A few interesting things this week …
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.
I just wanted to let people know that I will be on a panel at Web 2.0 Expo early, early on Wednesday morning.
Community Building: Good, Bad & Ugly
Dawn Foster (Jive Software), Jeremiah Owyang (Forrester Research), Bob Duffy (Intel), Kellie Parker (PC World & Macworld)
8:30am – 9:20am Wednesday, 04/23/2008
It would be great to see a few familiar faces in the crowd for our early session.
I also have plans to attend Ignite Web 2.0 Expo SF on Tuesday night, and I should be around for most of the rest of conference. I also hear that we have some interesting plans for Jive during the event, so you should stop by our booth to see what we are doing.
BarCampPortland is rapidly approaching. The event will be held on May 2, 3, and 4th at CubeSpace. If you have not yet RSVPed on Upcoming, please do it now. Having an accurate count of attendees really helps us plan the event!
This year we’re asking Portland BarCampers for a small donation if they want an event t-shirt. For a donation of $20, before April 26th, you help support the event (things like the space, food, and supplies) and get an awesome shirt designed by local design group Brash Creative. Please note that with this donation you will have our many thanks for supporting this event; however, you will NOT get a tax deduction, since Legion of Tech does not yet have 501c3 tax exempt status as an organization.
You can select your t-shirt size and make your donation through PayPal on the Legion of Tech website. We will not be taking orders for t-shirts after April 26th, and we will not have extra t-shirts available at the event.
Also, we are still looking for sponsors. If your company is interested in sponsoring, please contact Selena Decklemann (selenamarie on gmail).
I started this blog as the Open Source Culture blog (later renamed the Open Culture blog) on Blogspot.com. Last April, I rebranded the blog as Fast Wonder and moved it to WordPress.com. After a few months, I grew increasingly frustrated with the limitations of WordPress.com, and I moved it to my own hosting provider. Based on this experience, I tend to recommend that most (but not all) people host their own WordPress installations, instead of using WordPress.com.
There are a number of benefits of hosting WordPress on your own domain.
- You can use a custom feed and have it auto-discovered (I highly recommend the free FeedBurner service). The benefit of a custom feed is that you can move your blog around, rename it, etc. and keep the same FeedBurner feed forever to avoid losing subscribers.
- You can have a custom favicon on your own host, but on WordPress.com, you are stuck with the WordPress favicon.
- You can get better analytics (Google analytics are also free) if you host it yourself.
- You have more control over the theme, since you can hack on the templates files, while you are more limited to just css changes on WordPress.com
- It also seems like some countries may be blocking all of WordPress.com, so if you do business globally in certain countries this may or may not be important depending on how you use your blog. Thanks to Aaron Hockley for reminding me of this issue.
For people already on WordPress.com, it is pretty easy to migrate to your own host without losing comments, posts, etc. with the WordPress export / import.
There are some potential disadvantages to hosting your own WordPress installation:
- Hosting it yourself requires a fair amount of technical knowledge to install.
- You have to keep up with installing the WordPress security updates, which can be a lot more work to maintain.
Yes, I am a big fan of hosting my own WordPress installs; however it really isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t at least roughly familiar with databases and installing PHP applications, I wouldn’t try it yourself. Also, if you have a very small blog and really don’t want to do much customization or spend much time on it, then I would go with WordPress.com and not host it yourself.
There are probably some other advantages and disadvantages, so drop them in the comments if I missed anything.
Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:
As a community manager, I frequently take online communities for granted. Are you a business? Do you have or want to have customers? Then yes, of course you should have an online community (is that really a question?)
I’m here at Innotech this week, and this question came up on my panel about Online Communities. I wanted to share and elaborate on my answer to the question of “Why build an online community in the first place?”
I have a few reasons:
- People: Communities first & foremost are about the people. Having a community gives people a place to engage with your company. These people will talk about you and your products in blogs and other online forums whether you choose to participate or not, so giving people a place to talk about you can help you keep engaged with the conversations.
- Product Innovation: Communities provide a great forum for getting product feedback. It gives you a central place to ask questions about how people use your products. You also get to see first-hand what they complain about, what issues they have, and where they have questions about you or your products.
- Evangelism: Communities also help you grow evangelists for your products from outside of your company. These are the customers or users of your products that are passionate and deeply engaged with you. Interestingly enough, these people frequently come to your defense within the community when people say negative things about your company. They can also have exceptional feedback for you, so it is important to identify these people early and encourage them to get deeply engaged (often with some special community permissions). For Jivespace, I created a special “Friends of Jivespace” blog with top community members as authors.
- Brand Loyalty: Having a community can also help drive brand loyalty for your products. Giving people a place to engage with you can drive a tremendous amount of loyalty for your products.
These were my top four reasons, but I’m sure there are many more reasons to build an online community. I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments!
Related Fast Wonder Blog posts:
POSSE, the Portland Open Source Software Entrepreneur group is holding an open meeting on Wednesday at 5 pm at Jax Bar to kick off our speaker series on “The Portland Entrepreneur.” We’ll be hosting Martin Medeiros, a lawyer who specializes in open source and has lots of investment experience and connections to VCs in the area talk about what makes a “Portland Entrepreneur.” This is a group where we focus on the business side of open source, and we’d love to see you there.
I’ve been a member of POSSE for a little over a year. Usually, we have small member meetings, but we want to start bringing in more speakers and open it up for more people to attend. We are also actively looking for new members.
I hope to see you tomorrow!
I wanted to just remind everyone about InnoTech here in Portland this week. I will be there on Wednesday and Thursday, April 16th and 17th.
A few things that I am involved in or excited about:
- Jive Software CEO, Dave Hersh, is presenting on “Ready or Not? Assessing Your Collaboration 2.0 Preparedness” at 9:30am on April 17th. Dave is a great speaker, so you won’t want to miss it!
- The eMarketing Summit has some great content, and it will be kicked off on the 16th with a panel including Dawn Foster (me), Jeff Hardison, Kerry McClenahan, and Barry Tallis to talk about Strategies for Planning & Building an Online Community
- I will also be moderating a panel about Open Source Communities on April 17th with some amazing panelists and open source rock stars: whurley, Stormy Peters, Danese Cooper, and John Mark Walker. The session is part of an all day open source tracking being organized by Raven Zachary.
- There are many other great sessions at InnoTech including: Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics), Ward Cunninham (inventor of the wiki), Brian Jamison, Andrew Aitken, Jason Mauer, Steve Morris, and many more.
Cost-wise, this event is really reasonable, and it is a great opportunity to learn and meet interesting people.