How to Get an Active Community

As I explored in my post on Encouraging a Community with the carrot and stick method, I was having difficulty getting members to be active users.

My analysis found that the community I’d fostered wanted to hear stories, but didn’t want to give them. My next step was to encourage people to talk. I created an area where aspiring journalists could just talk, announcing their presence on the site. The idea is that if they’re friends, they’ll be more inclined to help each other. That might not work, but it’s had a better success rate that my previous efforts! The next step is to approach communities that want to tell their stories and enable them to meet the community of Journalists who’ve now started interacting on the site.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:

Don’t assume users will grow organically –make a community

The individuals are out there, but it takes effort to bring them together. Sometimes it just takes a few people conversing to give others’ the confidence to join the conversation.

Use personal relationships to ask people to become members

I asked people I was already in conversation with to help me out by starting the conversation. The people I asked were already aspiring Journalists, so I targeted people I thought would have a genuine interest in posting on the site, but knowing me already and being asked by me personally meant they were more willing to do something for me.

Build personal relationships with members

Managing this community doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Accept that you know no more than each member of your community. Be human. Thank them for their advice and opinions. A good community manager won’t need to force this, because we’re passionate about the people in our community.

Foster a core group of ambassadors

When Nick Lockey told me this is how Flickr started, the penny dropped! The more I’ve put it into practice, the more I’ve realized how crucial it is. I wish I’d done it sooner! The first members will set the tone for everyone else. Start by asking people you already know in that community to do something specific. For me, this was asking them to post something about themselves and what area they were looking for stories in. You could ask them to

  • do a poll
  • give advice or
  • give their opinion.

It must specific though! People are more inclined to do something they can do in a few minutes.

So the lesson I learnt:

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A conversation can grow organically, but a good community manager starts the conversation – even if it’s manufactured.

Have you learnt from a community you’re managing? Have you got any ideas on how I can find a community of people who have stories to tell, and how to join them with my community of Journalists? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments box below.

East Coast Trains – a Press Team Problem

A few months back, I developed an online community developed to users of East Coast Trains – Eyes OnEastCoast.

It’s a news, views and watchdog for passengers who use the line, which runs between London and Scotland.

The interest from passengers is certainly there and I’m really keen to give the community more time in order to really develop a strong and effective online community. I need to give it more time and attention. But so do the East Coast press team.

EyesOnEastCoast isn’t just about complaining the trains don’t run on time. It aims to be a user-led community which discusses what’s right, as much as what’s wrong. 

I’ve tried to communicate this to the press office but there seems to be a strong reluctance to respond. My main contact at the moment has generally (there are exceptions) been slow to respond and less-than-enthusiastic in tone. It’s obviously vital to develop a good relationship with what is a crucial source of information for the community.

But I know what needs to be done. I need to plough more time into the community and get it to grow. Not only will this make the press office more responsive but it should help illustrate the community’s use:

Many users have the same questions and experiences regarding East Coast – so by sharing any information publicy in response to one user, you can help or inform many others in the process.  My most recent email from the press office contained a request that I ask customers to get in touch directly – the implication was that they’d rather users didn’t go through me. I emailed back to clarify their request. Was I effectively being told to halt all communication with the press office? No response so far. 

Regardless, the most interesting thing was that they linked this request to the fact that they were a busy press office. They were saying, I assume, that there is not enough time for dealing with my communications. 

What the Press Office is therefore yet to see is that’s the whole point! We’re all very busy. We all don’t have time. But an online community means we can pool our time – ask questions, find answers, air grievances or share success.  I don’t think East Coast’s press office have grasped this yet. Maybe that’s my fault. It’s up to me to develop the community enough in order to illustrate its potential use.

If I still come up against a brick wall, one can only assume it’s a line that doesn’t want to be held to account but I hope that’s not the case.

Have you come across a tricky press office or comm’s team? How did you deal with it? Let me know!

Emergency and unpredicted communities: Quakebook

Almost three weeks ago an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale and a subsequent tsunami destroyed vast areas of North-Eastern Japan. It’s an event which marked a significant change in the way that information is distributed.  It’s widely acknowlegded that with no electricity and no mobile phone network coverage, social media such as facebook and twitter were fundamental in communication, more so than ever before.

Kim Stephens writes a blog about Social Media and Emergency Management and says

With every disaster the importance of social media and its potential power seems to grow.

But it’s not the messages of ‘I’m safe’ that interests me here. Whilst the use of social media to let loved ones know you are alive and well is undoubtedly a breakthrough phenomenon, there is already a plethora of articles and blogs about this all over the net.(idisaster2.0 is a good place to start if you are interested.)

It is the way that the internet and social media in particular, have served to create communities of people wanting to help in reaction to the disaster. International charities and NGOs have employees galore to deal with this but what about the individual, independent people – generally in Japan, those who are trying their hardest to raise money for the relief effort are also trying to raise awareness too.

Quakebook is a project set up by a British long term resident of Japan, known to the blogging world as the Japan Times’ Our Man in Abiko. Combining his skills as a former journalist and a modern day twitter fiend he decided to gather as many people’s tweets, stories and thoughts together. He wanted to use his journalistic experience to edit them into a coherent series of anecdotes under extremely tight time restrictions and publish them in a book called 2.46 (after the time the earthquake happened) within a week. But to do this Our Man in Abiko needed to create a community of people who had witnessed the disaster, and quick.

Grabbing the attention of major news organisations such as the BBC news and the Wall Street Journal was the breakthrough. Within 24 hours quakebook had several huge, international organisations on side as well as Yoko Ono! Once again it comes down to advertising the existance of your community. It’s about gathering momentum and interest.

The Quake Book Blog describes the moment it started

The 2:46 Quakebook project started with a tweet and is on the verge of something great, a way that we can help all those hit by the the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and its aftermath.

Led by Our Man in Akibo, a call went out across Twitter for contributors to create a book to raise funds for Red Cross Japan. The idea was to share the stories and experiences of people actually on the ground during the earthquake, whilst raising funds for the Red Cross…. The contributions have come from a wide variety of sources, and include photographs, personal accounts, drawings; each telling their own tale.

The quake book phenomenon was viral and the book was completed in seven days. Video journalists from Japan and elsewhere formed a community to create the book. Journalists and writers joined the community to help with the heavy task of editing all the contriubtions. All money raised from the book will go directly to the Red Cross Japan. It’s inconceivable that even 5 years ago a community of this size and influence could have been created and nurtured in this way, particularly in such a devastated natural disater zone.

Final thought: The key thing in establishing a large, online community in a situation like this is capitalising on the momentum achieved from publicity from large organisations/ prolific tweeters with many thousands of followers. In the long term, a community like this would be difficult to manage. But this kind of ‘emergency community’ is not for the long term. You could almost say it has now served its purpose – the book is published and the funds will start coming in.

Community Kindness – Bringing Your Brand to Life

Having discussed how companies should compose themselves online (Presence vs. Pretence), how now can they use this expansive source to really propel their brand and name? How can they take advantage of the internet? Answer: R.A.K.

Random Acts of Kindness has become a phenomenon online for big businesses. The ultimate community managers are scouring their followers, members and contributors in order to find the perfect candidates, the ideal individuals for a random act of kindness which will brilliantly project their brand. Biotherm UK and Interflora UK are two great examples of this trend, shown here.

Although it’s directed to an individual, it will be remembered by thousands. R.A.K requires a dedicated, understanding and tactful manager. If done right it is glorious, if done wrong it is pretty bad! trendwatching.com explains exactly how it should be done, below are a few excerpts from the site, but for the full down low click here.

R.A.K 101

Be genuine. R.A.K. should demonstrate a brand’s attitude, not be a temporarily welcome exception to it. Anything fake will be unmasked in today’s transparent marketplace.

Be personal, but not too personal.  A light-hearted gesture at the right time will be appreciated, intruding into personal issues certainly won’t be.

Make it shareable. Give someone a reason to share their R.A.K. with their friends and family.

Be generous.  Be really generous to a few people, rather than kind-of-nice to lots of people.

Don’t intrude, or be pushy, or sell. This isn’t about you or your brand, it’s about the recipient.

Don’t make R.A.K. too frequent. Customers shouldn’t feel upset if they don’t get a R.A.K.

Although I’ve given examples of great big businesses, remember that you can do it too! So – I implore you to go out into your virtual community and bestow a gift, perk or compliment to someone needing a pick-me-up. And please, tell us about it when you do!

Community Management for TV Programme Support

Nick Lockey is a Multi-Platform Development Producer for Maverick Television.

He develops the New Media potential of programmes such as Embarrassing Bodies, 10 Years Younger, How To Look Good Naked, Bizarre ER and The Model Agency. They’re pioneering online and multi-platform ideas that are built-in to the programme, not just a bolt-on afterwards. Nick creates things like

  • Mobile apps
  • Web communities
  • Online tools
  • Extra video clips

Who is Nick and what programmes do Maverick Television make?

We’ve heard from lots of Community Managers like Rich Milington, but Nick is perhaps closer to an accidental community manager. I asked him how he engages with communities

Digg is a free for all where people share resources, but Reddit was set up to be more positive – so they have two very different distinct personalities. Flickr started as a photosharing game that grew into a site. When they first started, they did a ‘meet and greet’, setting up a community of ambassadors that set the tone for everyone else that follows.

Community management is integral to Maverick’s television programme support

Nick explains that there are two ways of approaching communities

Nick’s Top tips:

  • Use cached and similar buttons on google search – cached highlights the search term on the page. The similar button will bring up websites similar to the one you’re looking at.
  • Ning.com – it’s a simple to use social network of social networks – great place to set up a community
  • Twitter search and hash tags – might lead you to an interesting place
  • Google Blog Search and Technorati
  • Check the blog roll – it’ll help you find that first link in the chain!

There are more pearls of wisdom in the full interview here

Have you tried any of the tools Nick mentions? Where would you like to see Community Management in television programme support going in the future? We’d love to hear your views in the comments box below!

Boost your brand with social media and an online community

When it comes to advertising £1 out of four is spent online. This is a relatively new trend as big brands come to realise that online is where the action is!

It’s been revealed by The Grocer that Coca-Cola cut its ad spend by 6.6% in 2010. Instead the company is trying to build relationships with their audiences or customers through social media and their online community.

With the launch of Coke Zone – a website with a blog, news, sport and entertainment – Coca Cola is aiming to establish better relationships with its customers.

Sindy4cokezone interacts with the members of the online community telling them about what is going on at Coca Cola:

Coke zone

This interaction demonstrates Coca-Cola’s social media strategy which is clearly about long-term sustainable engagement, developing advocacy and encouraging brand loyalty. It also shows that social media is not just about campaigns or generating buzz around a new product launch, but that it can also be used to engage with consumers on an ongoing basis in order to deepen relationships with a brand.

Starbucks has also joined the social media revolution when it comes to brands and online community management. The coffee shop chain has developed a page called My Starbucks Idea:

My Starbucks Idea

Customers are able to give their opinions on certain Starbucks products and make suggestions for new ones or to bring back old ones.

Mini cupcake holders

We’ve all heard Vodafone’s slogan “Power to you” and it seems that brands are taking this idea and developing it through their online communities. Essentially the use of social media with brands and advertising gives more power to the customer and client and is now one of the most useful tools available to big brands..

BUT it’s important that the relationships brands build with their members are well managed – otherwise members will stop being active, think less of the organisation and at worst leave the community.

Misuse of social media and the community to promote your brand

Promoting

It’s true that you represent the brand, but you’re not a promotional vehicle.

Your forums, comment threads, Facebook wall, Twitter stream, email lists and other channels of communication you control must not be simple promos either .

If you can steer away from self-promotion you will protect the integrity, trust, openness and fun in your community.

Corporate speak

Don’t be too professional. Use words that you would normally – be yourself!

Things to remember…

  • Your brand must be well-established.
  • Use forums to build your online community: sharing information will encourage interaction within the site and promote the brand.
  • Create quality content: interesting and varied topics and questions for the diverse range of people participating in the forum.
  • As online community manager you should be relatively easy to contact, as the members will sometimes have concerns.

Let us know how you have used social media and your online community to boost your brand.

Fragmented Online Community Management

If readers of this blog hadn’t picked up on it already, I have a slight fondness for a certain British Soap and it’s provided useful as a running theme on some different aspects of online community management.

For a final blog using Coronation Street, I’d like to take a look at fragmented online communities and a world without management. Or at least a world without macro-management.

Check out this Twitter List of Corrie pages, some of which lead to fan sites, forums etc. The tweeters include casual fans, more active community managers, blogs, a number of the actors and even some of the actors’ mums!

The list also contains an official site or two, run by the powers-that-be at ITV. But those aren’t the locations where the community comes alive. It comes alive without a single manager – but with many micro-managers interacting with each other on specific aspects of the programme be it quoting great lines, an upcoming awards ceremony or a particular character on Corrie.

Some micro-managers interacting with each other

This community is thriving and I’ve watched it grow over the past months.

A couple of points I find the most interesting:

1) It’s a community which is sometimes disparate and certainly fragmented, yet knits itself together

2) Managers exist, and fluctuate in dominance, but no single one or group really ‘runs’ the community

And questions to ask:

1) Is this a more democratic form of online community management?

2) Without centralised management, the community is also without a strategy – will it suffer as a result?

What disparate online communities do you know about?

Do they work? Let me know and post them up – I’d love to see some more examples.

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