Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lessons In Building A Real-world Community From Scratch

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been gearing up to launch a new project here in Syracuse, something I call Beansprout. My aim with Beansprout is to bring this city’s coffee lovers together, no matter their skill level or favorite flavor, and create a new community from the ground up, focusing on local cafes, educating, as well as light-hearted social gatherings. I love coffee, and I love my home city, but our local coffee culture is more grab-and-go than it is social. So, my aim is to change that, and slowly but surely I’m working toward launching something which I hope will be inspiring and helpful to Syracuse’s citizens, as well as our local businesses.


So what goes into building something like this? To start, it’s a ton of research. I’ve gotten a sense of who our coffee enthusiasts are in this city over the past year, but without actually looking into the demographics, and as Richard Millington puts it in Buzzing Communities, the psychographics – the collective thoughts and feelings– of my intended audience, I’d be left trying to grab random people to bring them in. Instead, my strategy is to target people I know, and ask them to bring in some people they know, and then those people bring in people they know – building off the organic networks that are already in place, building in waves.

Millington’s text was actually very inspiring this week, and covered a lot of what I’m aiming for, as well as teaching me a few new things to work on. For example, I originally thought Beansprout would be a community of interest; after all, coffee lovers are interested in coffee. But because I’m keen to focus on coffee specifically in Syracuse, it is also a community of place, and my want for educational events and resources also makes it a community of practice. I’m comfortable with the hybridization, but defining the scope of the community is integral to understanding how to build it.

One key thing I hadn’t considered until this week was to interview potential community members, to see what they have to say, and whether they’d really be interested. Millington asserts that short, 15-minute interviews with potential members will yield information such as challenges, or aspirations, as well as help to identify symbols which represent the potential community and its members. David Spinks also echoes this in his article, How to Build a Community From Scratch. I found these insights to be incredibly helpful, as promoting Beansprout to others was one of my key challenges, and these interviews seem quite capable of helping to flesh out some options and targeting.

Overall, this week’s topic has been incredibly helpful in giving me some direction. Building a community from nothing is not an easy task, but it would be a fool’s errand to dive in head first without first conducting the proper research. And, even though this is a personal venture, the lessons it has taught me so far will be invaluable for my career in social media.

Have you ever built a community from scratch before? What were the key lessons you took from the experience?

Tracking Your Community’s Growth From the Very Beginning

buzzing communitiesIt is no secret how important it is to track your online community’s growth from the very beginning. In the book Buzzing Communities, by Richard Millington, Chapter 2 is about growth and how to analyze it. But there is no way to analyze growth without capturing specific data. And the amount of data that can potentially be collected is overwhelming… so where on earth should you begin?

Last week for my blog post, I wrote about looking beyond superficial measurements (e.g. follower numbers). I mentioned that follower numbers only go so far if an organization is not interacting and engaging with them.  However, tracking follower numbers and the growth (or lack of growth) of your new community can be very useful to you. As your community gets bigger, you will eventually need to look at other data. But when starting a community from scratch, you should capture your community’s growth from the very beginning.

tracking numbers image 1When I first started managing social networks and building an online community for Syracuse University graduates in New York City, I would track how many new followers we gained each month across all of the social platforms we were on. This allowed me to put together a monthly report. I found tracking follower numbers helpful for two main reasons:

  1. I could visually see our growth. After tracking from month to month, you can make snazzy spreadsheets and charts. You can compare the growth of one social network against the other– is Twitter growing faster than Facebook? Did Pinterest have a slow start, but then did it pick up speed? Or conversely,  if you are losing followers, you can see when you started to drop and figure out why.
  2. You can’t argue with numbers. If they are going up, they are going up and if they are going down, they are going down. Easy enough. Is there that someone in your office who doesn’t believe in social media yet, who doesn’t think that you can reach your audience? Well, now you can actually show them that it is working and that your community is growing.

Now of course, these only apply to having REAL followers, not bought ones. Never buy followers. Do you buy fake friends? I hope not because they would be no fun.

reporting templateCapturing your growth from month to month is just the beginning. Start small to not overwhelm yourself. Once you see where you are growing, you can then begin to dig deeper and analyze why you might be getting certain results. You can track follower numbers first, then start reporting traffic and then work on reporting on content. That is what the article “10 Free Essential Resources for Community Managers” on Social Media Today suggests to track. You can even download this simple template to help get you started.

Now, of course, what was helpful to me, might not be what is best for your new community. But capturing that data from the very beginning might help you get your community going where you want it to be.

A Community At Sea

This week in #CMGRclass, the topic has been Building A Community or Social Media Program from Scratch.  The accompanying readings included chapter 12 of Richard Millington’s “Buzzing Communities“, entitled “The Audience: Demographics, Habits, and Psychographics.”  Millington describes the importance of understanding a new community’s target audience: “who they are, what they do, and what they think.”  He goes on to describe five types of communities:

  • Communities of interest, revolving around a company or organization and its goods, services, or other raison d’être.  Example: MacRumors Forums, where fanboys/girls discuss their passion for all things Apple.
  • Communities of place, relevant to a specific location.  Example: Omaha, Nebraska’s Omaha Forums, where Omahans talk News and Events and Dining/Culture/Entertainment.
  • Communities of practice, cultivated around something practiced by its members, such as specific functions at work.  Example: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) users’ groups like the ESRI Petroleum User Group.
  • Communities of action, helping members progress toward a specific goal.  Example:‘s online community.
  • Communities of circumstance, fostering relationships based on shared experiences.  Example: health-related support groups like the Lupus Foundation of America’s online community.

A Missed Opportunity

I recently vacationed with a large group of extended family – about 15 in all – on a five-day cruise on Royal Caribbean International‘s MS Liberty of the Seas.  It was a great experience filled with fun, food, and family time.  Reflecting on the cruise, though, I can’t help but think that Royal Caribbean is missing the boat (no pun intended) at leveraging the power of their loyal fans to promote their brand.

While Royal Caribbean has a social media presence on FacebookTwitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Google+, these sites provide more of a one-way push of information to their audiences, rather than two-way dialogue between the cruise line and its customers.  Their social tools on Facebook, including the Royal Connections app and Discussions tab, are not highly-used.  (For instance, there were only seven people attending the Facebook Event corresponding to my cruise.  The boat seemed a bit more crowded than that!)

Not only do these tools lack in content, I believe they are also misplaced.  Leading up to the cruise, I had done all of our planning – researching our itinerary, on-board amenities, and the like – on the Royal Caribbean website.  As Billington asks, “What tools and platforms do members use?”  I can’t help but wonder, why not add a community where future cruisers are already spending time online?

#royalcaribbean #libertyoftheseas

(Instagram image by @josuelopz_.)

  • Communities of interest could target specific passenger segments sharing common attributes.  For example, parents traveling with their children could discuss the best kid-friendly activities or individuals with unique needs – say, those with special diet or accessibility concerns – could converse about their needs.
  • Communities of place are perfectly-suited for specific vessels.  Liberty of the Seas passengers on Twitter posted updates as the ship set sail, using the hashtag #LibertyOfTheSeas – a self-organized community of sorts.  (See photo above.)  How about formalizing that group as a community centered on a specific vessel, and even hold an on-ship tweet-up for passengers?
  • Communities of circumstance would be a valuable resource to allow brand-new and seasoned cruisers alike to converse with each other before, during, and after their cruise.  (See photo below.)  Websites and online forums like communities like Cruise Critic already provide this platform.

(Twitter image by @Cewitz.)

Set Sail!

Businesses and organizations would be well-served by identifying and implementing the type(s) of communities that, when developed and nurtured, help to meet their strategic objectives.  Travel companies in particular would benefit from hosting online communities for consumers to share tips about destinations and activities pre-trip and provide opportunities for meet-ups while vacationing.  Certainly, providing an online forum closely coupled to an official website poses some risk – à la angry traveler makes waves – this action also demonstrates transparency, can help to humanize the brand, and opens the door for a far greater number of satisfied customers to broadcast their positive experiences.

What travel companies are doing this well?  Do you think the potential benefits outweigh the risks?

.@RoyalCaribbean #Flirtini.

Beach still life. #sun #sand #cruise #family #lifeisgood

(Featured image and Instagram images by author.)


Where to Start when Starting a New Community

This week the #cmgrclass focused on building a community from scratch. While companies see the importance of establishing a social media presence, very few are educated on how to properly navigate through digital platforms that result in successful outcomes.

For starters, companies and even industry leaders cause confusion when distinguishing between social media management and community management. Kelly Lux posted an article to the #cmgrclass Google+ community entitled, 5 Brilliant Ways to Staff for Community Management. The author noticeably blurs the characteristics of the two. If companies could decipher between the two, they could better pinpoint if it would be more beneficial to develop social media strategy or create a community to sustain and enhance their existing brand.

Olivier Blanchard spoke on building internal communities in last week’s Google+ hangout session. Many of the basic concepts from his chat can be used when looking to form a start-up community. Community building should almost be effortless. Blanchard suggested allowing it to grow organically. Prospects don’t want to feel like they’re being targeted by a company’s pitch to market and promote new products. Remember, start small and grow big.

In the article written by Dino Dogan, How to Build a Community of Fanatics, his third step in starting a community from scratch is, be a human. Members aren’t going to form relationships with automated voices or avatars of wild animals. Be the face of your community by including your name and picture. If your community requires people to create a profile, how do you expect them to share who they really are when you aren’t being authentic? Brand extension begins with the community manager attempting to cultivate and maintain genuine relationships.

Author of How to Build a Community from Scratch, David Spinks, offers a strategy for start-ups and larger companies to build trust and loyalty amongst members. It’s simple. Pick up the phone and call a user or customer, depending on the type of community you’re managing. Ask them for their personal insight on the experience they’ve had with your company. Don’t expect to complete this task in one sitting. Over time reach out to as many people as you can. Spinks says, when building a true community no interaction should be overlooked. Is time management an issue for you? Well, make the time. These are people who are ultimately investing in your company/brand. Without them who will market for you while you’re sleeping?

Balancing a Brand & Community Members

logo_chevyLast week, the main focus of the #cmgrclass readings were focused on the role of community members and the art of enticing members who will benefit your brand.  In her post 5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Community Campaign, Deb Ng explores the delicate give-and-take relationship a community manager has to keep in balance between advancing the brand and doing right by community members. She identifies these five questions as the following:

  1. How will this benefit our community?
  2. How will our community react?
  3. Can our community afford this?
  4. What is the worst-case scenario?
  5. How much work will my community have to do?

From my experience, it’s the first two questions of the five that are most important in establishing whether a certain community campaign is one that should, in fact, be launched. By looking at two cases, one for each question, this may become more readily apparent.

The first question of “how will this benefit our community” ensures that the community manager considers that there is some incentive or reward for community advocates to take that extra step, or spur more conversation on social networks. While community campaigns are launched with the intent of bettering the brand and increasing sales, there should be another focus of what community members are getting in return for their efforts.

For example, geolocation service app Scvngr paired up with Chevy in 2011 to launch a car giveaway competition. The competition was run in 27 cities across the US, and in order to compete Scvngr users had to participate in as many of Scvngr’s location-based challenges in their cities as possible. This campaign, though primarily geared towards increasing brand awareness for the 2012 Chevy Sonic Sedan 2LT (the car that was giving to a prize to each winning team), it simultaneously drove brand awareness for Scvngr and offered a considerable prize to active participants. Little advertising was done to promote this campaign, and most of the hype and participation was driven by engaged community members. In this scenario, the brands found an ideal balance between a brand-centric and user-reward model, driving brand awareness while satisfying community members simultaneously.

The question of “how will our community react” takes into consideration how a campaign will be received by the members of community. Ill-founded campaigns can offend community members or just plain old annoy them. Campaigns that are intrusive and not well received by the community will fail because few community members will actually participate in them. One campaign that was successfully due to paying particular mind to question #5 (How much work will my community have to do?) but widely acknowledged as being intrusive is the e-mail campaign launched by Obama for America in the campaign for the 2012 presidential election.

The e-mail campaign, deployed to keep voters informed and solicit money, was effective in raising funds thanks to a very conveniently placed “Quick Donate $3” button on every fundraising e-mail. On a whole, however, the campaign was viewed as one half step above spamming. Sending e-mails with a subject line of “hey” or other non-specific lines numerous times a day was not taken favorably by those on the campaign’s e-mail list. Though this dynamite-fishing technique may have been effective in raising funds, it may also have alienated members of the community who may have otherwise been better and louder advocates.

Although I identify questions 1 and 2 as the most crucial in planning a community campaign, taking all five into consideration is of particular value. If a community manager can favorably answer each of the questions (as the managers of the Scvngr/Chevy campaign could) the endeavor will most likely lead to satisfied community members, more brand awareness, and subsequently, more sales.

Creating Value For Your Community

In this week’s #CMGRClass readings about starting a community from scratch, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what creates a sense of value for community members. I’ve reflected on why I personally would want to be part of a community, and what would keep me involved.

I think of it as the concept of “value.” 

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It’s the idea that my participation provides something of intrinsic or tangible satisfaction to me.

“Value”—finding something “valuable”–is, in my view, the label applicable to the sense of imperative that gets people interested in your community to start with, ushers them in the door, entices them to stay, encourages them to contribute, and reinforces the sense that there is enough “good stuff” for them to stay put.

I also believe that providing continuing value is a necessary function of community mangers if they are to start, and maintain, successful ongoing engagement with a community.

The essence of that value depends to a great degree on whether the community type and the interested audience members are tuned in the same interests and values. Foremost in consideration is whether the type of community matches with the interests – and expected value – an audience member is seeking.

As pointed out in “buzzing communitiesBuzzing Communities,” by author Richard Millington, “the type of community changes everything” (about “the content you create, the people you invite, the activities/events you host, the benefit members get from the community, and how you moderate the community.”

Millington breaks the community types into these categories, all of which seem self-explanatory:

  • INTEREST            

Another way to look at the essence of the give-and-take of an online community is the concept, “sense of community.” Millington asks key questions about each of what he says are the “four key factors inherent in develop a strong sense of community” (Page 49 in his book) that result in members’ feeling that their participation produces a “value” (my words). Millington’s factors (with my paraphrasing) are:

Membership: Do members identify with one another?

Influence:  Do they feel influenced by the community and influential within it?

Integration/fulfillment of needs:  Are members’ needs being met/aligned w/needs of the community?

Shared emotional connection:  Do members share emotional connection?

That sense of value (or of the value proposition fulfilled, perhaps ) is referenced by Dino Dogan   bragging-polaroid2.png DOGAN

in his article, “How To Build a Community of Fanatics.”

“So, the first lesson in building a community of fanatics is to create a new, effective,  unique and original solution that solves a real pain-point for your target demographic.”

Another resource, The Community Manager newsletter’s David Spinks,

David Spinks

David Spinks

shows steps you can use to create a “value experience” when building a community.   As he recommends in his July 2, 2012 blog:

          Step 1:     Pick up your phone, and call a user/customer.  Ask them about themselves.  Ask them about their experience with your company.  Make a personal connection.

         Step 2:    Invite them to a private Facebook group for your customers.

         Step 3:    Introduce them to the group and help them get involved in the discussions.”

Putting myself in the place of that user/customer, I think it is  very clear that, if you are the person getting the phone call, the invitation, the “ask” to participate, you will consider that a thing of real value.

  • If you are starting a community, what kinds of value can you plan to provide your community members?
  • If you are moderating a community, what kinds of actions do you routinely take to let members know that they themselves are valued, and that the community continues to be a valuable place that deserves their ongoing participation? What has been the most effective of those actions?




#CMGRClass Community Moderation: A Week in Review

During the week of January 31 through February  3, I served as the moderator for #CMGRClass’ Google+ Community.  The theme for the week? – “Community Management vs. Social Media Management.”  After a warm introduction from classmates Steve Rhinehart and Diane Stirling – the former had been the previous week’s moderator, and the latter was kind enough to trade weeks with me – I was ready to go!

Monday: introductory post.

Community Moderation Post 1I started my moderation duties by asking classmates for their thoughts on the differences between community and social media management and how their own skills and abilities were well-suited to these roles (photo at right).  I wanted to start the week by exploring any preconceived notions (and perhaps even misconceptions) about community management.  Discussion participants honed in on two main differences:

  • A social media manager builds reputation and talks to people; a community manager builds relationships and talks with people, or even better, facilitates people talking with each other.

As Justin Isaf stated in You may not actually be a Community Manager – and that’s ok., “For most (again, not all) Community Managers, they “win” if they put themselves out of a job because their users are talking to each other (not just to the community manager) …”

Wednesday: resource citation.

Community Moderation Post 2I’m a #RotoloClass alumna, having taken the course last spring.  One week was dedicated to community management and the readings included an article relevant to our #CMGRClass theme: 10 Tips For Aspiring Community Managers by Vadim Lavrusik.  I asked #CMGRClass to identify whether they found any of the tips thought-provoking, surprising, or challenging to put into practice (photo at left).

Friday and Saturday: supplemental material.

On Friday and Saturday, I posted links to two articles, Fast Company’s 5 Things Lady Gaga Can Teach Marketers About Community Building and SocialFresh’s The 2013 Community Manager Report [INFOGRAPHIC].  The former was another #RotoloClass find; the latter, a teaser of this year’s update to one of the readings assigned for this particular week of #CMGRclass.  (Author’s note: I had difficulties downloading the 2012 Community Manager Report, always receiving an error message when trying to access the report.)

Sunday: revisit opening question and handoff to new moderator.

By the time Sunday rolled around, my moderation duties were nearly over.  Early in the afternoon, I reposted the questions posed to classmates at the beginning of the week.  Alas, comments were light, which I attest to the day of the week, time of the day, and the fact that it was Super Bowl Sunday!

Community Moderation Post 3At the end of the evening, I handed over the moderation reins to classmate Katie Hudson and provided one last quote to emphasize the importance of relationships in community management.  In Social media ROI: Managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization, Olivier Blanchard writes, “Success in the social media space is predicated upon an individual or organization’s ability to forge and nurture online relationships and to some degree convert them into equally valuable offline relationships.”


  • #CMGRClass is awesome!  #CMGRclass students have a depth and breath of experience that inform their posts in our Google+ community.  Furthermore, even only two weeks into our course classmates’ posts reflected their own personalities.
  • Comments breed comments.  I observed during my week of moderation that a post with a couple of comments had a better chance of attracting other comments than one without.
  • Patience pays.  The efficacy of any given post can’t be determined in a single day or two.  Below are two charts showing community participation for each moderator post.  At left, the number of comments and “+1″s are shown; at right, comments from the moderator (blue) are distinguished by those from classmates.
  • We are a community!  In only the third week of #CMGRClass, it was fun to observe and facilitate our class’ interactions with each other in the context of our shared experience of learning about the theory and practice of community management.

Community Moderation Post 4Community Moderation Post 5

It’s “Communication” Evolution Baby!


Photo credit: Knezeve

Olivier Blanchard, author of the book Social Media ROI suggests that, “In order to understand the true power of the web, you have to look into the nature of humanity itself.”  Humans are inherently social animals, plain and simple.  That means that by definition, we are a species that thrives on member interaction.  We love to talk, we love to listen to and tell stories, we love to communicate, and we love to belong.  It is part of our genetic makeup.

We love to communicate!         

Let’s switch gears for a moment to ponder the evolution of communication and how it relates to the understanding of our love of social media.   In the video,“The Evolution of Communication” we are treated to an epic trip across time, chronicling each successive communication innovation, from cave paintings to the globally integrated world of today.  Communication techniques have changed since the beginning of human history, but one thing remains the same.  We clearly crave technologies that allow us to connect easier, faster, and better…social media provides all three.  It truly stands out from all other forms of communication breakthroughs.  In the video, they describe social media as “the biggest human activity shift since mankind first walked the earth.”

Which means the implication of social media’s power is staggering!

Blanchard explains that, “Social Media, at its heart, is people communicating and interacting, but can be considered a force multiplier as it takes word of mouth and multiplies both its velocity and reach.”   So, while our human evolutionary path has lead us to grow in numbers so large that we are considered a cosmopolitan species, meaning that our existence is completely widespread across the earth, so too should our communication abilities be considered cosmopolitan.  The article, “The Brief History of Social Media,” explains that  Social Media has enjoyed an incredible rise to unbelievable popularity and estimates that internet users will double in just 2 short years (in 2015) to a global total of some four billion, or nearly 60 percent of the Earth’s population!

Social Media has already evolved into a communications force to be reckoned with and it is still growing and expanding every day.   The digital age is here and will continue to advance to meet the needs of an ever interested population.   It is clear that social media satisfies our innate communication desires, but it is not the end of the communication road.  Only time will tell us what the next wave of communication improvements will bring.

Data-Driven Community Startups and Market Segmentation

Start to Success Curve

Image courtesy of Pakorn

What is the best way to start a community? In “Buzzing Communities”, Richard Millington argues that creating a successful community begins with gathering the right data. Data needs to be collected on group demographics, habits, and psychographics by answering these key questions: 1) Who are they?, 2) What are they doing?, and 3) What are they thinking or feeling?

Demographics – Who are they?

Some typical identifying demographic characteristics are location, age, gender, and profession. According to Millington, a key success factor in creating communities is to create a community that is the only community of its kind (i.e. it does not compete directly with any other community). For example, even though Myspace already existed, Facebook was able to set up a community just for Harvard students, expand it to all students, and finally create a worldwide community open to everyone, which eventually surpassed Myspace.

Habits – What are they doing?

Besides understanding the demographics of your community, one must also understand the habits. One must understand how his/her community uses their time. What do they read? How much and when are they on-line versus offline? What tools or platforms do they use? What topics interest them? This is important data to collect and act upon, if your community is going to be successful.

Psychographics – What are they thinking and feeling?

Gathering Psychographic data is perhaps the most difficult task. Generally researchers look at interests, activities, and opinions, and then attempt to determine the audience’s underlying attitudes and values. Millington argues that community managers do not work at the values and attitude level because it is not their job to change these, but to pinpoint an interest and build a forum for it to be expressed. I would argue that even though it is not the community manager’s job to change values and attitudes, that it is important to understand the communities values, attitudes, and aspirations in order to serve that community in the best way possible.

Comparisons to Market Segmentation

I am finding that using Millington’s data-driven framework closely parallels the process of market segmentation. I am currently working on a market segmentation study which faces many of the same challenges as starting up a new community. If a generic demographic is chosen, say “pre-retirement age baby boomers”, is it really possible to create a single marketing campaign that will appeal to such a broad demographic? It might be better to break the broader market segment into key sub-segments (e.g. by sex, ethnicity, or aspiration) and develop a narrower, more targeted marketing campaign (or new community) aimed at a smaller group, with more specific needs. Once the more targeted campaigns were successful, new campaigns could be created for a wider audience in order to reach the broader market segment (and expand the community).

Can Small Unique Communities Still Grow up into Global Groups?

The Facebook example cited by Millington begs the question if it is still possible to do something like this today. We can see similarities with Google+, which began as community focused on “techies”, and has been expanding to become a stronger competitor in a larger arena. From a marketing perspective, global companies face similar challenges. They have a global brand they want to leverage, but in order to be successful in the local country markets, they have to effectively engage with the local culture and market to specific sub-segments within that culture. I think one of the keys to doing this may be through the use of “symbols”, as Millington called them. In today’s global environment there is a need to create a hierarchy of symbols that can be layered onto campaigns (or within communities) in order to create larger themes and eventually reinforce the global brand at the top of the pyramid (assuming that becoming bigger or “going global” is the goal of a corporation or community).

What do you think? Is it still possible to start with a very small, unique community and build it into a large global behemoth? Can the use of umbrella themes and symbols unify smaller communities and help them grow into a global community or brand?