Monday, June 22, 2015

Building Online Communities

I hear and read a lot on Twitter lately about people looking for quick magic answers on how to build thriving online communities, and people looking for advice on “how to best reach our audience.” Those two things are not the same – communities are groups of like-minded people that get together for a myriad of reasons, but that always share knowledge, ideas and most importantly conversations. On the other hand, an audience receives this knowledge, these ideas, etc… The best way I can describe the difference is: a community is engaging and interactive, while an audience passively receives information.

A community is something that will live with you throughout the lifecycle of your brand, when built and nurtured “right.” They will get to know you, and you will get to know them. Both you (and/or your brand) and the members of the community will ideally grow as a result of your relationship.

Like any other relationship in your life, both online and off, it takes work. Think of the friends you have offline – how did that friendship begin? What makes it continue to grow, deepen and become more meaningful? Do those same things with your online communities. There is no reason to be any different online than you are offline.

If you are building an online community as a brand, there are a few steps I would recommend, to help you get started.

1.      See where people are already talking about you. If people are talking about your brand and excited about it more on Twitter, start there. If there are more people you see mentioning you on Facebook, start there.

2.      Get to know the people in the community as you build it. Again, all relationships take time. Give yourself time to get to know each member. What do they like to do? What other brands do they like besides yours? Where do they spend their free time? What sort of work do they do? These are all things I would like to know about potential close friends, whether they are online friends or friends offline.

3.      As you’re getting to know each member in your community, you might find certain members have more in common with others. Help make those introductions. Help them grown their own communities!

4.      Be you. Have you ever been at a dinner party and there’s that one guest that only is talking about himself, boasting about things that you couldn’t care less about? Don’t be that guy. You are representing your brand for a reason – your sparkling personality! Don’t be afraid to show it and let people get to know more about you, as well as your brand. Don’t let a keyboard make a conversation awkward or any different than it would feel if you were talking with a new friend in person. (for the record, I’m often quite awkward when meeting new people, but that’s ok! We’re human.)

5.      Be consistent. What do you say about those friends that make plans, then cancel them, or see you for a date and then disappear for 3 months? Honestly, we ALL have that friend. Personally? I call them flakes. And it’s not a good thing – it’s annoying, right? To never know if you can depend on that person or not, or know if you make plans, that they won’t fall through last minute? Again? Perhaps I’m repeating myself, but it’s one of my most favorite movie quotes, so I’ll say again, “Don’t be that guy.” Be reliable. It’s a good personality trait no matter what you’re doing.

6.      Remember to keep things relevant. If you were reading this article, and knew from the headline that it would contain tips about building a community online, and suddenly there were paragraphs about my dog’s fear of thunderstorms, you’d be pretty confused, right? That’s because how my dog feels during rain has nothing to do with steps in building community. It’s something you might find out being IN a community with me, as I talk about my dog all the time, but it has no relevance here. You might get sidetracked once in a while, but try to keep your voice and message consistent and clear, and most importantly, relevant. People joined your community for a reason – don’t give them reasons to leave, or find it’s not what they wanted to be involved in when you came together.

7.      Be a community insider. You are a member of the community just as much as anyone else there is. Don’t look at it as being any different – share successes of members of the community, comment on things they share with you, join conversations.

8.      Bring online, offline. As you grow and get to know your community, see if you can meet anyone for coffee. Do you travel for work often, as I do? Even better! Now you’ve got the opportunity to meet even more people! I like to organize “Tweet-Ups” in each city I visit, so not only do I get the chance to meet more people in person, but other members of the community get to meet each other. You’ll be surprised how many people live in the same city and don’t ever meet up. I like to bring together, and it’s always so much fun!

9.      Try to have an attitude of gratitude. At the end of the day, your brand is nothing without people that like it and support it. So why not continually remember that, and always strive to make those people feel as important as they are? Surprise gifts are fun, but not always necessary. Inherently, people like to be acknowledged. Don’t you? I know I do. A simple thank you isn’t always so simple to some people, it means a lot more than you think.

10.   Remember to always monitor the community. If you aren’t paying attention to certain metrics, how do you know if your community is growing and thriving? How will you know what you’re doing well within the community and what more people would like to see you doing?

I wish Top 10 Lists were about 20 items longer. I’m so passionate about the communities I’m fortunate to be involved in and would love to say so much more! For now though, I’d love to hear what YOU have found – what makes your community great? How did you begin to grow it? What have you learned from your community that you didn’t know before you started?

Here's a shot from a recent Tweet-Up in LA!

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