5 essential rules for building a community on the web

    community marketing
    Community Sign. Foto: dreamsjung CC-by via visualhunt.com

    Recently I meet managers and marketing experts who want a community for their business or brand. However, community projects often fail because their operators do not think carefully enough about why they want to run a community.

    Besides the essential question, which goals I follow, what objectives a community should contribute to and when is a community successful for me as a brand? There are five basic rules that define all well-functioning online communities:

    • A community needs a task
    • A community needs activity
    • A community doesn’t just need speakers
    • A community must declare war on trolls
    • Building a community is a long distance race

    1. “What am I doing here?”
    (Communities need a mission)

    Inviting people to leave them to themselves is probably the best and fastest way to destroy an emerging community. People who join a community online want to know what is expected of them and how they can get involved.

    The mission of the operator to his community members can be concrete or abstract, but it should be clearly formulated.

    Knowledge communities, such as wer-weiss-was or Gutefrage.net, for example, invite their members to share their know-how. Developer communities, such as stackoverflow, do this within a clearly defined topic area.

    The answer to the question “what should I do here” is the most important basis for all the following.

    2. “Please dance now.”
    (Communities need activity)

    Actually a truism, but a recurring theme: Nobody goes dancing on a dance floor where nobody dances. Humans are herd animals and only very few feel comfortable in empty rooms. This also and especially applies to communities.

    Ensure activity right from the start. I personally recommend not only animating new users but also actively initiating discussions as a community operator.

    You are a member of your community, behave like one.

    It may be necessary to go on the dance floor in the initial phase. This is not reprehensible and offers the opportunity – metaphorically speaking – to show which style the operator of a community prefers.

    3. The reluctant and the readers are important

    According to the 90-9-1 rule, a community consists of 90 readers, nine commentators and one contributor – the most active member and most important content provider. This one out of 100 initiates discussions and advances the community. Every community wants as many of these active hardcore fans as possible. But be careful: an excess of loudspeakers can frighten others.

    A meeting of opinion leaders too quickly brings conflicts with it. Pay attention to a healthy balance. The other 99% are at least as important for building an organic community as the most active 1%.

    4. be consistent against trolls

    The basis of a functioning community is a consensus on the form in which communication takes place. This style of communication, this very own language of a community, develops over a long period of time and is subject to changes and fashions.

    The most active members of a community usually ensure that the unwritten laws of a community are created and observed.

    As an operator, take an active part in this discourse, do not leave it to others to moderate escalating conflicts. Pronounce warnings and locks with courage and self-confidence. Trolls, i.e. users who interfere with the conflict, must be consistently blocked. Even if they are one of the assets of a community.

    5. community building is not a sprint, but a long distance run

    Most KPIs used to measure the success of a community only become satisfactory after a while.

    These include:

    • Number of members
    • Activity/ Commitment in the community (output)
    • Traffic, especially organic search engine traffic
    • Referer, i.e. visitors by recommendation

    When designing a community, one should consider a period of three years. After one year at the earliest, a tendency can be seen, whereby one should analyze and monitor from the beginning whether the growth and the activity of a community runs on healthy paths.

    I will describe how this works in a follow-up article – or I will be happy to answer your questions personally.

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