I really enjoyed my panel this morning at Web 2.0 Expo with Jeremiah Owyang, Bob Duffy, and Kellie Parker. Here are a few of the things we talked about (including a correction to one of the answers that I gave during the panel)
How do you know that a company is ready to embrace a community?
A few things I would look for:
- Are the key people at the company willing to invest the resources, like time and money, into building, maintaining, and growing the community over time?
- Are key executives at the company encouraging or fighting the creation of a community?
- Do the key people already actively participate in community activities? Do they already blog?
If you have any doubts, a good way to test whether the company is ready is to start with some baby steps: get the key people blogging and participating in existing conversations in other communities. If they are willing to devote the time and energy to some small community activities, you can start to build from there into more complex, full blown community efforts
What are some good ways to kick-start your community?
Getting that initial base of community members can be challenging and how you approach it depends on the type of community.
For communities around a product or service offered by a company, you can tap your existing customer base. Start with some of those customers or users who are most passionate about your products. They will be the biggest cheerleaders for you and can help you get other people involved in the community. These evangelists can be a huge help while building and growing your community.
For social communities or other communities where you don’t have an existing customer base to tap, you’ll want to reach out to a few potential members early in the process. The best people to approach are those that tend to quickly embrace new technologies and are influential among the group of people you are trying to reach.
Regardless of the type of community, you’ll still need to do additional outreach using various marketing campaigns. For communities, I would put a heavy focus on social media outreach through blogs, twitter, facebook, or whatever other social media is appropriate for your community to talk about the benefits of joining your community. You can also offer any other incentives appropriate to your community: T-shirts, drawings, discounts, etc. as you build your initial base of members.
Just One Key Takeaway for communities:
Be flexible in everything from community design and evolution of the community to the day to day activities.
Communities are ultimately about the people, and people aren’t always predicable. You may find that the structure and design of the community isn’t working for most people, and you’ll need to be flexible to embrace evolution of the community. You will need to be flexible with how you spend your time. I never know when I’m going to spend the morning cleaning up after spammers or answering burning questions instead of completing the items currently on my task list.
Managing Internal Communities: A correction
Near the end of my panel, Dan McCall asked a really good question about how you approach community management in an internal community. My answer was something along the lines of this: “You might need a community manager to get it kicked off, but the role would probably go away fairly quickly once you got it set up.” After the panel, Jake Kuramoto pointed out (nicely) that I was completely wrong for most companies, and I agree with him.
My answer was colored by the fact that almost all of my friends are geeks and that I have been working in startups for the past couple of years. In startups filled with people who are passionate about software where participation in communities comes completely naturally. Well, the idea of an internal community with no community manager would work great in my little insular, tech-centric world. I forget that in other companies, participating in a community might not be so natural.
For tech startups, I stand by my answer; however, for the rest of the world, I’m now revising my answer to Dan’s question. In most companies you will need a community manager for internal communities. The community manager will need to continue to encourage people to participate and help people navigate the technology as it evolves. New employees will likely need help getting involved and understanding how to engage in the community. In some companies, the community manager will also need to carefully monitor metrics and impact in order to continue to justify the time and expense of managing and maintaining the community.
I would love to hear your input on any of these ideas in the comments.