Social Media Community Building 101 – The Team

So you’ve got the basics set, having a general plan ready to go (you did read the first article in this series, right?).  Now it’s time to nail down another important aspect of your little project: the community team.  Again, we’re going to have some choices to make, and each one comes with it’s own set of baggage.

  • Partner – give up equity in your project and pay the team member with an ownership stake.  This helps to properly motivate team members in the beginning, but to keep them involved, your going to need to see some financial success fairly quickly (but that’s a good thing, right?).
  • Hire – The dreaded FTE, which is something a new and unproven business model should avoid at all costs.  You’ll know when its time to get serious and hire people, but pre-launch isn’t the time.
  • Contract – As Charlie Sheen notably said about call girls, “I don’t pay them for the sex, I pay them so they will go home after the sex.” This is the reason I like contract work or freelancers for building sites initially.  The project is scoped, the project is built and eventually, they go home.  No long term commitments, no nasty divorces.
  • Outsource/Third Party – Hire a company or freelancer for a specific task or area of expertise.   
  • Barter – Yup, you can trade your skills for those of other professionals.  The good news is that no cash has to change hands.  The bad news is that you’re going to be doing work for someone else, for free…
  • Intern – There are folks out there who will want to become involved in your site, and they’ll be willing to help, and they’ll do it for free.   Not all of them will work out, but you’ll find over time that looking inwards to a community for help is a great way to make things happen.

You should have a good idea from your business plan where the major areas of work are going to be.  Let’s generally assume: Continue reading “Social Media Community Building 101 – The Team”

Social Media Community Building 101 – The Starting Points

(This is part 2 of an on going series of posts on Social Media.  If you didn’t see my first post, in which I define Social Media is, I emplore you to start there  now.  All the posts in this series will be tagged “Social Media 101” so you can find them easily.)

Starting a new community is a fairly daunting task. In this post, I’ll point you to some initial steps that will help you along your way towards building a stable, sustainable and scalable platform that will make growth and success technologically possible.

First off, you have an important technology decision: are you going to roll your own from scratch, assemble pre-packaged systems, or look for a complete system that will fill your needs. Considerations:

  • Roll Your Own (think of custom coded PHP, ASP, Perl, Java, etc. solutions):- You need to be a competent coder.
    – Time to market will be longer.
    – You will have complete control over how your site works.
    – Your feature set at launch will probably be restricted.
    – Less spam issues, as you’re solutions will be one off, hence the packaged spam products will not know how to attack you.
       Continue reading “Social Media Community Building 101 – The Starting Points”

Major Site Update – Splitcoaststampers.com

Yesterday we updated the Splitcoaststampers.com site, the absolute best site on the net for Rubber Stamping and Card Making,  with to the latest version of vBulletin, added a left column and did a whole bunch of system integration throughout the site. The project took approximately 4 months to complete, with tremendous work by Scott Bigelow, a great backend engineer and hardware guy, and Daven Nolta, the site manager, who kept us on track and on target for the community needs.

In addition to the standard upgrade stuff, we’ve added more Social Media functionality.  Facebook Connect buttons, a Twitter Stream, a Facebook Page and a Facebook Group.  There are several other big Social Media features we’ll be unveiling over the coming weeks, but thos will be subjects for another day.  

The important point is that the site is no longer running on a horribly out of date vBulletin install, which I’d taken as my personal mission to resolve.  If you’re using systems like vBulletin, you really need to stay current.

The upgrade wasn’t without it’s problems. We did find we had several issues with formatting when we went live. In further researching them, I find they were almost universally IE6 and almost universally using 800 x 600 screen resolution. The screen shots from users were almost comical, as some had 5 or 6 malware toolbars installed in their browsers, making the vertical space in the browser window almost non-existent.

If you are using IE6, I strongly urge you to try downloading Firefox or Google Chrome, or even the latest IE version(IE8). Your current browser is close to 10 years old. Your internet experience is lacking because of your use of outdated technology.

Also, I suggest you right click on any area of the empty desktop screen and click properties. Then click settings and increase your screen resolution. It is becoming very hard for us to support people using very low screen resolutions, when we also have to be able to handle very high resolutions as we are seeing from laptops. If I cater to you, the laptop users are going to see my site at postage stamp size.  And again, you’re missing out on a lot as no one really designs for small screen resolution anymore.

Oh, one very funny thing, we began our upgrade at around 10:30 am.  At 10:45 vBulletin released an update to their system, so as I was upgrading I immediately got a message about it.  Timing, it’s all in the timing.

Boagworld.com: 7 Harsh Truths about Running Online Communities

Paul Boag’s got another great post this week at Boagworld.com – “7 Harsh Truths about Running Online Communities.”  This is the kind of knowledge you only get by managing online communities, and frankly, every failed community I’ve seen feel prey to one (and more likely, several) of these harsh truths.  

  1. Technology doesn’t create a community
  2. Show some commitent
  3. Learn to lead
  4. An antisocial community is your fault
  5. You need to swallow your pride
  6. Stop trying to control the message
  7. Nobody likes to be alone

Particularly I like to think about #4, in which he posits that it’s your own fault if your community becomes antisocial.  He attributes it to the site owner having setup a generally snarky and negative tone for the site to begin with.  Very easy to do, especially when you’re looking at a niche that’s heavy on reviews.  As anyone who’s ever written reviews knows, the bad ones are the fun ones, and we all have a tendency to go overboard.

I think theres another facet there which he’s missed; if you tolerate antisocial behavior in your community, you’ll just get more of it.  Basically, by allowing the trolls a place to live, you allow them to take over.  I’ve seen it too many times, when a site owner fails to act against one antisocial force in his community, only to find the positive, core members of his site move on to greener, more troll-free pastures.  As I have said before, as a site owner, you’re the Sheriff and you’re going to have to step in and maintain discipline on occassion.  If you’re not up to the task, you have no business running a site.

Manifesto for Social Media: Stop Talking and Start Doing

I’ve got a serious love/hate relationship going with Social Media.  I absolutely love building social media communities, but I honestly am tired of the blather I’m hearing on twitter and the blogs about it.  My problem is simple:

There is too much hot air from people with little or no practical Social Media experience.

There it is, the perverbial turd on the carpet – so deal with it.  I’m sick of people telling me “to join the converstation!”  Hell, I was there when the conversation started, and have been a part of it ever since.  I remember using forum software and even email for comments back in the good old days of 1995 and 1996 when we really were inventing this stuff.  Heck, I was technically one of the very first bloggers, although we hadn’t even named the format in 1996.

The push back against the current “hurrah for social media” has been building for some time.  For a good laugh and an idea of how bad it’s getting, read this entry from Brett Borders entitled ‘Social Media ‘Rockstars’ vs. ‘Narcissists’“.

I’m going to avoid going negative here.  In fact, I’m getting out of this debate entirely after this post (he says, hopefully).  Here’s my manifesto for all you purveyors of Social Media: Stop talking and start doing.

  • Instead of continually twittering shopworn platitudes about “joining the conversation”, go ahead and start a conversation we want to join.  Something with substance like keys to success in community building, or the biggest mistakes I made while working with XYZ.com.
  • If you don’t have real experience, if you haven’t run a social media site, or built a community, start doing so.
  • If you don’t have real experience, take the words “Social Media” out of your twitter handle, Facebook account, etc.  You haven’t done it, you’re as qualified to consult on this subject as you are to do brain surgery.  Stop insulting the rest of us by calling yourself a guru…
  • If you are experienced, start discussing hands on stuff that will help the rest of us.  What was a problem you had and how did you solve it with Social Media, etc.  Share your successes and, even more importantly, your failures…tell us what didn’t work, what mistakes you made.
  • Experiment, push the boundaries, do things that have not been done before.  You will find many don’t work, but in the process, some will.  Share your findings with us.  Become an expert by experimenting…

The point is this, Social Media isn’t ready to have a museum built for it, it’s almost brand new with the wrapping only partway torn off it.  Experiment, build, and take the time to make things work – that is where the true experts will be found, not twittering incessantly about the parties they are going to attend at SXSW.

I look forward to seeing many posts forthcoming that will expand the Social Media corpus scientia.  For my part, I’ll be posting more about the inner workings of social media and community building here, as my time permits.

Google Social Toolbar

I’m ready to vent here.  Are we, as community builders, becoming so lazy that we don’t want to take the time to build in the social media features we want for our sites, the way we want them?  Do we really need to have Google package them up and provide them for us, the way they want them?

Two days ago, Google announced they were releasing the Google Social Toolbar, which is really a misnomer, as it isn’t really a toolbar at all, rather it’s a toolpack that site owners can embed in their sites.  From Techcrunch:

Basically, the social bar is a small strip that webmasters can layer on top of any web page, either at the top or at the bottom. That way, website visitors are provided with a bit of information, and the bar also lets them interact with any social feature the site incorporates through drop-down gadgets. As Software Engineer Christopher Wren explains in the announcement blog post, this is a good way to save on pixel space and keep putting the actual content of the site forward first.

The Google Social Web blog explains:

  • On the far left, visitors can join your site, see their identity, and edit their profiles and settings.
  • Your visitors can also delve into your site’s activity stream to see what’s happening throughout your site. It includes links to recent posts made anywhere on your site, helping other visitors quickly find where the hottest conversations are taking place.
  • The wall gadget can host a discussion for the whole site, a section of pages, or each individual page, letting your visitors easily read and leave comments.
  • Lastly, visitors can see the other members of your site, check out their profiles to see how like-minded they really are, and even become friends.

These are for the most part functions that you should have addressed on your site by proper design (have I not told you that social media is an important tool in your toolbox?).  Why would you want discussion about your site going on at another site, where the readers are seeing ads from which you do not profit?  If discussion is needed on your site, add it, but for God’s sake don’t hand that traffic and it’s revenue over to Google for free.

We are looking for good value adds for our sites, such as the ability to share content ala Facebook Connect.  What we don’t need is a convenient way to off load our revenue generating traffic.

If you’re going to build and manage a site, then do it.  If you want Google to do it for you, then don’t come running to me when you want to “monetize it”.

Monetize This…

As our economic downturn continues, it’s become very apparent that the buzzword for the year is going to be Monetize.  That means just about anything we’re doing (as web developers, designers, community managers, etc.) is going to be expected to pick up the yoke and plow the fields from the start.  That’s a lot to ask in a field like social media and social networking where the 800 lb. gorilla, Facebook, has just entered it’s 5th year, with 110 million registered users, but has yet to produce a net profit.

110 million users, no net profit – that’s right.  

Esteban Glas shares my concerns on this in his post “Train Wreck: Social Media to meet Commerce in 2009.

I’m prepared to witness a ton of experiments that will make me want to go and live as a hermit in some obscure and inaccessible cave with no internet access. Dire situations require desperate measures. This can be the recipe for:

  1.  unprecedented originality or, much more frequently:
  2.  nasty efforts that smell, look and taste like desperation.

That is exactly the smell I am picking up around the web right now: desperation.  

The other day I saw a post on twitter that astounded me from Mack Collier (via Tony Santos):

“Communities do not come together around the idea of being monetized.”

My comment to that was very simple:

“Smart onliine communities realize they risk becoming unsupported or orphan communities if they can’t be monetized. “

I’ve seen it in several situations where an absentee owners community was purchased and the community was generally thankful to know that someone was placing some value on them, and at the very least, would continue to pay the server bills.  Notably, the Reel-Time.com was generally quite positive during the Namemedia.com acquistion of the site last May for exactly that reason.  I don’t know how many realized how close they came to becoming digital orphans, had that deal not gone through.

The problem is that not all our actions can (or should) be subject to monetization.  Sometimes our actions are simply for the betterment of the community, and that, in the end will have an affect on our bottom line, but we’ll have a hard time tying that action into a concrete line item on a balance sheet.  

The other problem we end up with is that ideas get rushed through to market before they’re even half baked.  Again, I’m seeing some initiatives online that I can tell were never specified properly, or even run through a few rudimentary use cases, because if they had, they never would have seen the light of day.  

Yes, we should be able to monetize the sites and services we provide.  This isn’t public radio, it’s commerce and we have every right to make money of our creations.  That said, the question of who really owns a community comes into play.  I’ve often heard cries of “free speech” while I moderate my forums, and my answer is almost universal: it is not free, and I have the hosting bills to prove it.

We’re going to be seeing a lot of new “monetization” experiments this year.  We need to stand firm, shine a light into the dark places, and call out the efforts that are wrong.  Social media is still an experiment, and if we don’t take ownership of it, we’re in danger of someone creating a mutant virus that will infect the lab and kill us all.


Top Ten Posts from 2008

Following Ari Herzog’s example, here are my top 10 posts of 2008.

It’s a hard choice to make, but the votes are all in and I’ve got the envelope from our friends at Price Waterhouse containing the winners:

Its mildly surprising to me that my best posts from 2007 tended to center on small business marketing, online marketing and content management.  Of course, I was working with small businesses then, so that I guess makes sense.

Did I miss any important post?  Quite probably, but this is a fairly solid list.  Tell me, which is the best of 2008?

Branded Community or Sponsoring Niche Communities

Paul Gillin posted on a topic that I’ve been mulling over for the past few days: Branded Communities.  I’ve said it in the past and I will say it again here and now: why would you buy a build a branded community when you can rent one instead?

From Gillin’s post:

Pssst… is intended to bring fans of General Mills products closer to the company by inviting them into a members-only space where they can receive inside information, get coupons and samples and share their opinions about the company’s products. This is all the stuff that I preach organizations should do with branded communities. The site is produced in collaboration withGlobalPark, a company that manages online panels.

Pssst… is good in concept but bad in execution.

David Churbuck posted on the issue and asked one very pointed question:

Begs the question of who does a decent job with a branded community — aside from the usual product support forums, etc. — I can see some reasons for stumbling, but begs the question: who joins a community about bad yogurt?

The classic example would be Nike+ – where they’ve built a fairly successful brand community.   However, I  think a yogurt community might be a tough sell.

That said, building a branded community is a daunting task.  Potential issues:

  • Time to Market – do you have time for a 6-9 month dev cycle?
  • Core Competency – do you have people who can actually build and manage a community?
  • Expense – do you have a budget to build, and even more importantly, a budget to maintain a community?

At NameMedia, I work with Niche Community Sites, and we’ve been coming up with interesting ways to put companies and their brands in touch with the customers they want to reach, and we’ve got some compelling stories about new and innovative ways in which we’re doing this.  A couple brief examples:

It took Nike over 2 years to build their community.  We were able to get the Brother campaign up and running over night on Craftster.org.

Okay, this isn’t meant to end up sounding like an ad.  My point is that you can get real results fast working with Niche Communities and Niche Social Media.  While I’d love to tell you that NameMedia has the market cornered on creative sponsorship, there are a lot of other creative folks out there.

Or course, we’ve  got 20 million visits a month, over 30,000 conversations a day across our sites, in niches like outdoors, photography, technology, gardening, crafting, and astrology.  Our list of sites.

If you’d like to hear more about the creative campaigns we’re doing, get in touch with me or leave a comment here.  I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg and there are probably better folks than me to tell the story.

New Journalism in Action – Using Twitter as a Photoblog with the Iphone

The idea: to run a live Tweet stream from the varied events of the Sutton, Ma Chain of Lights, a celebration that happens at many different locations thoughout the town and its villages.  I used my Iphone with the Twitterlator Application that lets me post pictures direct to Twitter with pictures that I take on my phone uploaded right at that moment.  The tweets all contain the hashtag #suttoncol – short for Sutton Chain of Lights which make them searchable via the Twitter search function, formerly known as Summize.  You can check out the full tweet stream here.

Additionally we (my 9 year old daughter Mackenzie helped me with this) took photos at the events we attended with my Canon Power Shot A530 5 megapixel point and shoot camera.

Why Would You Bother: Sutton, like many small communities, doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the local paper, The Worcester Telegram, and substantially less from the television stations.  Even if they did send someone out to cover the events, they’d have gone to a single location, took a quick couple pictures, or did a quick standup talking to some happy kids, then they’d have been off to their next assignment.  Local events are naturals for crowd sourcing, and what better way to do it than live tweeting with a hashtag, posting a photo gallery, etc.

When I sat down last week to add pictures to the National Gallery and Gift Shop site to help publicize the event, I was surprised to find there were no pictures online anywhere from the Chain of Lights last year, save a few marketing shots by The Vaillancourt Folk Art Museum. Continue reading “New Journalism in Action – Using Twitter as a Photoblog with the Iphone”