19 Nov 2008

What Are You Doing To Grow Your Community?

We’re all hoping to create strong, thriving communities around our brands. We want folks to want to interact with us. We want to be friendly and to encourage conversations. We want our site to feel warm and comforting and to smell like Thanksgiving dinner complete with the pumpkin pie. But that’s a hard feeling to accomplish when most people can’t stop talking about themselves and continually make you want to smack them in the face with a stick. And you know what I mean because you’ve met the people who hang out on the Internet. Hell, we ARE the people who hang out on the Internet.

To be successful, you need to have a strategy for how you’re going to build a community on your site. And there are plenty of important factors that go into creating that. Below are some that I feel are the most important. Let me know what some of your favorites are.

Promote your members, not yourself.

Let’s just get this out of the way: No one cares about you. Your own mother doesn’t even care about you, she’s just crossing her fingers that at some point you’ll stop embarrassing her in public. There are no participation trophies in community building. You either deliver or people are going to shun and throw things at you. Personally, I hope it’s the latter. I’ve got some cats that are good for throwin’.  If you want to grow a community on your Web site, you need to realize that you are there for them, not the other way around. It’s about how you make them feel. Save your own feelings for your Wednesday afternoon therapy session.

I’ve always found that the bestcommunities are the ones where the stage and the limelight has been given to members. The site is nothing more than a forum for other people to show how smart they are. One of the best examples of this idea in motion is the Youmoz element of SEOmoz. It’s a place that is 100 percent dedicated to showing off the smartz of its members.  Members can submit, vote and comment on content that doesn’t promote Moz in any way (other than to reinforce that SEOmoz cares about its members). And the top YOUmoz posts of the week are linked to from Rebecca Kelley’s Friday Recap ripoff Thursday Roundup posts. This is the reason that the SEOmoz community will continue to go to bat for Rand — because he’s loyal to them and he gives them a voice. People like that that whole voice thing.  Support those who support you.

Give more than you take

If you’re not consistently delivering, people are going to find someone who is. You need to give people a reason to stay engaged and your content is often the best way to do that.  Your community wants top notch information. They want tools. They want insight. And they want it now and they want it for free.  They want you to comment on their blogs and add to their conversation before they comment and add to yours. Your audience is a pre-schooler.

My favorite example of this is also one of my favorite people in the industry. It’s Kim Krause-Berg. I love Kim’s blog. She gives away an incredible amount of information with no strings attached.  She also runs the Cre8asite forums, which happens to be one of the few forums that I pay any attention to. She’s always commenting on other people’s blogs to support them and bring insight to the conversations going on in other circles. And anytime you need a mom or someone to listen to you cry/vent/get excited, Kim’s the first one to offer an ear. The Web can be a harsh place, but Kim has created a community around her that exudes sunlight and warmth and love.  Fortunately, the SEO community has a number of people who give more than they take. Aaron Wall is another name that immediately jumps to mind. Is there anyone as brilliant in SEO as Aaron? Methinks not.

Fight for your community.

If you want people to be loyal to you, you have to be loyal to them first.  People want to associate with faces and places they can trust. They’re not going to hang out in a place where they don’t feel safe. As people we are drawn to those that we feel will have our backs when the crap hits the fan.

I belong to several communities on the Web. I’m part of the liveblogging community, the “young and female and in SEO” contingent, and the group that believes SEO should be done a certain way. And I’m vocal about these communities because I know they support me right back. I know that if someone talks smack about liveblogging, Barry Schwartz

is going to speak up. I know that if someone takes a hit at females in SEO, Rae Hoffman is going to hit them in the back of the head with a lead pipe. And I know that if someone questions my white hat views on SEO, my posse at Bruce Clay will come running. When you make community members feel safe in your grasps, they’re going to be more vocal. Not because they’re sheepbut because the community helps to validate and strengthen their own beliefs.

Create a schedule. Be on time.

If your community is centered around your blog, let people know when new content is going to come out. If it’s centered around a service, let them know when updates or new products will be available. Give them something to look forward to. Build the buzz around what you offer and get people salivating before you even release it.

Two communities I hopelessly and loyally belong to outside of SEO are Heather Armstrong’s (aka Dooce) and Bangerang Cupcakes. I am addicted to both and both put me on a schedule for when their flagship content will be delivered.  For Heather, I know that around the 3rd or 4th of every month, a new newsletter to her daughter Leta is going to be published and it’s probably going to make me cry. I also know that every Tuesday, Bangarang Cupcakes will release a new batch of its cupcakes in a jar that I am oh-so-addicted to.  Not to make myself sound even more pathetic than you already think I am, but I base my day/week/month around it.  I’m an active and vocal member of these communities and knowing when I can expect new content allows me to evangelize at the right times, it reminds me to check back in, and it makes me feel part of something bigger than myself.

Be Involved

You’re not going to build a community around your site without participating in the communities around you. I mean, you can try, but it’s only going to give you something else to blame your parents for at that Wednesday afternoon therapy session. Save yourself some money and fuzzy white pills and stop being such a jerk.

Good community leaders are first good community members. They’re on social networks promoting other people’s content and starting new conversations. They don’t belong to every network and they’re not friends with everyone on the planet, only those who have interests related to their own.  In fact, they’re so active on these social communities that you can’t even tell when they are promoting their own stuff because, unlike Yelp, you never have to question their authenticity.

Someone who exudes this to the core is Chris Winfield. I’m constantly blown away by Chris’ ability to be so active and so useful in so many different arenas. He tirelessly passes along such great information that I’d never question anything he sends flying through my Twitter stream. Chris was how I found out that Jerry Yang stepped down, he predicts new Twitter trending topics, and he’s probably the most useful person I follow on twitter. His content has more authority and more power simply because it comes from him and I know that he’s a trusted member of my community.

Be Human

It’s really easy to get so focused on building a community that you become obsessed with creating content, promoting content, commenting on social networks, and constantly searching for new blogs to add to your RSS reader. That stuff is important, but it’s also important that you breathe and let people know that you’re human. For me, the human elements are what really make a community. The feeling of “knowing” someone and being able to relate to them on a personal level. Those are the places I want to hang out. And once you create that bond, your community members will stick by you through virtually anything. You’ve locked them in for life. Don’t be afraid to be human and to show people who you really are behind the blog. That’s the stuff they’re aching for.

The more you give to your community, the more you’re going to get out of it, because they’re what makes you special. You’re just there to bring the amazing people together.

What are some of your tips for community building?