Can you create an Online Community?
At AlphaQuad we have helped a number of online communities develop over the years, both for our clients and ourselves.
For example, www.caravantalk.co.uk , has just under 50,000 members, over a million posts, 3 million visitors per year and is recognised as one of the best, if not the best, online community for caravanners.
You can help a community start, help it grow, take care of its needs but as soon as you think that you are in charge your real problems will start.
The thing with a community is that it’s a collection of individuals who aren’t your employees and who can go elsewhere if they don’t like what is going on, or there is somewhere better to be.
There is a very good reason why most companies run a mile when they realise the implications of running an online community. However, if you get it right the rewards can be one of the best ROI’s you will see in your career.
What follows is a set of very general tips for helping a community to grow, developed over the last ten years:
1. Your community should be by the community, for the community.
This isn’t some political ideal, it’s the only way that it’s going to work. Your members will provide your content, consume your content, provide your moderators, promote the community and everything else there is to do. They are doing it for the community, not for you.
2. Associate with a successful main site.
Your community cannot grow without ‘seed’ visitors and they need to come from somewhere. An existing website can bring these first visitors to your community.
3. Interact as if you have no other friends.
That early momentum is really difficult to get going, it’s like running through mud. It will take a phenomenal effort to build up the initial discussions in quantity and quality.
4. Find a moderator early.
The sooner you spot your first moderator the better. There are all sorts of people out there, some who hate the idea of online communities, and some who can’t get enough of them. Find the latter and invite them to the top table. This person, if you get the right one, will single-handedly turn your ROI from ‘forget it’ to ‘fantastic’.
5. Scale your moderators.
As your community grows, you’ll need more moderators, or you’ll burn the first one out. Too many and they’ll trip over one another, too few and they won’t keep up with the work.
6. Deal with your moderators, not your members.
After the first growth stage, you need to step back from your members and allow your moderators to take over. You will have enough to do to interacting with the moderators to keep you very busy. Done correctly you can reach a massive number of potential customers, generate goodwill in abundance, build your brand in depth, receive customer feedback in great quantity and quality, influence your market and even sell a few products/services.
7. Establish clear guidelines
Write it down so that all your community can see it, evolve it over time, keep the community rules up there in big glowing letters. All else is anarchy.
8. Control the environment.
In an online community, the environment is defined by the nature of the content posted. If you allow aggressive, confrontational posts then that is just what your community will be. If you remove these and encourage pleasant posting then this is what your community will be.
9. Don’t be afraid to remove members.
If someone is stepping out of line and causing problems get in direct contact with them, issue a warning and if that doesn’t work lock their account. You will lose far more members by keeping the bad ones.
10. Don’t take it personally.
A large forum will inevitably contain some unpleasant people (although surprisingly few), people who have poor email skills (many many), those who have had ‘one too many’, and others who didn’t really read the post that they are vehemently objecting to. You need to get ready for some quite startling comments.
11. Don’t engage with Trolls.
A ‘Troll’ is someone who likes to join an online community in order to push a few buttons and get a reaction. They are quite common, usually quite pleasant in real life but will always have more time than you do to play their games. Identify them, it’s not hard, and lock their accounts.
12. Solicitors letters aren’t necessarily from solicitors.
At some point, someone will say something that a company doesn’t like. The less well informed will either reach for their solicitor or just pretend to be one. A good rule is still to take the offending content down but let them know that if you do the community will post 10x more about the topic and company in reaction to the removal.
The list could go on and on. We’ve learned a lot in more than ten years of running forums.
If you would like to know more about the commercial implications of online communities get in touch and we can go over a few ideas.