You can’t force community. If folks aren’t feeling it – either the brand, the community manager, or the people who make up the community – they’re not going to be productive members of said community. No one likes to be pressured to join a group or made to feel inferior for not participating. So it’s probably best not to get pushy about it or beg or plead for comments or activity, that just makes for an uncomfortable situation.
The best online communities achieve growth organically. That is, the community grows naturally without much pressure or prodding from the community management. That isn’t to say there isn’t much guidance, but definitely the community isn’t forced or made to feel as if they have to participate.
It’s not difficult to achieve organic community growth.
- Content marketing
- Stimulating discussions
- Evergreen topics
- Community moderation
- Member advocates
Using content to attract members and raise awareness for your brand isn’t new by a longshot, but the term “content marketing” is currently achieving buzzword status. The content you create, whether it’s blog posts, web articles, tweets, Facebook updates or discussions on Google+ all have the ability to drive traffic to your community. When you present interesting discussion topics or topics relevant to a particular niche, folks are going to want to come by to learn more. The content you create not only has the ability to catch the immediate eye, but it also has the ability to attract the attention of the search engines, which means you could be attracting new members via your content for years to come. To do this, read your stats, and all community discussions to determine why folks are coming by. Content Marketing pro Marcus Sheridan recommends taking the top 50 questions folks ask about your brand or product and turn them into articles or blog posts. This will catch the attention of the search engines, and also the people who you want to stop by and have a conversation.
There’s an art to conversation. People don’t like to be talked down to, lectured or have their intelligence insulted. They like to discuss topics of interest with like minded people. They’re not into constant smackdowns or drama, but they do appreciate respectful disagreement. When you have the conversation thing down, and have a reputation for having the conversation thing down, folks want to be a part of that. If your community is known for having stimulating discussion topics, you’ll notice more people are staying than leaving and achieve a good, steady growth. You won’t have to beg for comments, mention a lack of comments and constantly direct people to your topics.
Though it’s good to have timely, current discussions, there are also topics that continue to generate interest long after the discussion is initiated. Unlike current events, “evergreen” topics have the ability to draw in members for years to come. Evergreen topics can include how to’s, background information, history, caring for tools, and anything that won’t be obsolete in a couple of months. For example, if you run a culinary community it’s fine to discuss the latest scandals in the celebrity chef world, but the people who are truly interested in gourmet cookery want to get to the nitty gritty. They want to learn about foods, techniques and tools. And yes, while food does have the ability to be trendy, writing about, say, the healing qualities of garlic or providing links to 100 watermelon recipes doesn’t run out of style. This is what will catch the attention of the search engines, and also the people who are doing the searching. If your discussion topics are interesting and intelligent, folks just won’t search. They’re going to stop by for a chat, thus achieving community growth.
The most popular online communities aren’t filled with members snarking at each other or calling each other names. They’re filled with respectful discussion. This doesn’t necessarily happen without a good moderator to make sure folks are following the rules. When a community is filled with drama and negativity, the only folks sticking around are those who thrive on drama and negativity. Well moderated communities might have their share of drama, but it’s dealt with swiftly and effectively so that most members aren’t aware any negativity occurred. Positive communities yield positive growth.
Word of mouth marketing is a beautiful thing. When people love what you do, they share it with others. If they’re enjoying an online experience, they’re sure to recommend to family and friends. Create a positive, productive experience, and your members will do your marketing for you. ( But that’s not an excuse for laziness on your part.)
What are some of the ways your growing (not forcing) your community?