Daily Archives: February 28, 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.

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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.