Category Archives: Community

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What is Community and How Do I Build One?

A really common job title that you’re starting to see crop up in corporate America is “community manager.” Marketing departments are striving to build “community.” But… what do they mean by community? Can companies have one? How do you get one? Can you buy one? What‘s the value of a community?

What is a community?

A community is a group of people that have come together for a common cause or purpose. They’re united in wanting to accomplish something. They support eachother in doing that one thing.

For example, you likely have a neighborhood association. This is a community of people that want to maintain your neighborhood as a great place to live. They’ll schedule meetings, hold events, and raise money to that end.

As a new dad, I’ve been looking into a lot of dad groups. These are amazing communities where dad’s can give advice, help, and support eachother as they walk through this new chapter of their lives. (Coincidentally, this is a market opportunity. There doesn’t seem to be disapproprinate amount of new mom stuff vs new dad stuff.)

Can corporations & products have communities?

Yes and no.

No in the sense that a community doesn’t just form of people that are passionate about a product. People don’t care about what a product is. People care about what a product does for them and how it enhances their life. Thus in the same manner, as we talked about earlier, communities form around a common vision, purpose, or goal.

Apple is famous for not marketing the specifications for their computers, tablets, and phones(like their competitors do) but showing people using Apple products doing the things that they’re passionate about. Apple users are part of the greater creative class. They’re tinkerers. You see this manifest itself in the most concentrated sense in things like Apple User Groups.

WordPress is the blog/content management platform produced by the team at Automattic. It’s powers a good portion of the internet. They have user conferences across the globe called WordCamps. At these conferences, WordPress user get together to discuss the latest innovations within the platform and its extensions.

But I contend that WordPress community isn’t really about WordPress. It’s a community of users that contribute to a product that gives users a platform for more effortless self-expression. This higher purpose is what captivates people around the world to be part of the WordPress community.

Yours Probably Already Exists.

So, now you’re thinking… I gotta go build a community for the higher purpose that my product wants to advance. HOLD UP! Chances are the ideal community for your company already exists.

I was doing a mentoring for a company in Northern California that distributed children’s books via tablet devices. Their ideal audience is moms. There are so many mom groups, mom blogs, mom forums. There are so many communities of moms supporting other moms in every city in the world, it’s hard to know where to start. I told the company founder about a story time that happened at an independent bookstore that wasn’t far from their office.

An incredible resource for finding offline communities where they exist already is Meetup.com. The site is a platform for groups or communities of a common goal to come together, communicate, plan, and meet with one another. It’s become very successful and thus Meetup.com has an incredible directory of communities that already exist across the globe.

Why Does My Company Need To Belong To A Community?

By being the chief user of your product and being part of a community, you get to meet and interact with real people that are facing the problems that your product is solving. By being an expert in how to solve the problem, it positions you as a leader. It’ll help you to identify potential customers which will lead to more signups and sales.

What does your product do? What communities are you apart of?

Who’s in my community?

Being a part of a community is so much fun because of the amazing things happen when you get a bunch of passionate people rallied around solving a particular problem or issue. When you’re starting out, one impediment to seeing the magic happen is discovering all the people that are in your community or who could be in your community.

When I lived in Washington, DC, even in the early days of the DC Tech/startup community, it was never that there weren’t a lot of tech or startup people in the area. It’s just that none of them knew that the others existed. Even to this day, I’m still hearing about new startups in the DC area that I’d never of before that had been there the entire time.

In DC, knowing who was in your community was especially hard because it just takes so stinking long to get to the different parts of the geographic area. Capitol Hill feels incredibly far from Dupont Circle. When you throw Tyson’s Corner into the mix, it feels like going to a different country all together. A good friend of mine lived in Bethesda that I never saw enough of because it was just hard to get up to Bethesda.

This is part of why we created the DC Tech Facebook Group. We needed a way for people to see who was who and what was going on, whether it was an event or company news. It was obvious that people just didn’t know what was going on or who was doing what. Facebook Groups allow for this a very crowd sourced manner, which has plusses & minuses.

In terms of the DC Tech community, one thing that’s helpful is now there are a handful of really great reporters (Bill Flook from the Washington Business Journal, Paul Sherman from the Potomac Tech Wire, and Steven Overly from the Washington Post) who are helping unearth and tell the stories of the interesting things that are happening in the community. There stories help the community figure out who’s who and who’s doing stuff that’s cool. But… you shouldn’t use that as your only source, otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot.

So, if you’re running a community group, what can you do to help get the stories out about who’s all in your community? How can you get folks talking about all the great things that they’re doing? How can you get people talking about all the great things that others are doing?

Once you figure this out, you’ll be seeing magic happening in your community at an accelerated rate.

Communities Get Noisier When They Grow

As I’ve mentioned before, I manage a Facebook group with over 1800+ people in it that discusses the DC tech & startup community. It’s been fascinating to watch the dynamics of the group change as it adds more members to its ranks.

Now that its bigger, it’s much harder to get real in-depth conversation about any one topic. There’s so many people from different backgrounds with different personalities. Everyone wants to take it in their own direction. The group becomes more about broadcast.

Well if you want that in-depth conversation, the key is that you have to divide & conquer. You want to find a subset of that bigger group that has the people who can talk in-depth about the issue you care about and keep that group focuses on that topic.

The bigger group is important.  Everyone needs to know what’s going on across all the sub groups but you need the smaller groups so that people can have more intimate interactions.  For the DC Tech community, we have sub groups for everything from community leaders to user experience pros to people looking for co-working space.

I Miss MyBlogLog

mybloglog-new-recent-readers-widgetRemember the web app company MyBlogLog? It was a widget that you’d put on your blog that’d show the face of other MyBlogLog users when they visited your website.

When using it, you really saw first hand how writing about something brought people to your website. When you write about someone, if they’re tracking where they’re talked about, that person might/would actually come to your site and read what you wrote.

I’ve been talking about the advantages of social media with a number of colleagues. Seeing stats from Google Analytics or AddThis are great but it misses the context of who that person is. For example, you might only be getting 10 visitors a day to your blog BUT its the right 10 people. That was something MyBlogLog did really well.

Most visitors to a blog or any online community aren’t going to actively contribute. There visit is they way of passively participating. There needs to be a way of making that visit more meaningful.

When all you see is the traffic from Google Analytics, it’s too easy to get discouraged and quit. Most do.

Starting a community requires patience

In the social media age, everyone wants to start an online community about every topic and for every product you can imagine. The reality, like with most things, is that 90% of them fail. The biggest reason these communities fail is a lack of patience on the part of the person starting the community.

You need patience because for the participant putting yourself out there in a new community is scary. It’s a bunch of people you don’t know. You don’t know how they’ll respond. Most people are pretty guarded.  They don’t wanna take the risk.

The best thing you can do is to be patient and be consistent. Continue to participate in the online community and get your close friends to participate. You need to set the example and tone for what you expect within the community. Everyone else will follow your lead.

Even then, you’re only going to get a small number of people to really contribute. The rule with online communities is that 10% contribute and 90% just consume what the others contribute. But keep patient.

I started the DC Tech Facebook Group years ago. I kept a steady hand throughout and now it has 1800 people. I never have to worry about it going stale because we’ve hit enough of a scale where there’s always someone posting something.

Once you hit a community of that scale, there are people that’ll wanna use its platforms as a way to draw undue attention on themselves but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

The Importance of Feeling Heard

As we’ve seen day in & day out in the headlines, the Apple Maps that was released via iOS 6 was a big flop.  In many cases, the maps were just wrong.  Lauren and I went to Hilton Head last weekend for a wedding and were consistently frustrate with Apple Maps as we tried to navigate.

The poor quality of Apple Maps led to a media and community up roar.  Countless blog posts were written about it.  There was even a Tumblr blog about all of the app’s mistakes.

When you’re the user and you’re having a problem with a product, the worst feeling in the world is when it feels like the company who made the product is so out of touch that they don’t know that there’s a problem.  That’s when the relationship between the user/customer & the company starts to disintegrate.

Well, I was really happy to see that Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter on their site saying that they realized that Apple Maps for iOS 6 was sub-par and that they were working as quickly to fix it. They even went as far as alerting people to their competitors, as possible alternatives while Apple Maps improves.  He was saying to the Apple community, “I hear you. We screwed up.”

Apple’s not known for being a company that’s overly communicative or transparent.  So, seeing this kind of olive brand extended is definitely a notable moment.   I hope that we’ll see more.

It’s also a great object lesson in crisis communications for us all.

Community Waiting for the New iPhone

I’ve been having a lot of fun riffing on a topic that I’m passionate about… building communities.  I hope that you’ve been enjoying it.

Communities are funny.  Sometimes they can pop up in places that you would have never thought possible.  TechCrunch sent their NYC intern to the 5th Avenue Apple Store to cover the line as throngs of people waited for the new iPhone 5.

As he was waiting all night long, he asked the question that any rational person would, “why on earth would someone do this for a phone?”   The answered was that it’s not about a phone.  It’s about community.  You’re having this shared experience with like-minded people.   It’s the perfect recipe for a community.

I remember when I waited in line for the original iPhone.  The lines weren’t as crazy as they are now.  I cut out of work at noon and only waited 3 hours.  But… I walked away from the experience with friends.  I still stay in touch with the couple that stood in front of me in line.

Apple fans aren’t just people who use computers.  It’s people who espouse to a specific way of thinking or way of life.   Apple users are creative & curious people.   Not many brands can claim this type of tribe.  It’s not like if you use a Dell that it says anything about your personality but it’s different with an Apple computer or an iPhone.

So… when you get those like-minded people together in a single environment for a shared experience, magic happens.   Communities get built out of standing in line to wait for my new iPhone.