There is no magic to building communities.
You don’t have to sell your soul to have one, nor do you need to spend countless resources for it. It is a simple 1-2-3 that will provide you with the most valuable information directly from your customers. Want to try?
First, let’s define what we mean by communities. A community is an aggregation of people with similar characteristics. This could be an online forum, a social network page where you gather your fans, a set of followers in twitter, or any other place where you can have a conversation with a select group of people – whether they are fans or customers or something else (yes, even detractors – heard of keeping your enemies close?).
If you decide that building a community sounds good, this is the road to success in building it:
1. Purpose. Define a purpose for your community. You need to determine the theme or topic, the channel, the format, the rules, the potential users, the values and benefits. This is not an ROI calculation – forget those for now. This is where you decide whether investing into a community as an alternative channel to reach out to your customers is worth the time and effort. You are not going to generate sales through these communities (then again, you may – but you cannot plan on it), this is a branding exercise. Key Question To Ask: are you looking for a one-way or two-way communication? why?
2. Advertise. I used this analogy before for multiple things, but nothing in customer relationships was taken out of the movie Field of Dreams. Just because you build it does not mean they will come. Find the best way to get the word out: user groups, other communities, sales and customer support, direct advertising, email or mail campaigns, direct advertising – you know what works for your customers and how they react. Key Question To Ask: what has proven successful to bring the people we want to action? how can we adapt it to this situation?
3. Laissez-faire. The french got it right this time. Best way to grow a community once you created it and introduced it, let it be. No monitoring or censorship, no “fake reviews” from inside to pump up the product or service, just plain out let it be. If you think your product or service is good enough to build a community around, it should be able to stand on its own. The most marvelous aspect of a community is the self-regulating part – where the users own it and find value and defend it from attacks and outsiders. Key Question To Ask: how can I increase the value to the community by contributing to it?
Are you building the right communities? Are you reaching your goals? Let me know…