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.

Feel like a lemming.

After watching this video, I especially feel like a lemming for ordering the iPhone 5.  It’s amazing how excited people are getting for something that’s so evolutionary.  That being said, I’m totally excited and think it’ll be amazing.

This definitely leaves open a big opportunity for the other smart phone handset makers.   They need to start thinking outside the box on how they can differentiate.   Someone’s gotta be able to solve some unmet need with a new type of mobile phone that’ll unseat Apple.

Communities Need a Facilitator

So, we’ve talked about how when communities have a common cause/topic and a platform for people to connect on that you have the start of something powerful.    Without a facilitator, it’s easy for communities to die off after the initial excitement or for them to be taken over by  specific personalities.

You’ll notice that I didn’t say community manager.   I think of it less as management and that you’re really there to make a safe place for conversations (or really connections) between people to exist in a way where both users  feel safe.

My dad works with an international student ministry at Michigan State University called the Friendship House.  Him and the Executive Director Rich are community facilitators.  Their first job isn’t to teach English as a second language.    It’s to create a place where the magic can happen and making sure all the right people show up.  It’s about setting up the table & chairs.  It’s about making sure the coffee is brewing in the back of the room.

As I’ve said before, I manage the DC Tech Facebook Group. It has more than 1700 people who want to be able to share & consume information about what’s happening within the technology & startup sectors within the Washington, DC area.

When you have that many people (and even when you have fewer), your community is wrought with all kinds of potential issues.  People just want to showboat about themselves, which is good in small doses but can be overdone.   Certain personalities will dominate conversations.  Things will get posted that are irrelevant.

You need a community facilitator.  You need someone who’s going to uphold guidelines of conduct that help the community to operate more smoothly.   Granted enforcing these guidelines might not be taken lightly by the offending party but you have to do it for the greater good of the community.

Looking to start a community?  Instead of trying to lead, try stepping into the background.   Be the facilitator.

When Communities Hit Critical Mass, Powerful People Take Notice

As we’ve talked about, when you have a commonly held goal/topic/cause and a platform where people can stay connected, you have the potential for building a really big and powerful community.

Social news site Reddit has quickly become “the front page of the web.” They have a large community that scours the Internet for the best and most interesting links.  And it’s not even just a single community.  It’s really a number of communities rolled into a single platform.

On Reddit, there’s this feature where someone can stop by and open themselves for questions by anyone.  The community has become so big and powerful that last week President Barack Obama stopped by for a session of Ask Me Anything (AMA).   It was the perfect opportunity for him to make himself accessible (or look accessible) during this election period.

Similar idea but at a different scale… over the last few years, we’ve seen the DC technology community grow at a pace that I never imagined.  Recently,  we’ve really seen the DC government take notice.  The DC Mayor’s office has gone out of his way to support our efforts.   I’ve also had a number of conversations with DC city council candidates that want to make supporting DC tech part of the platform they run on.

As a community grows, people external to that community start to take notice and want to meet/interact with your community.  If you’re leading/managing a community, this is something to keep an eye on.

Communities Need a Platform

Once you have a group of people who are rallied around a topic or cause, a key part of building a community is platform for everyone to stay connected. In the age of social media, it’s easy to just point to things like Facebook, Twitter, or blogs but some of the best community platforms are offline like churches, coffee shops, are bars.

Let’s walk through some examples…

A couple of years ago, the DC technology/startup community was growing quickly and it was hard to keep up with all that was going on.  Facebook had just come out with the relaunch of Facebook Groups. Facebook already has such unbelievable engagement that it just made sense to also make it the place for this group to congregate online to talk about what was happening in DC tech. So we created the DC Tech Facebook group and it just took off. A few years have passed and it now has over 1600 people.

Later, the community was looking for a way to connect via Twitter.  My friend Debbie suggested that we start using a hashtag.  She suggested #dctech.   A year or so later and now the entire community uses the #dctech hashtag as a way to connect all of our disparate tweets together.

Moving away from technology communities… if you’ve seen the tv show Gossip Girl, it’s a tv show about a lot of well to do high school students who are looking to survive life on the Upper East Side of NYC.   The community uses a blog, called “Gossip Girl”, which dishes on the social scene and gets piped to all of their cell phones as a way to stay in touch on what’s going on.  The blog & their phones act as a platform for their community.

As I said, communities can be offline just as much as online. When I was in college, I had to spend time working in industry.  I worked as a Web Developer at Michigan State University.  It worked perfectly.  Lived at home and was close to all my friends from high school, who were still in Michigan.

Of my friends who were still in the Lansing, Michigan area, we decided that we wanted to be intentional about staying in touch.  We found a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant that we’d go to every Tuesday.  It had cheap beer and nachos.  The tradition lasted for years well behind the 6 months that I lived in Michigan.   The mexican restaurant acted as an amazing platform for our little community to come together and talk about surviving life after high school.

You see similar situations played out in pop culture.   I can’t even name all of the great TV shows.    There was the crew that met at the bar Cheers, a good part of Friends was spent at a coffee shop, and a good part of one of my favorite tv shows How I Met Your Mother is spent at a pub in Manhattan.

If you have a community and a topic that ties you together, the next step is that you need some place or technology platform that can keep you all connected.

Communities Need a Cause

Back in 2008, I joined Clearspring as the Developer Community Manager.   At that point, no one knew what a community manager was.  With the rise of social media, “community manager” quickly became the vogue job.   It’s the job that everyone’s hiring.

But somewhere the notion of building/managing/facilitating an actual community of people got lost in the translation of what a community manager does.   The role became more of a social media-based customer service rep.

Customer service is CRUCIAL but it’s not community building.  It’s deepening a relationship between you & your customer.

So… what is a community and how do we build one?

I thought for a few posts I might try to tackle/unpack what communities are all about.  For this post, I wanted to talk about what ties a community together.

A community is a group of people who come together around a common cause.    It’s a group of people who want to accomplish something.

Without this underlying idea, cause, or goal, there’s nothing that ties the group of people together.  There may be some initial excitement by a group but in the end it’ll all fall apart.

Here are some examples…

I remember, in the heyday of the television show LOST, there were fan sites galore.  People would come together an over analyze every aspect of every single episode.   It was all for a reason though.  We were all super invested in story and we wanted to know what was going to happen next.

We live in Washington, DC and we love DC.  We love getting the most of all the unique and interesting things that DC has to offer.  It happens that we’re not alone. My friends Tom & Tiffany Bridge both love DC as well so they created a blog called We Love DC.   But it’s so much more than a blog.  It’s a community of people who are trying to get the most out of their DC experience.

Over the summer, I met two early twenty something guys that worked in politics & government consulting.  They had to wear ties everyday but that put a real stretch on their budget, especially if they wanted to wear nicer ties.   So, the two of them started trading ties.   This idea quickly grew.   Before they knew it, all of their friends were over at their house on Sunday afternoons, watching football and trading ties.

Regardless of the topic or subject area, when you have a topic or need that’s commonly held among multiple people, you can form a  community.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series.  In the mean time, what kind of communities are you a part of or that you’ve seen pop up?

Feed the community. Build excitement.

I have to admit.  I’m SUPER excited for the new Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises, that comes out in a few weeks.   I think Christopher Nolan is one of this era’s most masterful filmmakers and I’m excited to see how he handles this final chapter in his chunk of the Batman franchise that he’s been given to steward.

I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes though.  When you’re dealing with a franchise like Batman, you have this amazing audience/community that you’re accountable to.  Screwing up isn’t an option.

With the Batman fan community, the best way to sell movie tickets is to feed the beast.  You have to give the community something that’ll give them a taste of what to expect.   The excitement’s not going to be as high if they don’t hear anything from you for the 2 years between when the different movies get released.

And Warner Bro’s did exactly this.  To build up excitement for the movie that’s coming out in a couple of weeks, they just released a 13 minute feature showing clips and behind the scene of Dark Knight Rises.   (The clip is embeded below.)  Like every other fan, I took 13 minutes of my day and was totally enthralled in watching the feature.

This is SUPER applicable to anyone that’s trying to build up a community.  In order to get that relationship between you and your audience, you have to communicate with them.   You have to tell them what to expect.  You have to tell them what to get excited about and you have to do it on a pretty regular basis.  In Warner Bro’s case, they  release teaser trailers, trailers, posters, behind the scenes features, etc.

Granted when you communicate like this, it does 2 things in addition to getting people excited…

It sets expectations.  If you say that you’re going to make the best Batman movie ever.  You have to actually do it.

Secondly, it gives people something to talk about, for better or for worse.  People are going to talk about what you put out there.  You have to be ready to take the feedback, respond, and do something with it.  Otherwise, the community can backfire on you quickly.

So… feed your community.  Communicate with them and do it on a regular basis.  Watch the excitement grow.

And here’s what I know you really want.  It’s the 13 minute feature on Dark Knight Rises…

Pro tip: Get the best reception with the least noisy medium…

NY Times tech writer Nick Bilton wrote a great post about how we all get far too much email.   The overwhelming volume of email that people receive make email sometimes the worst way of getting ahold of someone.

So here’s my tip: I’ve found that by identifying the channel/medium that someone communicates on that has the least amount of noise and using that to message them can often bring the best results.    For example, with a lot of my friends, I can get ahold of them almost immediately through a DM on Twitter or a message on Facebook, where it could take days to hear back via email.

What tips have worked well for you to get ahold of someone?

The psychology of someone browsing at a craft show

So for the last two days, I’ve been helping Lauren with her Umba Box booth at the Urban Craft Uprising craft show in Seattle.   It’s been great.  Have gotten to tell the Umba Box story to a lot of people and helped garner that much more excitement for what Lauren is doing, which is AWESOME!

I’m completely fascinated by people.  It’s been a lot of fun to watch people walk by the booth, try to figure out what’s going on their head, so I can figure out how to get them over to talk to me about Umba Box. Craft shows are different from just general expos or trade shows too.  The goal at a craft show is you actually wanna move product.

I developed a theory about folks that come to craft shows and how they browse.  There are people who walk at 1 feet, 3 feet, and 6-10 feet from the booth.

The 6-10 feet people aren’t really interested.  They come to the show to feel all handmade but they’re not interested in buying a product.  There are always exceptions to this.  Interestingly lots of men/husbands/boy friends hover at the 6-10 feet mark.  Umba Box is an especially great gift for the lady in your life so I’ve been successful with pulling the guys who are hovering at 6 to 10 feet and getting them to make a purchase or at least take a card.

With the 3 feet people, they’re interested in what your selling and want to buy but they need to be invited over.  It’s funny because most handmade vendors just sit behind their booths and don’t actually talk to their customers.   I would step out from behind the table, invite them over and talk to them.  Was able to reel them in from 3 feet to 1 foot so they would start to play with the products and listen to my schtick about Umba Box.

The people at 1 feet are the best.  They’re the ones that go booth to booth and are really interested in what everyone’s doing.  These are the people you can have a conversation with.  These are also the people who have 3 or 4 bags in their hands because they’ve been buying and buying and buying.

Say goodbye to your mobile phone…

I remember when I got the original iPhone.  When I held the device in my hand for the first time, I knew that everything was about to change.  Computing was going to go mobile.

Well, get ready to say goodbye to your mobile phone.  The next wave is wearable computing.   Your cell phone is something you’ll wear (maybe in eye glasses) instead of hold.   It’s not a new idea but for the first time wearable computing could really go mainstream.

The NY Times is reporting that Olympus and Apple are both working on wearable computing, in addition to the already announced Google Glass.

I’m excited!