Community Building is something we’re very busy with at World Wide Creative (the digital marketing agency responsible for The Heavy Chef Project). We’re trying to build online communities around brands such as Honda, Virgin, Exclusive Books and even former South African minister Jay Naidoo, who, with his work on improving global nutrition, has become somewhat of a brand himself.
So, throughout all this hard work, we’re starting to see somewhat of a pattern emerge. With the various experiments and taste-testing of ingredients, there are certain stages in the process that we’ve identified as being critical to the success. In the spirit if sharing with our own community members, I’ve listed these stages below:
Stage 1: Offer Something Resonant
Note the word ‘resonant’. Not something ‘valuable’ or ‘expensive’. It’s a subtle nuance, but it’s a key differentiator to what will make your community building efforts effective. The point is: if whatever it is that you’re offering your potential community member is not enticing enough, he or she will not join. So, it needs to resonate with them. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re targeting executives to sign up as members to a particular group. To initiate your campaign you offer them a cash prize of $10,000. This may seem like a fair amount of money, but the campaign bombs. Why? The problem is that there are too many monetary offerings around rendering your prize meaningless. So you try another tack. This time your message is “Win a holiday worth $10,000″. Again, nobody cares. Why? The offering doesn’t hit home. There are too many competing prizes that renders yours insipid – plus, more than likely, the executives you’re targeting already have a bunch of money.
Now, think about an alternative message: “Win an internet-free, 100% wireless holiday with your partner.” All of a sudden, it stirs interest. People start signing up, en masse. The difference? You have struck a nerve in the emotional side of your community members – and you’ve not even mentioned how much the holiday is worth. You’re offering the people something that’s relevant and that resonates on an emotional level.
Stage 2: Interact Relentlessly
Now, a whole whack of people are joining your community, but all you can hear is crickets chirping. Believe me, this is more common that you think. There are countless forums, wikis, Twitter profiles, Facebook pages and message boards that are sitting dormant.
Remember this: the yardstick of a successful community is not how many people have joined, but how often those people interact with each other.
How does this happen? Simple. Your community needs a community manager. This is the poor sod who uploads content, news, articles, posts, links, updates, calendar events, images, questions, polls, podcasts and videos. This is the hero/heroine who sits on TweetDeck scrutinizing @replies and mentions relating to your brand. This is the thick-skinned superstar that puts out fires and flags bad behaviour.
A community manager is the person who monitors and stimulates activity within your online community.
There are many ways in which this can happen, depending on the size of your community – but believe me when I say this: your community manager needs to be smart and energetic. We’ve seen it at our own agency: the job of a community manager is something that requires a unique combination of social media nous, general/topical intelligence, street smarts and writing skills.
Whether you’re hiring someone, or you’re managing the community yourself, you need to ensure that there is non-stop interaction. Each day, you should be doing the following three things:
a) using ORM tools to track signals (online conversation threads relating to your brand)
b) identifying interaction opportunities (criticisms, compliments or questions relating to your brand)
b) initiating conversations (updating news, event dates, articles, links or fresh content)
Your community manager is the champion that will perform the three tasks above, all in the spirit of interacting relentlessly. Without this interaction, your community will whither and fade away.
Stage 3: Repeat
Let’s go back to your executives. The big day comes when you deliver your prize. You announce the winner’s name and triumphantly record that the community has grown seven-fold since your campaign started.
The important thing here is that you’ve built up momentum and your members have you top-of-mind. Your challenge is to avoid saturating your audience with irrelevant updates. You need to repeat the process outlined in Stage 1. Once again, the key is to offer something resonant. Bear in mind, this can take many forms: another prize, an award, a certificate, or even information packaged in a unique and valuable way. As long as you ask the question “Is what I’m offering going to resonate with my audience?” and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
** Note” I’m not talking about setting up a community, e.g. developing an online forum or a Facebook. I’m talking about growing a community.