Social media has shown us all how important it is to build an engaged community on your site. Having an active community behind you can increase sales, build your brand, and serve as your very own volunteer promotional army to help get your word out. But how do you go about creating one? How do you jump start that feeling of community on your site so that you’re able to leverage it?
Here are some starting points.
Give users something to rally behind
It’s pretty simple, really. Before you can create a community on your site, you need to give users something that’s worth rallying around. Something that will unite them and that is worth the investment. Most often your community is going to form around either the product you’re selling or the content (via a blog, forum, etc) that you’re producing on your site. Whatever that “thing” is, it needs to be strong and compelling enough to bring people together. There’s an endless amount of noise fighting for people’s attention these days. You need to create something that you won’t be able to stop people from congregating around. Think ICanHasCheezBurger. Arguably one of the most ridiculous sites on the Web – and yet, you can’t keep people away.
Promote users, not yourself
You are not what makes your community cool; your users are. So stop promoting yourself and start shining a light on them. Talk about their accomplishments and give them the floor to be a star. Create an environment where they can get in, share and show everyone how smart they are. No one really cares about you (sorry). You’re just hosting the conversation. If you take a look at the thriving communities in your niche, it’s very likely they’ve already adopted this stance. The best communities, on the Web and off, are the ones that are focused on promoting their members, not the logo that’s on the site. Make your community about your customers. Ask them questions. Ask for their help in running things. Get feedback. Find out what they’re doing. You’ll learn a lot about how to market to them and you’ll strengthen your community by making them feel important.
Make it easy for people to contribute, share
The harder you make it for people to join your community, the less likely it is that they will. Stop throwing unnecessary barriers in their path. If you want people to leave blog comments, don’t force them to register in order to do so. If you want them to sign up for your newsletter, don’t create a 10-step sign up process. If you want them to tweet your blog posts, then put a button right in the post that lets them do it in one click. If you want them to subscribe to your blog, then constantly show them how. Whatever it is you want them to do, make it super easy for them to do so. Otherwise, they won’t. People are lazy and there are plenty of communities willing to cater to that.
Reward people who contribute
Highlight the users who are most vocal and active on your site. These people ARE your site. The more invested you can make them in what you’re doing, the more they’re going to want to help you promote it and support you. Give back to them by creating a leader board that shows off their contributions, give them a chance to guest post, to moderate comments, get a sneak peak at new products or make them part of a special “focus group” that can get into new areas of the site before anyone else. Find little ways to “thank them” for being so supportive and helping to build a thriving community on your site. The top contributors on your site hold a tremendous amount of power. Respect that and show them you value them. Otherwise, they’ll take their value and contributions and host them somewhere else.
This can be really hard, but you need to be the one who will stand up and lay order in your community when it’s necessary. It’s okay for community members to be critical of you, but they need to be respectful of one another. If you create an environment where people are allowed to attack one another and be vicious, then no one is going to want to hang out there. Make your members feel safe. The best way to encourage them to go to bat for you is for you to first go to bat for them. If someone is getting picked on, say something. If someone is taking advantage of the home you’ve created, lay out some ground rules to stop it. Being the “adult” in the room isn’t fun, but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to create a healthy community where people feel safe.
How are some ways you’ve been able to create a community on your site?
Good advice. I’m continually turned off by sites who makes things difficult. I want quick and easy to find access to things like newsletters, social links, etc. If it’s not in plain view, I’m not going to search for it.
“Rewarding people who contribute” is something I have been thinking about a lot. When I reflect on my experience with BizSugar, the small business news and social media site I bought a couple of months ago, I realize how important this is.
Solving the challenge is another matter — but we’re on the case!
The first site that came to mind as I read this was Digg. They did all of these things early on, but it seems that recently they have strayed somewhat (with the banning of high profile members and a very heavy-handed approach to regulation). How would you recommend a site maintain the community as it grows and the dynamics change?
Great article. I’m currently working on a website and one of my goals is to create a good community for it. I agree with everything here! I’ve actually printed out the article for everyone else I’m working with on this project.
Great tips Lisa! Especially your last point “Protect it”, it only takes a few to ruin a growing community. 😉
Excellent information that makes a lot of sense. I especially like the points about avoiding a lengthy sign-up for newsletters and putting barriers in people’s ways. Simple and rally- two great takeaway’s.Thank you Lisa- well done!
Nice article and resource. I think the most important point is that a community isn’t about you, but rather about the users — get that one right and you’ll be on the right path!
Great tips. It is plenty of things to think about when you are setting up at community. I wrote a longer comment earlier, but it hasn’t showed up yet…
Good list of things to think about. Our company has set up a simple forum site, using Drupal tool. It is under construction at the moment. It is very easy to join the Blue Chip Network and contribute with submissions. It was so easy to join so we attracted some spammers too. That’s sad, but we fixed it now. I wonder why so many people are trying to destroy things?
I will think about these tips related to my new role a social media “specialist” (enthusiast in my words) and business intelligence analyst for a start-up company. We will first to do profiling of their customers according to “Forrester’s Social Technographics (reg.),” described in the Groundswell book, and see if it is suitable to have a forum / community site to start with. My wild guess is that we should start with other social media tools in the beginning.
Robert: Talking about Digg, have you heard about social news site platform, Slinkset? It is now a part of Posterous.
Community building is nothing but leveraging relationships. It is the only way to promote one’s business.
Really useful tips for promotion of website. I appreciate Lisa Barone for this great contribution.
Great article…and right on. I’m currently working on building a business community. Your article reinforced some of what I already knew and gave me a few additional things to consider. Thanks, Lisa.
There is at times a tendency to focus on the tools and technology and forget that they are just means to an end: engaging stakeholders, providing business value, and achieving business success.
Keep creating a brand that is worth raving about.
Nice tips. I think for small business building online communities, the biggest hurdle is definitely “There’s an endless amount of noise fighting for people’s attention these days.”
Unlike established brands that have organic online followers, small business often has to “create” its online identity and hope to get noticed.
Small business should focus on very niche vision, ideally around their local community, to gain quicker traction.
How the heck am I supposed to promote you if you are not a member of The Franchise King Facebook Fan Page?
I always promote my fans.
The Franchise King
Thanks, may I add that these tips will work for people who are prepared to work hard. They are not for lazy bones.
In todays world people are too busy n creating wealth and have forgotten the term “relationship” In fact its the relationship which builds and brings about the business
Thanks for this I am putting togeter a new site and think it would be a good idea to try and build a community around i. Do you think I should try and integrate a forum or should I just use disscussion groups and tools in third party sites like facebook?