Creating and sustaining healthy communities is part art and part science.
When I think of a healthy community, I think of a party. At a party, just like in a community, you are bringing together people to meet each other, form relationships and possibly even create something amazing together. You are bringing together people from different backgrounds, who may even want different things -- how do you make it work? How do you get people to come to your party when they have so many choices?
Your job is to create the right conditions (a word I’m borrowing from my friend Matt Partovi, because I love it so much) -- through awesome community design.
Let’s dig in …
Ask Yourself These Questions
Who are they?
The first step in designing our virtual party is putting together the invite list. Whom does your community aim to serve?
This is a deceptively simple question. While it’s tempting to build one big community for all of your customers, that may not be the right thing to do. Simply being a customer of yours is not a trait that defines them; they want to talk to other people who are / have been on a similar journey. Build the community around the journey the customer is going on, and connect it to their self-identity.
Who’s bringing the snacks?
Now that you identified people you will serve, explore what do they want from you and the community. Why will your guests come to your party and what will they bring with them?
Here’s a super high-tech big-data solution: ask them! Identify a few folks that represent your key groups, pick up the phone, take them out to coffee. Share your initial idea and ask them to become your founding members. Choose wisely, these early members determine the tone and culture of the community -- members that come after model their behaviors after these members. Think of them as your party planning committee. Don't forget to also talk to customer-facing groups inside of your own organization for additional insights.
Start with jobs customers do and design with the object of creating business value for each member. Balance of skills and experiences is key in a community -- understand what expertise exists and what needs to be cultivated. Just like at a party, you need to know what each member brings -- you don’t want to end up with just drinks and no snacks. Think of artifacts that your community creates as food at a dinner party -- and how much fun it is to create them together.
What’s in it for me?
A community will never work if people don’t participate, which takes time and effort. How can you make it worth their time? Dig deep and understand their WIIFM (what’s in it for me?). Your customers don't buy your product; they buy a solution. They continue to buy those solutions that make their lives better and / or helps them look good in front of others.
What does your solution mean to their self-image? This can help you start to understand the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for participating in your community. What are they passionate about? How can you channel their passion for the benefit of the entire community? Exploring member personas and roles is useful here -- some people may want to be seen as experts, some people may want to learn from them, some may want to co-create great things together.
You'd be naïve to think that your community is the only one trying to offer this experience to your customers. What else is competing for their attention in helping them get their job done? How can you provide something unique that they can’t find somewhere else?
What’s in it for the host?
Most likely, you are reading this article because you are building a community that has something to do with your business. While figuring out the needs and wants of the community, you also need to create something that benefits the business. Shockingly, only 34% of companies align their social strategy to business goals, Brian Solis said at a recent fireside chat I led. Your community doesn't exist in a vacuum; look for ways to add explicit value across the organization -- this will get you the funding and respect in your community endeavors.
How do I RSVP?
Now that you know whom you want at your party, it’s time to send out some invites. Having answered all questions from above will help you determine if your community should be external and public or private, and what the join process looks like.
If it’s a public external community, how will you promote it to drive membership? Is there a vetting process? Are there clear expectations? How do members leave the community? Keep in mind the trade offs: the more highly vetted, the smaller and tighter-knit the community, and perhaps the more engaged the users are. The larger the community, the less trust and collaboration there is, and the more important sub-communities become. This is not to say that you shouldn't have a large community, but you want to make sure that the right sub-groups can easily find each other.