Online Community Management Tips & Resources

I wrote this for the KickApps blog.

Many of our clients use KickApps to power their online communities for fans, customers or employees. While the purpose may differ, these communities often share common traits and challenges:

Q. How do I get people to participate?
Q. It looks and works great, but why aren’t people active in it?
Q. What do I do with trolls?

Creating and cultivating an online community of passionate fans and customers can deliver tremendous benefits for any brand–greater affinity and loyalty, direct marketing channel to your most passionate customers and deep insight into your customers’ likes and dislikes, to name a few. However, growing an online community is no easy task and it takes time, and more often than not, dedicated resources to make it successful.

Here are some useful resources and tips as you think about your community strategy:

1. “9 Steps to creating a successful online community,” a white paper by KickApps. You can request a copy by sending an email to info@kickapps.com.

2. Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst at Forrester, compiled a list on his blog about “How to Kick Start a Community.” Here’s his list of things to consider:

a. Create compelling content on a recurring basis. (Content is a key to engagement, together with activities and having a way for people to interact with each other. Whether that’s content you create or your members, make it relevant, interesting and compelling.)
b. Reward users who fill out their profile. (This is about human nature. People are motivated by a handful of different things and we all like a pat on the back or to get something out of a relationship–material or otherwise.)
c. Invite community influencers and advocates to the community first. (Leaders will emerge, by bringing some into your community you’ll get people to follow.)
d. Encourage interaction through conversations. (If conversations don’t start on their own, it’s on you to get it started.)
e. Reward top contributors. (Again, rewarding people for their participation is a great way to tap into that very human need for reward. People will look to this and you’ll tap into another very human need–aspiration.)
f. Centralize your community around your real world events. (This is a great way of extending that experience between the offline and online world. The Phoenix Suns and U2–currently on tour–are great examples of taking advantage of this opportunity.)
g. Virtual events integrate community. (This is the activity piece of the Engagement equation I outlined earlier. Ovation TV held their 3rd Happy Hour online chat last night and got a great showing with members talking about art, photography and music.)
h. Integrate with your website and other customer touchpoints. (Ask yourself how you extend this experience through places like Facebook or Twitter. How do you extend those conversations?)
i. Encourage employees to get active. (Your employees can be your most important community members and advocates to kick start the participation. Let them be open and authentic. If that frightens you, give them guidelines to follow–here’s a great example from the CEO of Zappos about how their employees should use Twitter, note that he doesn’t talk about rules, rather he puts it into the context of their brand values, thus great authenticity from employees.)

As with most blog posts worth reading there’s as much value in the comments. My contribution was around the role of the community manager or as I prefer to call it, the Community Leader. As the host of the ‘party’ the Leader’s role in getting things started is very important. He or she needs to make people feel welcome, introduce new members to each other, lead conversations, encourage people, be a guide.

3. The Community Roundtable is another great resource. It’s an organization created by Rachel Happe and Jim Storer for community managers and social media practitioners. Roundtable members have access to a ton of great information and resources about best practices and new ideas. I think what’s most helpful about this is that everyone learns and teaches in this group. You might work for a B2B technology company like SAP but also find really interesting tips from someone at TripAdvisor, for example.

Also, the Community Maturity Model that they’ve developed is very useful when thinking about your community strategy (http://community-roundtable.com/2009/06/the-community-maturity-model/).

4. Rachel Happe’s blog, www.thesocialorganization.com, has too many excellent posts to talk about here. I really recommend that you take some time to read some of her thoughts (and of course the conversations in the comments that people leave). Here’s a good one to start with: Growing a Community is Like Making Risotto (http://www.thesocialorganization.com/2009/08/growing-a-community-is-like-making-risotto.html).

Also, check out Rachel’s webinar (hosted by KickApps) on 8 Competencies for Socializing Your Organization.

5. Bill Johnston, chief community officer at Forum One Networks, runs the Online Community Unconference and blogs here. Unconferences are a great place to spend a day with peers to discuss any thing you want about online communities. Literally. Attendees to the event develop the agenda in the morning and volunteer to lead or participate in sessions that interest them the most. Highly recommended.

6. eModeration, a KickApps partner, is the most well known provider of community management services. They work with some of the largest brands in the world and help them manage their online community efforts. If you need to outsource your community management, they’re a good place to start.

I hope this information is helpful. Feel free to share any other tips in the comments section.