Recently, YEC spoke with Manpreet about his experiences building a community for customers and stakeholders in his business, and what others interested could learn about the process. His best advice is below.
Build Up Your Support
One advantage of community building that few community leaders talk about is the fact that building a network of support alleviates the burden of leadership. Members can turn to one another and rely less on direct responses from community leaders or their client services manager. It’s self-serving, but community members win too. A whole community of attention and support is better than even the undivided attention of a single company or staff person.
Provide Real Value
What distinguishes community from mere customers and subscribers is the multilateral exchange of real value. Subscribers and customers engage in a unidirectional exchange. Subscribers receive the content and offer their readership. Customers receive goods and services in exchange for cash. But the lines of communal exchange form a web of reciprocated value that moves not only from customer to business or subscriber to content, but also between customers and between subscribers to form a community.
Start by Engaging Individuals
In order to really establish a sense of community, begin by engaging individuals. Just starting a social media group and expecting people to respond to your posts and questions out of the blue is like dropping a bunch of strangers on the stage at a packed Carnegie Hall and expecting them to sing Ave Maria. Communities are built upon the strength of the relationships between their members, and often, the only relationship that exists within the budding community you’re working to build is the community member’s relationship with you. So it’s extremely important to make that relationship a strong one. Frequently request feedback, check in with your customers, and they’ll be more likely to contribute in your forums and groups. Make sure to also routinely affirm the community’s values. Set up rules of engagement, make agreement compulsory, and hold members accountable so that everyone feels welcomed and safe.
Take a Step Back From Time to Time
In a way, I built my community again from scratch. When we re-branded as TalkLocal, we chose not to rename some of our existing groups. Instead, we created a new Facebook group, for example, and promote it to new recruits. One thing we’re doing differently is focusing more on the everyday life of our company in terms of our content. We’re also less afraid of negative feedback and general business frustration and even encourage it. Venting excites passions which can be calmed by real solutions that deepen trust and connectedness even further.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
They say there are only six degrees of separation between any two people. But the strength of those connections can determine whether those degrees are elastic or concrete. Fortunately, I have strong connections with those in my network, so I can call on them to help me shrink the distance between myself and someone who could bring value to my business. Very recently, a friend of mine turned private investigator to figure out who at her company was responsible for a project I’d heard about. It took her three weeks, but she got me to the right person in her very large company. Now, I’m working on a partnership proposal. And, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to make good on that debt sometime when she needs something major.
Be Cautious Before Branching Out
Subgroups already exist within your community based on discussion topics, relationships formed and other shared points of interest among members. So creating groups that divide or merge communities in an unnatural way ruins the culture that has evolved there. Think of your community as a new territory. If you come into the community like a clueless conquistador dividing up communities and throwing together warring tribes, you’ll get more disagreements and less dialogue. Instead, simply recognize communities that are already there. You can introduce members of your network with matching interests to one another or to groups that speak to those interests. Increasing interconnectedness increases the strength of your network — making it more durable, dynamic and longer lasting.