Six reasons why no one likes you online


Why is it that so many companies are still struggling to create vibrant online communities? For every Threadless or Ideastorm, there are literally thousands of failed attempts at community-creation. What are so many companies missing?

Last week at Online Media Bootcamp I led a session on building online communities. While I'm not going to share the same steps I talked about in my presentation, I will share six reasons why most companies (and individuals) have problems creating an online community.

1 - You think monetization first - This is the quickest way to doom your community-building efforts (and really the fastest way to screw up any social media initiative). Communities do not form around the idea of being monetized. Want to make money off your community? Fine, but you can't monetize something that doesn't exist. And the community won't come together until you have created something of value for them.

2 - Value creation? What's that? - Stop right now and ask yourself this question; 'What value am I creating for the people I am trying to attract?' If you can't answer this question immediately, then you might not be trying to reach Houston, but you definitely do have a problem. Successful community-building efforts start by creating value for the people you are trying to reach.

3 - You are waiting for the community to come to you - One of the biggest myths about online community building is 'if you build it, they will come' (which is the first cousin of 'content is king'). That's not to say that you can't create valuable content and sit back and watch as a community forms around your efforts. But the best approach is to create something of value AND communicate that value to others by LEAVING your community. Assume that no one is going to come to you, and go find the people you are trying to attract.

4 - You don't give your members the ability or incentive to promote you to others - As your community begins to gain traction, do you have built-in mechanisms for the existing membership to communicate its value to others?

5 - You don't appreciate the people that are trying to help you - As your community begins to form, you'll find that some members will take the lead in trying to grow your community, and help it succeed. These are your evangelists, and you MUST appreciate these special people. Empower them to promote your community to others. Showcase their contributions. And above all else, say THANK YOU.

6 - You don't give a damn about the people you are trying to reach - Confession time. Out of all the people that I met last year that I had known online, I was most touched when I met Alaina Sheer. We were following each other on Twitter, but had barely tweeted. But when I spoke at SBMU last September, Alaina made a point to come up and introduce herself and tell me that she loved my blog and learned so much from reading it. That meant the WORLD to me! Not because it was good for my ego, but because I was so happy that I had created something that Alaina had found value in. I am honestly so grateful and thankful that each of you read this blog, and feel so privileged that you do. The last few weeks when I've been posting less due to traveling, I kept telling people I met that 'I feel so bad because I haven't posted in a few days'. Because I felt like I was letting you guys down by not having new posts up.

To me, this is the key to successful online communities. You honestly have to give a damned about the people that are in your community. You really do have to CARE about the people that you want to reach. If you don't, and instead view your potential community as a group of people to monetize, then your efforts are doomed from the start.


So before you start your online community-building effort, think about where you are, and where you want to be. Is the goal to make money, or is the goal to create a group of happy people like Anna, Heather, Ryan, CB and Drew are in the above pic?

Hint: Give people a reason to come together as an excited and passionate community, and the monetization issue will take care of itself.

PS: Thanks to Diane for giving me some much-needed proofreading help with this post ;)

Pic via Flickr user Shashi


posted by Mack Collier @ 8:00 AM,

47 Comments:

At 9:05 AM, Anonymous VickyH said...

BRAVO! Wonderful article, very simple -- very true.

VickyH @eeUS

 
At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Miguel Rodriguez said...

Great post Mack.

 
At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Stuart Foster said...

Humility, transparency and a clear value added. If you don't have those things...you might as well go down to the street corner and start yelling. You'll probably gain just as many followers doing then you would online, not adhering to Mack's tenets.

If someone emails me about my blog...I get super super pumped. Woot, someone took an interest, someone engaged, I have to engage right back! That's the kind of attitude that I think most of us have. It's getting the others in line that may be a problem.

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger edheil said...

Great stuff. One of the challenges for businesses is that they go into social media with a myopic approach - how do I market my company in social media? Your first point clearly speaks to that challenge and the misconceptions that go with that perspective. For those of us working with businesses who would like an entry point into social media, the mountainous task isn't so much the value of this media, but the appropriate way to enter.

 
At 9:58 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

Mack, this is a great post -- lots of concrete things to think about and act on for anyone involved in building a social media program. I would be really interested in hearing more of your thoughts around point #4, "how to give your members the ability or incentive to promote you to others". Thanks again!

 
At 10:05 AM, Blogger Yours Truly said...

I think that one of the most valuable components of successful online communities is there ability to create offline change. Organizations meet once a month. Communities assemble regularly, but create an ongoing network of support, contact and enthusiasm which is even easier with Web 2.0 tools that allow for greater cooperation.

I am extremely passionate about this topic and could go on for days. But I will spare you:) Thanks for starting this conversation!

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Lisa I think #4 and #5 tie in together in most cases. I think you should have built-in ways for members to share your content, such as Tweet This or other simple ways to share social content. Creating widgets that people can add to their site/blog is another solution.

And then when people start promoting your community, and helping to create the content that's pushing it forward, REWARD those people. Acknowledge them, a very simple example of this is what Open Salon does (http://www.opensalon.com). Notice how on the right side of the site, they list the most popular blog posts. On the left, they highlight the people that have most recently left comments and rated posts. The people creating popular content are acknowledged, as are the people that are commenting on and rating those posts.

 
At 12:00 PM, Blogger Michael Gass said...

Mac,

An excellent post. I've already forwarded it to a number of my clients. Your points are all spot on. Thanks for sharing.

 
At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Walter Galler said...

What are your thoughts on subscription-based online communities, with a demonstable value prop? Do the same rules apply, do you know of any other communities with a similar type of business model?

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger Pan Historia said...

I have a subscription based community (basic membership is free) and I adhere to most of those principles, but my membership has traditionally favored content only being available to the membership so there is very little way to promote content outside of the site. I wish I knew a way around this because in every other way this is a vibrant valuable community with dedicated members.

http://www.panhistoria.com

 
At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Ronnie Manning said...

Nice post, true.

 
At 1:38 PM, Anonymous penny said...

Great read! People like you (and Guy Kawaski - he tweeted this) are helping me finding new love and motivation to get back to blogging and reconnecting with my community. Thanks for this!

 
At 1:43 PM, Anonymous David Griner said...

Very nice. I've had people actually get upset when I tell them that networking for the sake of networking is worthless if you're not creating some sort of valuable content.

Question, though. Do you feel that posts like this are inevitably preaching to the choir? Seems social media is dividing pretty soundly into the MLM and content camps.

 
At 1:47 PM, Blogger Rutger Blom said...

Great post!

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Walter and Pan, I think you can still share the content, even if you are selling subscriptions based off of access to that content. I wouldn't share ALL of it, but just enough to give everyone a taste of what they are missing.

For example, college football recruiting sites are becoming very popular. Many of these sell subscriptions that allow you access to 'premium' videos and information that non-paying members can't access. But these sites will periodically make some of their 'premium' content free, as a sort of 'trial' period to hopefully convert non-paying members into subscribers.

BTW one area I would focus is on making your community be the differentiating factor, not the content. Content can be replicated and distributed, but a vibrant community is MUCH harder to duplicate.

 
At 1:56 PM, Anonymous Napoleon said...

Excellent! People try to start out with the hard sell and it turns more people off. I wish more social media beginners knew this information.

Add value and you'll add followers.

 
At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Jon Sonnenschein said...

thanks for the post. what you say is very true and incredibly important.

it's classic marketing/product management, but often forgotten in the rush to monetization.

 
At 2:26 PM, Blogger mwallcomm said...

I agree with you 110%. We work diligently each and every day to deliver significant value to the members of commonground. http://commonground.edrnet.com

Because we deliver value and are responsive to members, our community is growing significantly through referrals.

I also agree with Yours Truly that you need to find multiple ways to bring people together - f2f, over phone, AND online.

 
At 5:20 PM, Anonymous An Bui said...

Mack, great job explaining the idea of caring from six different angles. You reap what you sow - care for your users/customers/developers and they'll talk with you (and about you).

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger gael lynch said...

Great post, Mack. The basics...sincerity, honesty and true humility. Isn't this what we're always looking for in any kind of social networking? Thanks!

 
At 7:09 PM, Blogger Nancy Ramamurthi said...

Yes, great points and simply put.

On your point re: value..folks should also think about the rational and emotional benefits/value one gets from their community.

I believe the strongest online communities are ones where consumers get both. The emotional benefits may be more subtle/underlying drivers that consumers may not even immediately recognize - they tap into deeper emotional needs. Amy Jo Kim at Shufflebrain has done some nice work that reflects these insights. http://socialarchitect.typepad.com/

on monetization. totally agree with your point. This, however, is not meant to downplay the importance of monetization efforts or simply advocate that you "figure it out later." Just think one must understand when and how to monetize & do it right.

Frankly, much of one's monetization strategy must be grounded in really understanding the value you create for users. This understanding establishes a framework and hierarchy for what your users find important and what they might be willing to pay for.

 
At 8:25 PM, Anonymous Wine Harlots said...

Great post, beautifully expressed. Thanks.

 
At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Erik B. Cass said...

Excellent post... #3 is spot on. I've been telling people this for years, and the advice is always the same, "Become an expert in your field." Then, take that expertise to the masses. Join forums and contribute; find related blogs and leave intelligent comments.

I wrote a similar article myself ('10 truths the Experts avoid talking about') some time ago. Hope it contributes to the subject.

http://www.cybernac.com/content/view/9/24/

 
At 10:47 PM, Anonymous g_basdanse@hotmail.com said...

Wonderful post. Every point makes solid, good business sense.

 
At 11:29 PM, Blogger Terry Bean said...

This is a great post Mack. You stated it very clearly and hit some key points.

Having a community is about being a community long before the "having" actually takes place. Of course there is a heck of a lot of doing in the middle.

I liked the suggestion by Yours Truly. I have been running www.motorcityconnect.com for over 2 years and we refer to it as "Networking 3.0"- Online, face to face and in the community. It's the best way.

Don't appeal to all. Know what your group wants to be, express it clearly so others can do the same and the right folks will join.

Terry Bean
author for www.thenationalnetworker.com

 
At 6:30 AM, Anonymous Dave Piersall said...

This is really great stuff. I am building my online community from a music perspective and have been asking myself what is the right things to do and what are the no, no's.

I got my answers, thanks.

Dave Piersall
www.EuphonyProductions.com

 
At 6:32 AM, Anonymous Teresa jane said...

Thank you for this very helpful post. It reinforced some things I already knew, but I needed to be reminded. :)

 
At 6:51 AM, Blogger Loom Knitting Magazine said...

Hi,
You are right on the money with this article. I too feel the same way and it really works.
Cheers,
Salvina

 
At 7:22 AM, Blogger BarbaraKB said...

"Damn" did Mack just say "damn" in a post? Fine line, though, between giving a damn and worrying too much about what readers/followers think about you and/or blog/community. Be true to yourself first... community members will know.

 
At 7:24 PM, Blogger C. B. Whittemore said...

Mack, I spoke today to a group about blogging [and my blogs]. Immediately, I was asked "well, do you make any money from this?" and I had to explain that that just wasn't the point. That is was about creating value. As you point out, there is too much emphasis on monetization first - probably b/c of our tendency to focus on short-term financial results rather than on building longterm relationships and sustainable results. What's clear to me is that there's a cultural shift going on and some get it; others don't. But those who do will find a much richer, warmer, welcoming and rewarding environment -- as that marvelous photo proves!

Thanks, Mack.

 
At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Brian Crumley said...

First-timer to your blog and this is a great article to kick things off. This should be turned into the 6 commandments for Creating Online Communities. Great job!

 
At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Scott Hepburn said...

Sounds like one of the reasons we struggle to build communities online is that we think too much like marketers. We're ego-centric -- we think people want to get together and talk about US.

A good marketer thinks about what people want to talk about with each other. What do people want to commiserate about? What do people get excited about? Is your brand a cure for what they're commiserating about, or an amplifier of their excitement? THAT's how you fit into a community.

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Matthew R. Lee said...

Extremely acturate.

Matthew R. Lee

 
At 4:24 AM, Blogger Harold Michael Harvey said...

You have posed six reasons why every blogger should pay more attention to what they are trying to build in an online community before blurring than line from community to customer. Thanks for the insight.

 
At 7:04 AM, Blogger ~Deenster aka Sunny D~ said...

Very tru and thank You, new to this all and you have enlightened e with your tips...TY!!

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger mbeasi said...

Found this via Twitter--great post, thank you!

 
At 4:55 PM, Anonymous the dark villager said...

nice post
found via twitter too.

thanks
DV

 
At 10:30 PM, Blogger Keeron said...

So so true!!!!!!
But wud be even more gr8 if more points were there.But anyways gotta know many things.

 
At 10:46 AM, Blogger Park said...

Your comments seem so obvious, and yet we ALL need to be reminded of the basic items that make a thriving, sustainable online community. Thank you for the reminders.

 
At 9:50 AM, Blogger Smith said...

I hate to turn a great strategy discussion into a conversation about tactics, but I've been looking all over for a fantastic way to host a very basic Q&A style forum, but can't find anything I like. Tools like Uservoice & GetSatisfaction are great for gathering customer feedback and ideas, but what are people using to create a Yahoo Answers style forum? I'd like to find something with a smaller footprint than your run of the mill message board or forums applications.

 
At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Kathy Buck said...

I've been trying to word an article that hits this same point! Thank You for your eloquent points.

I had been involved in a local community social site. I was told that my posts offered no continuity. I'm sorry I was engaging conversation on relative topics. The "leaders" only use the community to blast event announcements now. tsk Tsk. Now they wonder why no responses.

 
At 12:23 PM, Blogger Chuck Bartok said...

What is there to say that has not already been Stated!

Bravo

Will share this with our Community Members

 
At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Jamie Favreau said...

Great stuff.

No one cares about you except you! If you think they can be of help then it is a good thing.

I think people are more of a thought leader then a manager and maybe we try and manage too much?

 
At 9:30 AM, Blogger mark waterfield said...

Wonderful - At long last I have found a blog that clearly outlines How to create the online community.

Point number 2 was the critical point - Value creation or perhaps expressed in another way what is the benefit of joining the community or "created something of value for them"

A big thank you

 
At 5:53 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

Well put. Short but very clear.

 
At 10:48 AM, Blogger Mark Kolier said...

Solid post Mack. I did not see the term being genuine used at all in the post or the comments - isn't being genuine the crux of the matter?

 
At 12:38 AM, Anonymous Google Sniper Review said...

Exactly.

You said it, most people think of the money first which is why most people fail in this field of IM as well. Everything, if done with passion will be successful. Great post! keep it up.

 

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