Saturday, August 8, 2009

5 Things NOT To Do When Developing Community

Somebody once said something to the effect of "empty what is full, and fill what is empty."

I take that statement to mean, "do the not-so-obvious when everyone is doing the obvious, and do the obvious when everyone is doing something different." In other words, I don't always go with what everyone else is saying or doing.

If you're looking to develop a community around a brand or an idea, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of 'how to' articles on the internet that can give you solid advice on getting started. That's what's full.

What is empty...or emptier, I should say, are thoughts on what NOT to do when developing a community. So here are 5 things that I recoomend that you should NOT do when trying to develop or grow either an online or offline community:

DONT:

1. Talk with your community in marketing-speak.

Sure, you have an ulterior motive for developing a community--but people aren't "customers", "members", "users" or "clients". They're people. Talk with them the way that you'd talk with your friends, family and co-workers. Be a human, not a marketer.

2. Expect people to behave the way you want them to behave.

Yes, you have an objective for gathering people together and trying to form a community, and you have hopes for how they will act. But you can't force people to do anything, and this is REALLY important when developing a website.

MOST sites want people to register with the site--they want data like email addresses, demographic info, purchasing info for follow up marketing. So they force users to register for the site in order to use the features of the site.

Or they offer very limited functionality and try to funnel visitors to either the registration or purchasing tracks.

This is wrong. UI studies indicate that you have approximately 6 seconds to provide some usefulness to a site visitor or s/he is gone. If you're not providing *instant* value, then you're never going to get the visitor to registration.

Provide value to the visitors at first glance, and then *observe* visitor behavior and try to take advantage of what the GUEST wants to do, not what YOU want them to do.

It's a better, more fruitful experience for all and will lead to repeat visits and deeper engagement with the community/website.

Registration information given because the user had to give it (instead of wanting to give it) is useless and counter-productive. The first time you try to connect with that person, they will remove themselves from your emailing list and will form a negative opinion of you because they will remember that you forced them to give something they didn't want to give.

Give people the opportunity to give you information because they want to, and that information becomes MUCH more valuable.

3. Squash disagreements or negative comments about you.

Okay, it's your website or brand--do you REALLY have to listen to people talk trash about you?

Yes. If you want to create an environment where great ideas will grow.

Nobody likes to hear people say bad things about them, but people only say bad things because they WANT to love you/your brand, but something is disappointing them.

YOU want to please your customers and your friends, don't you?

The only way to know if you're doing that is to create an open, warm environment where people are free to speak their mind.

There should be rules of civil discourse, of course and you should definitely set the rules for the tone of the culture on how to disagree and express opinions.

Controversy and freedom of expression helps bring clarity to issues (not necessarily agreement), allows defenders to come forth and leads to new understanding.

Remember--everyone speaks their version of the truth, so there is something good to be found in every opinion. If you are looking to deliver the best possible product or service, those negative views are telling you where you could be doing better.

4. Feel compelled to ACT on every suggestion or comment from the community.

Someone has to set direction and the practical reality is that you will often get conflicting opinions from members of your community on what 'they' want.

THANK everyone in the community for contributing their thoughts and energy, let them know that they were heard and considered, and give them reasons for why you make certain decisions.

But once you decide to turn left, don't waste any more time explaining to people why you didn't turn right. It detracts from the focus of what you are doing.

5. Be afraid to make mistakes.

There are no guarantees of success in any endeavor--you take the best practices, create an environment for success and make the best decisions you can for the right reasons, and maybe success comes your way.

If you're into sporting analogies--there are 32 teams comprised of professional football players in the NFL. They all have amazing players, dedicated, workaholic coaches and organizations whose sole focus is to win games on Sundays and win a championship.

Yet, only ONE of those teams wins the championship every year, and less than half have a winning season. It's unusual when a team wins a championship two years in a row, so success is a very rare commodity.

So if you decide to turn left over opposition from the community, for example, and it turns out you should have turned right, well....

....admit it, and turn right. The community will forgive you (eventually) and your openness will signal to them that you are engaged *with* them and they will appreciate you for the honesty.

We learn more from our mistakes...remember them longer...and grow more attached people we have suffered with than those we have only succeeded with.

Failure makes you human, being human makes you endearing. And even brands can be endearing.

So if you try some initiative with your community and it doesn't work--that's okay. Try something else. Learn what you can from each experience and continue to *listen* to what your community is telling you.

After all, you are ultimately there to serve the needs of the community, not the other way around.

Those are my Top 5 Things NOT To Do when building a community.

What are some of yours?

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