This is the first in a series of blogs where we will explore some of the things to keep in mind when you first start your community. First up: 6 things to keep in mind when you get started.

Community building is hard. In this blog we explore 6 things to take into account when you first start your community. We will expand on these steps in future articles so be sure to stay tuned. Strap in! It's going to be a bumpy ride!

‘Build it and they will come’ only works in the movies. Social media is a ‘build it, nurture it, engage them, and they may come and stay’ - Seth Godin

Tumbleweed via GIPHY

Unfortunately, community management isn’t as simple as ‘build it and they will come’. Even with a plug-and-play platform like Open Social community building can be hard, so here are some things to keep in mind when you want to start a community.

1. Building a community takes time

It takes a while for a community to really ‘feel’ like a community. As an organisation it’s very important to build the trust of your end users to feel comfortable enough to start contributing. Don’t be too hard on yourself if your community isn’t filled to the brim with User Generated Content and buzzing with conversation within a few weeks, or even months! Feverbee has a great article on the community life cycle to help you set realistic goals for your first year and beyond. 

The community life cycle, according to FeverBee
The community life cycle, source: FeverBee

2. Find your niche

The internet is a massive space and there are many communities out there already. Before you start, explore existing communities that revolve around the topic you would like to revolve your community around. Where are they falling short? What can you add to the conversation? You can use this information to make sure your community offers something unique compared to existing communities.

3. Start with a beta community

Invite a handful of users to your community before you invite the whole world in. This way you can test your ideas for content, moderation and community management on a smaller group, get their feedback and have content, conversations and a core group of users at the ready when the rest of us arrive. We will expand more on how to set up and run your Beta community next week. 

4. Content is key

Because it can take a while before your community to start engaging with one another, be sure to set up a content plan for the first six months to a year to get the conversation started. You can create a mix of content surrounding the topic your community focuses, showcasing your expertise and letting your community know about the latest trends in your field. Alongside interviews on existing community members, when did they first get interested in this topic, why did they join the community, what are they hoping to find here? By featuring your members with spotlight interviews, you really put your members front, left and center of the community.  

Even Captain Picard knows engagement is hard via GIPHY

5. Engage! 

Be sure to support and stimulate the people that are active in your community. Like and comment on their posts, get in touch with them personally for a feature (see above), event or other community perk, but be sure to keep it authentic. If you don’t have anything to add to a conversation people will notice. Drive the conversation but don’t shut it down or make it icky with comments that make you sound like a spambot.  For example, try saying “That’s a very interesting point, what steps do you think the government should take to achieve this, personally I think X, Y and Z could work,” instead of just saying “Good point!”. This way you drive the conversation forward and make sure your community sees that you are actively engaged and really care and know about the topic at hand. 
 
You can learn more about how our Analytics module can help your community blossom in this blogpost by Niels. Analytics will help you keep an eye on things like user generated content and user activity. In the screenshot below for example, user comments are going down. To improve this you’ll have to try and motivate people to comment more, for example by using the example above when users do comment or by tagging users who have been actively engaging in the topic at hand before and asking their opinion on specific topics and content. 

Declining community activity
A decrease in comments means you have to find new ways to engage your commuinity

6. Get down with marketing

We know, we know, marketing is a dirty word, but even marketing has been rebranding itself. If you have an authentic and engaging approach, and ensure you are relevant to the people you’re approaching, they won’t experience it as marketing as much. There are a few marketing activities you should consider:

  • Send existing members a (bi)weekly or monthly email update of the content and conversations going on in your community. MailChimp is a great tool for this.
  • If you have other emailings that are sent out from your organisation, be sure to get a standard link and (preferably visual) reference to your community in there. 
  • Move part of your conversation to social media. Share topics and events there and use a small budget to target your social media ads to people who may be interested in the topic at hand. 

Keep calm and carry on

TL;DR: Give yourself time. In the initial stages of a community you will focus more on content management and curation than community management. This is totally cool and is exactly what makes community management so much fun, challenging and diverse job! Be sure to set realistic goals and KPIs and share them with your stakeholders so they understand the process of building a community and are as excited as you are during every stage of your community build. 

What roadblocks did you run into when you first started your community and how did you overcome these? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back as we'll be exploring some of the above topics more in depth over the coming months. :)
 

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