These are lessons from over 10 years of learning how to build an online community.
It’s a really important time for “connectors”, those people who bring people together. You probably used to attend to trade shows, networking events, co-working spaces or show up at places to meet peers and fresh faces in your industry.
Now there is a risk that our circles will contract, that we will only interact with people we know. This is limiting for our businesses, but also for society in general. How will our ideas be challenged if we can choose so specifically who we interact with? What about those wonderful serendipitous moments when you bump into someone new at an event? How can we make this happen when we are at home?
If you tend to be good at introducing people and building up a network of contacts, then creating an online community from home could be a perfect move for you. You will get such a buzz from helping people out, plus people are then more likely to think about you and refer you for opportunities in return.
Make the most of increased time online
Regardless of how your contacts and community feel about social media, or whether they enjoy using Zoom, most of us have increased the time we spend online interacting with others; without it, staying connected would be such a challenge. In fact, people who don’t have a Twitter following and aren’t part of an ‘engagement pod’ are likely to be extremely appreciative of the opportunity to connect with a new group of contacts online.
There are a number of great tools to help you build an online community. Tools such as Memberpress (for WordPress), MightyNetworks, Podia or Kajabi allow you to set up your own community platform. Some people prefer to use a Facebook group, to encourage a group of people to interact and get to know each other. From a technical point of view, Facebook is probably your easiest route – however, plugins and private networks are becoming increasingly intuitive to use, and there are certainly benefits to connecting with people away from their other distractions.
We have been running our community BookMachine for 10 years now. BookMachine has been created for book publishing professionals to develop their knowledge of the industry, whilst expanding their network. Before lockdown we ran a combination of online and offline events and initiatives, this is now 100% online, and we have learned so much in the transition. Our membership numbers are 25% up and all of our online events are selling out, so I think we are getting it right – although there are always ways to improve. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
If you only work on your online community on a Friday for example, it’s better to space out your communication with scheduling tools – so that your community hear from you a couple of times a week. If you decide to communicate less frequently than this, then keep it consistent. Your community will trust you more if they know when to expect their updates.
Keep trying new things
Once you have established a rhythm and have a group of people keen to get involved, you need to keep tweaking what you do it until you find a way to reach a wider audience. Can you bring in new people to interview? What about the format – could video or audio work better? Making small improvements all the time will again, gain you trust, as it shows you are moving things forward and listening to feedback.
Going live in your online community
There are many ways to go live and interact directly with your community. Facebook live might make sense for you, or you could use a tool like StreamYard to go live on Facebook, YouTube and Linkedin at the same time. With all tools, how and when you go Live should be part of an overall strategy and the beauty of it is that you can ramp up or reduce your activity immediately based on your responses.
If you’re getting good engagement then try to do more, if not, then reduce how often you do them. If they are being used to bring in new voices and audiences then it’s an excellent idea. So a weekly panel of experts is a GREAT idea for engagement and interesting ideas.
Keep a notebook of inspiration
We all spend a lot of time online, and sometimes campaigns/articles can impact you when you aren’t necessarily looking for inspiration. Bookmark these pages or keep a notebook for fresh ideas. The world is literally your oyster with an online community – and your community ideas could come from different industries or settings. You might find you have lots of ideas initially, but they hit a block a few months in. At that point you will be really pleased to have a list to re-inspire you.
Remember your role is to connect
As a connector you don’t need to think about return favours. To effectively you’re your community think about helping others with no expectation of anything in return. Help your community and offer advice, but also lift others who are trying to get projects off the ground. Cross-promote and share ideas and leave a helpful and open trail of communication with everyone you speak to. Keep lifting others as you grow, and your network with grow stronger and more engaged.
This is a guest post by Laura Summers who runs BookMachine, a fast-growing community specialising in book publishing. Their mission is to provide every publishing professional in the UK with knowledge, ideas and connections to help them to progress in their careers.
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