Lessons in community building love

“If You Build It, Will They Come?” by Angela Connor (EContent Magazine, September 2009). This article is an excerpt from Ms. Connor’s book “18 Rules of Community Engagement”. First, let’s hit some of the pull quote highlights. Then we’ll finish with some AU commentary.

We are living in the conversation age, where one-way communication is no longer enough. Savvy consumers with infinite choices across the web expect interaction and engagement, and those who can’t deliver will find themselves at the end of the line. What that means is the days of broadcasting your message to the masses and reaping huge benefits are fading fast. The deepest pockets once delivered the biggest audience, but the audience can no longer be bought. It must be earned.

Many businesses and organizations are aware of this fact and have built online communities or have become involved in existing social media platforms to actively listen to and communicate with customers. They understand the power of engagement and recognize the importance of transparency. Others are still in denial, ignoring the conversations and refusing to embrace this new way of communication. However, when the president of the U.S. creates a new office dedicated solely to public engagement, it underscores a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.

Growing a successful online community, for me, has been a trial by fire, and in some aspects it still is. What seems like a great idea can easily flop, and the simplest ideas can resonate with the community in ways you could never imagine, bringing new members in waves and causing participation levels to skyrocket.

If You Build It, Will They Come? The answer, simply, is no! Many organizations and businesses mistakenly believe that if they provide the tools for community engagement and interaction, a community will form on its own and ultimately engage and interact. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While providing the tools does indicate a desire to bring people together, it does nothing to actually make it happen. It takes a different kind of investment to grow a community, and a major portion of that investment is time.

This was published in the Business and Technology section of The Wall Street Journal’s website on July 16, 2008. The headline was “Why Most Online Communities Fail.” According to the article, Ed Moran, the Deloitte consultant who conducted the study, indicated that most of the sites failed to attract visitors because businesses focused on the value the community could bring rather than investing in the actual community.

The key phrase in that statement is “long-term.” Success will not happen overnight, and anything short of a long-term commitment will produce mediocre results.

These differences make the role of a community manager very unique and underscore the importance of having clear goals and knowing what constitutes success.

Without a clear-cut mission, you will find it difficult to reach your goals. General goals such as “reach out to the community and communicate” will only get you so far. What are you reaching out to the community for? What are you communicating about? Those are the questions that have to be answered so you can gauge your success.

“The value lies in the community manager serving as a hub and having the ability to personally connect with the customers (humanize the company), and providing feedback to many departments internally.”

Keep in mind that shared interests bring people in a community together, and online communities can only thrive if people visit regularly and spend a good amount of time when they do visit. And given the fact that no one willingly wastes this precious commodity [i.e., time], it should be a major priority to create experiences that are worthy of their time and make them want to return and give even more of it.

In my book, I will share what I know and some of the things I’ve learned from others while managing the online community GOLO.com, from its infancy to its current status of more than 11,000 members with dozens joining every day.

And now for the AU value add…

Ms. Connor makes a number of excellent points, many of which should be applied beyond the idea of community. For example, time, time is always precious and should be respected. Waste your guests’ time during an interaction — in your store or on your web site — and you’re certain to struggle but save them time and you’ll earn a following.

Next, while the general idea of Community Manager is certainly sound there seems to be a couple tweaks in order. First, as minor as it might sound, the title of Community Manager itself should be changed. Assigning  someone to “manage” a community seems to  be counter to the foundation of  many of Ms. Connor’s ideas. In short, words matter (because they are the building blocks of ideas). For example, Community Facilitator would a step in the right direction. Certainly there are others.

The other issue with Community Manager is, why have just one? Why have all your eggs in one basket and risk losing your center if that person leaves or isn’t the right fit? It would make more sense to spread that assignment across as many people are possible. Why not eat the elephant one bite at a time instead of trying to swallow it whole?  Having “behind the scenes” staff seems counter productive to the idea of community.  Getting everyone out front and involved will help keep everyone engaged and focused on the goal(s) of the team.

Finally, Ms. Connor finishes with a comment about the size of GOLO.com. The question is, is that good? Did they meet their goals or not? The other issue is, is size really the ultimate measurement of success? Maybe it’s another chapter in the book but further discussion on various useful measurements of a community seems to be in order, as well as how those might change as the community grows.

p.s. Did anyone else notice the irony that a male, Martin Read, is the founder of Female Forum?

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2 comments to Lessons in community building love

  • Thank you so much for sharing my book with your readers! I’m glad you suggested that we take these methods outside as well and apply them well beyond community. I agree with that. I also agree with your thoughts on the title of “Community Manager” as the word “manager” equates to running the show which really is not the case with online communities. What you are managing though is content and in some cases relationships, though facilitating is largely where your time is spent. A smart company probably does have many community ambassadors, even though they may not carry the title. I do not think that size is the ultimate measure of success. You really have to look at other metrics and learn to value what your community provides to the masses. This is a mindset that still needs great buy-in in corporate America.
    Thanks again. And yes, Martin Reed created Female Forum, and he does a stellar job! :-) Best to you!

  • Howey

    Yikes! I like her directness.
    I have the feeling that my agency is building a stagnant system–that when finally up and running will be light years in structure, process, and–most importantly–vision from where it should be.
    And the frustrating part is that I’m helpless to turn it around.

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