Recently I've been hearing buzz about... let's called them the Gotham Cities of communities. I don't think I need to name names but drop a few initials MS .. FB .. YT .. some people have been saying there is no need for any more. I believe that in this highly fragmented world opportunities do exist to build social media "long tail/niche," villages and perhaps more Gotham cities as well.
However, there are are unique challenges in building community. Daily Fix's Ann Handley has a special talent in nurturing bloggers and creating an exciting space. As you know, if you've spent time here, the Daily Fix's "Band of Bloggers" and contributors hang out together, learn together and yes, often debate issues together.
The lessons from the past few years have taught us that trust is the key that opens the door to creating relevant, online communities. With trust people feel safe and comfortable to share their experiences and opinions.
How do you think community should be built and is there still room in this virtual world for new long/tail niche players? For your consideration .. a dozen suggestions on how to create a social networking community.
1. Begin with a very clear goal, that goes beyond the number of eye balls, that integrates metrics. As with any marketing strategy (I assume that this would be part of a larger initiative) social media can and should be held accountable. However, the measurements may be (and often are) different. For example instead of the number of unique visitors you might look at length of visit, number of comments, integration of relationships, etc.
2. As in any product/service you can't be all things to all people. For example if you were creating a community for physicians some questions to consider would include: who is the target audience e.g., new docs, specialists, docs who have an interest in changing the healthcare system, docs who are politically active, etc? Do your conversation categories match their needs and expectations?
3. Once you have the strategic direction developed look at the "pay back" to the community. Time is a very precious commodity what do people get for participating in your community? Again, taking the mystic out of the equation and approaching it from a product/service marketing point of view .. what are the benefits?
4. Perhaps this should be #1 .. always remember that your world is part of consumer generated media and people will talk about what they like and what they don't like in other communities and on blogs and within your own community. Those conversations may not stay in the virtual world but may get picked up by main stream media and you may find yourself on the front page of the WSJ or NYT. So understanding the culture is critical.
* Honesty, transparency and authenticity are not nice to haves but *must haves* if you enter this space.
5. Develop guidelines that give the community room to breath but at the same time define expectations. The right guidelines will also help build trust .. in the community and among its members. If people feel "safe" and appreciated they are more likely to engage. (see #7)
6. Identify authentic champions who can help nurture the community and want to take an active role in its creation.
7. (You) should also take an active role also in nurturing your community members. Ask for their opinions, listen to the conversations and if appropriate participate in those discussions.
8. Consider personal invitations to people prior to the initial launch. Word of mouth will build if the community is found to be of value. Consider identifying people who are active within social media worlds e.g., blogs, Facebook, etc.
9. Explore creating a Facebook group. While this may seem counter intuitive it may provide additional awareness.
10. Consider an email strategy that promotes some of the more popular/interesting conversations.
11. What can you do to give back to the larger community? For example is there a way to support a not for profit? Working towards a common cause or goal may encourage strangers to become friends.
12. This deserves repeating .. listen and learn from your community. Make it easy for them to talk to you. Talk to them off community. Bring your members into the development of the community.
Remember, there's what you think and then there's what happens. Your community will surprise you in the ways that they utilize their environment.