My first community Turns Ten Years Old March 10th!
After a decade of community building, here are a few things I have learned
Some Observations About Planets and Such
Online communities are like little planets, each with their own ecosystem. As a community manager, you provide the venue for conversations to happen. Once they happen, it is your job to make sure the content becomes categorized, tagged and grouped with relevant items. Of course you must make members aware that such place of your creation is the type of a place for people of suchness to discuss what it is worth discussing. In order to help others of such suchness find your place for discussing such so that they might discuss such too. As such, you must "do" certain things outside of your community, like linking back to those discussions and photos which continue to bring in new members. Only the best of the best content originating on your site will attract visitors. Visitors interested in such may become members in order to join such discussions. Then it becomes up to you to decide what you need to know about their relation to such through profile questioning. As founder, you must gauge whether or not they qualify for membership. There is a good chance that a follower of your facebook page will already be interested in your topic, as long as you stay on topic. If you stray too far from the topic, members will leave.
The Questions We Ask
The questions you ask them should require answers by which you test their humanity and sanity, unless you're building a social community for robots and refridgerators, think of it as a quiz. This quiz is the best kind of quiz because they can always change the answers to reflect who they actually want themselves to be seen as online. The answers they save become the about section on everyone's profile. With the right tuning, a member's profile could be as impactful as a living resume. The answers they provide can tell you whether they are joining for the right reasons. Their profile become the criteria upon which all other members will gauge them as well. You shouldn't accept every person who joins to increase numbers. The person who joins must be deeply interested in the specific subject matter of your community. If not and they still try to join, they have ulterior motives, which may cause you stress eventually. In my experience I have noticed that if a person will not take the time to fill out their profile, they will never contribute anything to your community. Avoid the pain of spammers joining by asking well thought out questions in addition to using the other social platforms as your qualifiers for new members. That is where facebook, twitter, tumblr, pinterest, instagram and any number of other services become your community satellites, amplifying your message to other planets and to people in the future who haven't even been born yet..
Listening Through Noise
In a world of noise, social channels become clouded and must be filtered and categorized according to relevance, if for no other reason than clarity. A community online becomes different over time, changing while pushing older content down and replacing with it with new topics. In communities of practice, old topics can become new discussions to anyone who is serious about what it is that they do. Each topic originates in your community or rather, it should. Rather than bang it out on Facebook, put it inside a post on your community and share the link on Facebook. You'll have much more control over the message that way. You message will be read by those who want to or have time to read it. When the post is live, the link becomes what you share as updates on your satellites- your associated social profiles. All of those links should all be linking back to your post in the community now. That link become like a prism through which the focus is channeled and redistributed in a manner similar to a spectrum - public knowledge changes every single time an object of knowledge is reinterpreted. Every time some new way of doing anything is invented, the old way may still be the best way , if for no other reason than because it is known to work. Whether or not it is will always remain a matter of opinion or debate. Questions of this suchness are timeless and as such should be grouped for reintroducing members to your site or in the very least make it simpler to find what they are looking for somewhere in that community. This is how we lessen the noise. We must learn to listen to one another through noise while reducing the noise, together.
Think of it like this: Your community is your planet that you are trying to protect and grow- the inhabitants of that planet (your members) love to have choices. One such choice is the ability to follow the community feed if all things happening inside your community from the outside- from the comfort of their fb profile by following your associated facebook page, for example, as a filter. This gives them an option. They don't have to be bombarded with everything that happens. This is the whole point in Groups. You follow groups to reduce the noise. For example, a surveying student wouldn't be interested necessarily in the discussions happening in the Retired Surveyors group. Such is the case with your community. Relevance becomes possible through organization. If your members follow your satellites, they are able to casually jump in at any time. This is their right as citizens of your community to not have to be notified when something irrelevant to their interests occurs on the main site. The best way to keep those following from the outside coming in is by feeding them links to community content every-single-day. The best way to do this, in my opinion is through creation and updating of linktrees - one link with a collection of links related in type or subject matter. It could be discussions about a particular brand, organization, topic, category or type. You collect the links and keep adding them... but only share the one elink. Now you can pack 20 reasons to come back to the site rather than one.
This is a snapshot of my dashboard where i have links that I can turn into newsletters or embed them. eLink basically eliminates all of the time that you normally would have to spend crafting the HTML newsletters. You can easily track your views and use deeper analytics for any of the links to get geeky. It's the best $5 (if you're a student like me) you could spend on your community.
Recycling archived content and bringing awareness to popular items is kinda your job if you manage a community. No one likes to enter a room for the first time and join a group of people standing around and staring at one another. A good way to insure this doesn't happen is to continuously reignite the conversation by introducing new speakers to the circle. Regularly update the links and redistribute them to your peers and colleagues. On one community forum I built, we have conversations that were first started in 2009 that still receive comments and every new visitor offers a new perspective or insight from another geography. Of course you could pay a person like me to try to do it for you. I would of course do my best, but chances are it would be better if I taught you so that you could put the time in. Chances are if I can't relate the subject matter of your community to my own life, job, hobby, interest and/or passion, how could i ever really be able to make it perfect?
Lead By Example
Put the time in and see what you attract. If you think your community is dead because no one new is applying to join, no one posts anymore, people are leaving, or any of the 100 other reasons why communities die, you may be wrong. Word of Mouth to mouth resuscitation may save it's life. If you want for your network to expand, you must lead by example. You will never be able to effectively "pay someone to do it for" you. At the end of the day, week, month, year, decade, only you know what will gain the interest of people like you...for whom the community was intended. Take it from me..a person who like you felt at one time like i didn't know what to do next. I noticed a sort of scientific process at work that I wanted to follow closer. My original Ning community for Professional Land Surveyors built March 10th 2007 will turn 10 years old next week. I have learned a lot from managing online communities over the past decade. Hopefully some of my observations can help save a few of you some time.
Takeaway and Give Back
If you have a lot of content which has not been categorized or recollected into linktrees, you are simply missing out on all of the traffic you could and should have- would have, if you did. elink.io is not the only web service out there allowing you to curate collections of links. It is, however, the most versitile and (as a student) the cheapest to manage, in my opinion.
Building a community doesn't happen over night. In fact, it shouldn't. You do not need a lot of third party add-ons to make your site attractive, but you will have to do work outside your community to bring new members in.. You simply must put in the time and effort if you hope for a community to form. The way your site is designed and layout is tuned will be an ongoing experiment for the entire life of your community. For this reason I have always tried to help save time by sharing tips. In order to build a sustainable community, you must get to a place where your members feel comfortable and think of your place built for them when sharing that photo or tip or guide on the community you built for them. Progressive enhancement is the human way to increase relevance of your community for search engines, social graphs, bots, algorithms and yes, humans. You can do this for your community by channeling the traffic back into the network and reintroducing relevant content to those new members and visitors which might find it and the dialogue which occurs useful even five years in the future..