How do we bring our online community to life?
Nearly every overnight success in the online world was actually months in the planning... and social media is no different. Turning the empty streets and sidewalks of your web site into a bustling, thriving community takes a lot of planning and effort. But the good news is, that effort is often enjoyable (there's a reason we call it social media) - and the payoff can be tremendously rewarding.
You start by thinking of your prospective community members: what are you going to offer them that's so compelling it's worth spending time on your site instead of opting for Flickr, Facebook or Family Guy? Keep that in mind as you plan the rest of your site launch and the critical weeks and months afterward. Devote enough promotion resources to raise awareness; ensure you're staffed up to welcome your visitors. And take pride in what you're doing - community-building is a real service.
Web 2.0 isn't just about delivering a message; it's about engaging in conversation, and nowhere is that more true than in the non-profit space. Here are six basic principles for non-profits (or any other organizations) venturing into social media.
Drawing people to your site is just the first step. How do you motivate them to actually participate, to contribute their own time, ideas and content? In other words, how do you bring your site to life?
Your engagement plan is the roadmap of what you want to achieve in the first 3 to 6 months of your project, and how you're going to get there. Here are the ingredients of a winning engagement plan, from blogger outreach to incentives and contests.
Kathy Sierra at the Creating Passionate Users blog notes how hard it can be for a new user to break into a community... especially if it's built around user-submitted questins and answers. Most forum operators handle newcomers with an FAQ; a few visionaries create a safe environment for asking questions. But Sierra says you can dramatically escalate participation if you make it easier for newbies to answer questions, too... and she has six suggestions for doing just that.
How do you create a site that keeps people on your pages? One of your most attractive features may be a big, well-lit exit door. Here's how you can keep your site from feeling cut-off from the rest of the Net... and keep a healthy circulation going, in and out.
Gaming the system, creating fake supporters, forgetting your users... there are many dead ends on the road to social media success. Here's how to avoid some of the deadest.
Traffic jams can happen in the online world as well as on the street; collision here, a bottleneck there, and suddenly your conversation is stalled in gridlock. And like traffic cops, your site animator can't be everywhere. The solution? Empowering your community members to be the first responders when trouble flares.
Working with everything from political groups to online discussion boards, I've heard the same lament: "We have so many members. Why do we have so few people participating?" The evidence suggests user participation usually follows a 90-9-1 rule, with 90% of members passively observing, 9% contributing from time to time, and only 1% participating regularly. The good news: once you know that, you can plan for it... and help users move from that 90% to the 1%.
The web site's done. The launch date is set. Now - before you open the site's doors to the world - take these critical steps to starting your community off on the right foot.
Want to make your online community a roaring success? Try approaching it the same way you'd hold a party - from choosing an appealing venue to introducing your guests to each other. (If you can figure out how to put an open bar online, you'll be unbeatable.)