A good friend of mine started a new job for the new year – working in social media for a UK charity. She asked me what reading I could recommend for somebody looking to learn more about online communities and how they can be launched and grown. There are a whole range of great books out there on how social media is used and the impact this is having on society (anything by Gladwell or Shirky would be a great starting point), but she was interested specifically in things that help managing and growing communities online.
Here’s the very short list I shared with her (and a few extra ones added in). There are many great books, articles and blogs out there and we’d love you to share your favourites in the comments below. But this is a good starting point and we would consider them essential reading for online community managers.
Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities, Amy Jo Kim (Amazon) – a great text explaining the how to grow online communities, and explaining through examples why they grow like this.
Managing Online Forums: Everything You Need to Know to Create and Run Successful Community Discussion Boards, Patrick O’Keefe (Amazon) – another great textbook of how to set-up and manage online forums and discussion boards.
18 Rules of Community Engagement: A Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting With Customers Online, Angela Connor (Amazon) – a pragmatic approach to planning and building online communities, you can read our review of this book here.
Using Social Psychology to Motivate Contributions to Online Communities (2005) – a look at how to combat under-contribution to your online community, examining how social psychology impact when and how people will contribute online.
Thanks to Drew Meyers for pointing me in the direction of Small Box‘s ten tips for building an online community. A good collection of criteria which sum up some of the basics of building a community online:
Have a purpose to the community
Start with people you can have a meaningful conversation with
Be authentic and honest
Think small. Get a conversation going with 50 people rather than trying to appeal to 1,000
Be personal and greet every new member
Be an enabler and provide as many ways as possible for people to share and comment on content
Drip content to members, don’t give them all your great stuff on day one because they won’t read it
Be proactive and ban members who break house rules
Nudge, don’t push. You’re role is to help others start a conversation not to force a conversation on them
Give up control, the community will grow beyond you so let them take charge
Of these maxims, I think that the most important are to be authentic and honest and the tips which focus on being a facilitator of the community rather than somebody driving it.
It’s critical to be authentic online. Examples such as Wal-Marting across America only go to show the damage that being less than authentic online can have. If you want to truly engage people in online communities you need to be as honest with them as you expect them to be with you. Very, in other words!
From our perspective we also think that it’s critical that you aren’t driving the community just managing it. This is more about the kind of community you create than anything you actually do. A successful and rich online community would be one that creates a managed environment where members want to add content and drive the direction of the site. This is where the real difference in quality of community can be seen – bad sites will seem forced, with a moderator leading and forcing every discussion. A well managed community, on the other hand, will see the community manager encouraging participation, organising discussions and helping people feel comfortable and confident enough to contribute to and help to grow the site.
Overall these are a good set of rules that would be a great starting point for anybody looking to understand how to set up an online community. Good work!
Thanks to Outside Innovation for pointing me in the direction of a report by Matthew Lees, How Should you Manage Customer Communities? (see here)
As Lees points out, designing, deploying and then managing a customer community is a nascent science. It’s a new but burgeoning area of expertise in customer engagement and is seeing influences from marketing, consulting and market research. The people you have desiging and running a community are critical, and it’s not a role just anybody can do. They need to be good community managers and also have an ability to interact with and input to the core of the brand.
A good community manager acts as the glue between a customer community and the brand and makes sure that every party gets the most they possibly can out of the experience. It’s a tough role and one worth investing in.
America’s top B2B firms are embracing new media. An article from the World Advertising Research Centre (WARC) suggests that more than one in three US B2B firms is spending more that 20% of their total media budget on new and digital media. This contrasts with B2C advertisers who see an average of just 5% of their media spend on new and digital media.
That B2B firms are embracing digital media faster than consumer markets is not surprising – business customers are more likely to be purchasing online at the moment and so a digital media approach to advertising makes more sense than it might do in some B2C industries. What is interesting is to dig a little deeper into the study behind WARC’s report.
The data comes from a survey of 145 B2B firms in the US, conducted by Association of National Advertisers and BtoB Magazine. This sample size is quite small and so whilst the statistics reported are interesting, I’m more interested at digging into the qualitative comment.
The survey results enables a segmentation of new and digital media techniques into a top tier of things that are currently attracting the bulk of spend, a middle tier of things that are set to attract the bulk of spend in the future and a bottom tier of things that are growing (possibly growing quickest) but will never take the bulk of spending. What falls where in this analysis is interesting for us all.
Top tier: includes own website, email marketing, online advertising, SEO and search engine marketing
Middle tier: includes blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts and video-on-demand
Bottom tier: includes wiki’s, mobile, viral video, social networking and second life
So, whilst the top tier is where spend is now, and the middle tier where spend is next, it will be spotting the future trends from the bottom tier where we’ll see the fastest growth in B2B spend in the longer term.
At FreshNetworks we specialise in building and running online communities – we think these work best when brands are open and honest with the community members. When the communities are clearly branded and when people from these brands help to shape and even take part in the community. It’s part of the open conversation that leads to real insight, innovation and advocacy.
I was reminded this week by Mashable of some of the more well-known social networks and communities online that are clearly branded. Some of these are social networks – bringing together people to share content and to gather information on users, and some are true online communities – bringing people together around a specific idea. For the complete list from Mashable see here, but below is one particularly good example of a branded community online.
Reebok’s RunEasy.com is a site for runners. It allows you to share experiences and advice on workouts, training and runs, and lets you upload and exchange photos and videos. The benefit for Reebok is clear – it gains an invaluable insight into how people use its product. This can help with innovation and helping to design and position the product more closely to how it is used. But even more than this the site itself offers a useful tool for runners – they can track their own training whilst exchange tips and experiences with peers. They want to use the site and its association with Reebok will lead to huge advocacy for them.
FreshNetworks is a social media agency. We help global brands, including Telefonica, Jimmy Choo and American Express, use social media to achieve their key business goals. Latest news and press information