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Smart Working – Building a Stellar Online Community

by Steve Fisher on September 18, 2009

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Building the Small Business community here at Network Solutions is something we work hard on every day. We use tools like this blog and our other blogs (Grow Smart Business, Women Grow Business) to connect with various parts of our community. We also use tools like Twitter and good old fashioned email to reach out and/or respond to current and potential customers.

I have worked with many companies to build out online communities and people always seem to ask me what makes a great community and how do you build one?

What Makes a Great Community? That one is easy – the people engaging with it and the people who support it.

How Do You Build a Stellar Online Community? Well, that one deserves a bit more detail.

So I started going back to my ready resources and articles and thought that I would compile a list of best practices across a bunch of blog posts and forums that I will list below. This list is compiled and my view of what it takes to build a stellar online community. I include the referenced links so you can review and make your own list. Let’s get started:

  1. Create compelling content on a recurring basis. Brands sometimes create videos, podcasts, or stories on a daily or weekly basis that encourages members to come back. – From Jeremiah Owyang
  2. Integrate with your website –and other customer touchpoints. Remember, corporate sites of the future are aggregations of community discussion, be sure to integrate community in your corporate site.  Make sure your call center, email marketing, and external newsletters all integrate community.  (don’t forget even the email signatures) - From Jeremiah Owyang
  3. Invite community influencers and advocates to the community first –giving them first right of testing the system and then inviting others.- From Jeremiah Owyang
  4. Encourage interaction through conversations. Ask questions, talk about controversial topics, or host a contest that encourages participation.- From Jeremiah Owyang
  5. Reward top contributors: Those that participate the most, or perhaps, are the most helpful should be recognized on a leader board, and thanked in public.  Unexpectedly, send them something nice as a thank you, or reward them with premium services –never money.- From Jeremiah Owyang
  6. Reward users who fill out their profile. Folks like to see other friendly faces, so giving them access to premium features or recognition of those who have the most complete profiles should recognized.- From Jeremiah Owyang
  7. Centralize your community around your real world events.  People want to find each other before events, talk about the event during the duration, and then afterwards are key.  Use the community in your physical events. - From Jeremiah Owyang
  8. Virtual Events integrate community:  Don’t just use on your real world events, but integrated with your virtual ones, I‘ve written at length about that here. - From Jeremiah Owyang
  9. Empower your power users – give them a private area in the forum & let them brainstorm. You’ll be amazed at what a group will come up with! Encourage them to keep it simple so no one gets worn out. Have them help moderate. - From Connie Bensen
  10. Encourage employees to get active.  A party isn’t much fun if there’s no one there, so encourage the hosts (often employees) to kickstart discussions by talking, debating, and arguing about the news, updates, or even relevant YouTube videos will trigger discussion.  Of course, you have a community manager on staff, right? - From Jeremiah Owyang
  11. Encourage people to come out of lurking – run games or contests to see who is frequenting your forum. You may be surprised! (where to get the prizes? If you don’t have resources, partner with related products & ask them to donate. You’ll be surprised at how many will join your venture.) - From Connie Bensen
  12. Encourage members to put info in their signature (for ex: a photography site – they could include their camera, lens info & software (It will encourage conversations amongst members) - From Connie Bensen
  13. Listen to your customers. Ask them what they’d like to see in the forums. Post a poll of interest to your community. Ask them to provide feedback on your product/resources - From Connie Bensen
  14. Ask yourself what makes your site unique? or how would you like it to be unique? How are you providing the user with value. - From Connie Bensen
  15. Be present – as a site owner it’s important that you’re there & active. Get to know your people & they will notice & respond. Make your customers feel special. - From Connie Bensen
  16. Be flexible…. and realize that sometimes you’ll have a great idea & oopsie, things don’t go as planned. But try try again. - From Connie Bensen
  17. Be creative… watch what others are doing & gather ideas. I’m a people watcher, can you tell? And I love trying to figure out why things are successful. Plan ahead – this will guarantee success – and make you happier when you’re more relaxed in the execution of your plans. - From Connie Bensen
  18. Be transparent – say what you mean & mean what you say. You’ll gain far more respect with all those you work with. And this is obvious, but good business practices are absolutely necessary. Remedy customer service issues quickly & follow up. Even the most negative curmudgeons will post their appreciation which adds value to your forums because it shows that your company is listening to their customers & most importantly *cares*. - From Connie Bensen

Great Resources Mentioned Above a Few Extra Golden Nuggets:

How to Kick Start a Community – Jeremiah Owyang

How to Kick Start a Community – Connie Bensen

Facebook Community Manager Group

Friendfeed Community Management Room

Twitter Pack of Social Media and Community Management People

Launch Your Community Site with a Bang – ShoutEm

10 Ways to Kick Start a User Community – Keen View

Leave a comment below: Whew, I’ve rattled off my best, now over to you.  Leave a comment with your tip.  How do you kick start a community?

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