by Neil Perkin
Countless blog posts have been written about digital community practice, usually containing words like ‘open’ and ‘transparent’, and phrases like ‘be human’. But what does it all really mean, in practical terms? Here are 10 key principles:
1. The community should have a purpose
A community without a purpose is not a community. Purpose gives people a reason to be there, provides common ground, motivation, and helps them to connect with likeminded people. And it’s not necessarily what you assume it to be. When asked about how you build a digital community, Mark Zuckerberg famously answered that that was the wrong question: “Communities already exist. Instead, think about how you can help that community do what it wants to do”
2. Put community at the heart of what you do
“A business without engaging and nurturing its community is like a village, a town, or a city without a population” said author, Alan Moore. Community can bring businesses to life, keep them close to their market, and be an invaluable source of customer insight.
3. Select the right tools
Rather than think about the shiny new technology that everyone is talking about, think about where your audience is, and select platforms that they are using and are familiar with.
4. Dedicate proper resource
Remember that this is direct interaction with your most loyal and valuable customers (or your fiercest critics) so hire someone who knows what they’re doing. A good community is vibrant, fluid, always on, so the brand needs to play an active part, be available, and show that they are listening to feedback and more importantly acting on it. When problems arise, you need to be there to step in. Community is a long-term, not short-term investment – your resource is your investment in building, growing, and getting it right. So don’t short-change it.
5. Understand that your users are not all the same
Step away from broadcast thinking. Community is a two way process, so it’s a good idea to identify those at the centre of your community (the 1,9,90 rule is a good enough rule of thumb, but Forrester’s Social Technographics research goes further) who are high authority, and highly active, and build relationships with them – they are your advocates / champions / moderators. The trade off with higher levels of interaction is more data, but take care to treat your user’s data with the respect it deserves.
6. Don’t broadcast at your community
People are interested in what you have to say but it is a conversation, so don’t over do it with messages. Instead, interact and don’t only create content about your company or your brand, but try creating content about your community as well – the people , the stories. Don’t forget, your community are creating lots of value through their interaction, so shouldn’t you think about what value you are adding and how you can add more?
7. Remember that community members are people
Jimmy Wales once described the Wikipedia community as: “One part anarchy, one part aristocracy, one part democracy, one part monarchy”. Community can be fun, and sometimes slightly dysfunctional, so don’t be too uptight about how that reflects on your brand, or try and over-manage it, or set too many rules and boundaries. Many communities self-regulate very well, so where possible it is better to facilitate than direct, let disagreements and debate happen and only use admin powers as a last resort.
8. Share control
In ‘We Think’, Charles Leadbetter said: “In the past you were what you owned. Now you are what you share.” It’s important to remember that the community belongs to everyone, not just to you, and that shared control leads to increased engagement, involvement, and a sense of ownership. This in turn leads to more contribution and advocacy. The more you share the more you get back.
9. Recognition and reward are important
People’s media motivations are not always about entertainment and relaxation. Being part of a vibrant community is a motivation in itself, and recognition, supported by attribution and acknowledgement is a critical part of this. Small things matter. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. But it encourages positive behaviour, so reward the things you want more of.
10. Encourage advocacy
Seth Godin called it ‘Flipping the Funnel’. Instead of marketing spend shovelling traffic (aka people, remember?) in the top of the traditional marketing funnel, in the hope that some make it through to the bottom and buy your product, users are inspired and enabled to talk about your product and they spread the message around their network. In other words, referrals are a good way to grow the community, so enable people to spread the word, make it easy for them, and reward them for doing it.
Original column on Mediatel here.