One is the Loneliest Number…Community Building 101

Technically, building a community platform is easy: you just get a fist full of developers, hand them a spec, give them a blank server and turn them loose.  At some point in the not so distant future you have your new community site ready for testing.   Soon there after, you’re ready to welcome the real users.

The problem is, you quickly find, even if you’ve got a premium domain, that the world isn’t sitting around waiting for you to open your new site.  It’s time for the real building work to begin; and if you’re in the position most of us end up, there’s probably little or no budget for the community development.

It’s time to go guerrilla!

I’ve decided to take a site with great potential and adopt it as my own for the purposes of proving the guerrilla community building tactics I’m about to share with you – so this article will actually come in a series of installments; think of it as a lab experiment.

The site I’m using is Cycling.com which I’ve chosen as it’s a likely candidate for a bump from the Olymics.  You’d expect that you’d be able to discuss cycling events at a site like cycling.com, right?

First, an overview:

Cycling was relaunched on a new platform, vs. the old park page that had inhabited the site, sometime in late February, and since has had little or no attention from either the site editors, or anyone that could be considered a community builder.  It is built on a hybrid platform of WordPress and BBPress, with pretty much all of the community functions you’d expect to see:

  • Forum
  • Personal profile page
  • User generated content, including articles, videos, photos, blogs, etc.
  • Groups – which also leverage the ability to create private group articles, photos, videos, etc.
  • Friend capabilities – add a friend, see friends activities, personal messages, etc.

For the Olympics, we’ve added an RSS feed of the Lenovo Bloggers that gives us access to the cyclists who are blogging.  Very cool (big thanks to David Churbuck at Lenovo).  This gives us a steady flow of new content, which I don’t have to write.  I’ll also be putting up summary articles of the cycling action as the events unfold.  This evening, I’ll be writing up both the men’s and women’s road race events.

Where we are now:

We’ve got the classic problem: no one wants to be the first, and there hasn’t been enough forum traffic to get any gravitas going.  Yes, we get traffic, but it’s almost all unique, meaning that we’re not getting the return traffic. In short, it isn’t working.

Guerilla Community Building 101:

At random, here are some of the techniques I will be using to try to jump start the discussions:

  • I’ll be posting on the forum under a couple of different user names, so that it doesn’t seem that anyone is “the first” to join the community.
  • I’m looking to enlist some friends who are avid riders to get things going.  I may resort to bribery by making it a condition of my sponsoring them for the Pan Mass Challenge (benefit for cancer) although they all know I’ll contribute no matter what.
  • I’ve added a tag line to my email sig as well as the sig I use on my established, successful sites.”Join me on Cycling.com for 2008 Olympics Cycling News, Videos, Athlete Blogs, and Discussions”
  • I’ll keep the discussion going by adding new content daily.
  • I’ll have an email sent whenever anyone posts, and will make sure that any question is answered within a reasonable time period (to me, that means within 2 hours during the work week and 24 on weekends, but I will aim to be better.
  • Graft – I’ll have some gimmee stuff done up to hand out, and put a bounty on best post of the week (once I have some posts).
  • Stickers – I’m getting some bumper stickers to both hand out and put on my own vehicles.
  • If I were truly an expert, I’d be participating on other cycling sites, acting as the expert, answering questions, and I’d have my url in my sig.
  • I’ll be commenting on cycling blogs and you can bet I’ll be using my own url.
  • I’ll enlist help wherever I can get it –  Within the company I know there are some pretty serious riders.  I similarly have friends who are riders and I will ask all to give me a couple posts a week for while.
  • Early adopters will be cherished – I will find ways to make them feel special and to show them they are truly appreciated.

As such, I’m also asking for *YOUR* help!  If you’re a cyclist, join the site and let’s start talking.  Since you’re coming from this blog and this post, you then no doubt have some community building skills to add, and I’ll be happy to have you on board!

I’ll be reporting back on what’s working and what isn’t.  Of course, as with anything in community development, your mileage may vary.

4 Replies to “One is the Loneliest Number…Community Building 101”

  1. Those are some seriously guerrilla tactics… Reminds me of starting my own forums not too long ago ; )

    IMO, remove the total online users number from the front page for the time being. People see those numbers and can’t be too excited about how many people are in the community (Members online: none).

    Past that I think you just need to give it some time and tie in the content with the forums. With commenting in every article the use for forums is diminished, but you can still make sure to link to topics, point out interesting things that members post, and so on.

  2. Completely agree with the user online numbers – I hate them. But in the past I have used them to my advantage – on vBulletin sites, I’ve been known to turn the logged in time out up to a few hours, extending the list of users online dramatically.

    It’s true – with social media taking prevalence, the use of forums is somewhat diminished, as the interactivity is spread across the site.

    My thought here was that it’d been a while since I’d taken a site personally from scratch – I’ve consulted on the last few projects I did, and hence I was worried about exactly what you suggest – that my old school tactics might need an update.

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