ways you feel connected with your physical community. Members need to not only feel like their input is valued, but also feel like they’re tapping in to a place of valuable content and information. In order to cultivate some of that same closeness and camaraderie, try one, two or all of these online community engagement ideas!

1. Caption Contest

It may seem silly, but think about it – no matter how old you are or what your interests may be, coming up with a funny or clever caption is hard to resist! Consider posting of photo of your pet checking out what you have cooking in the kitchen if you have a recipe or cooking group. Members with pets will relate to you, and they might even feel obliged to share a similar post in the future.

2. Give-Away

Everyone loves things that are free, especially if the thing being given away is of particular interest to your community members. Engage them by posting about a give-away. You could give away a favorite product of yours: say you have a community revolving around books and literature, give away a new copy of an old classic. Or it could simply be a piece of original poetry if your budget is tight. Encourage members to comment on the post to be entered and pick randomly 3-5 days later. Once you’ve found your winner, tag them in a follow up post to offer congratulations!

3. Internet “Scavenger Hunt”

This may sound daunting, but it’s really just a sneaky way to get your members visiting another one of your sites. Say you have a blog in addition to your online community. Engage your members by giving them 2 or 3 specific posts of yours to find and read, and ask them to prove they were successful by leaving a short comment on each. Who knows, you may even pick up a few more followers!

4. Controversial Question

This is a bit of a no brainer, but rookie online community builders can sometimes be afraid to rock the boat. What tentative community builders aren’t taking advantage of is the fact that we, as citizens of the internet, L.O.V.E. a good controversy. Pick a recent political or business-related scandal and post a link to an article summing it up. Don’t give hint as to where you stand on the issue, just encourage members to leave comments with their thoughts and opinions. Members will feel heard and perhaps you’ll learn something new!

If you have a chance to give one of these Online Community Engagement Ideas a try, let us know how it went! And feel free to share your own community engagement ideas!