Daily Archives: November 7, 2013

Starting from the bottom: Tips for building a community from scratch

Building a community isn’t something that happens overnight. But with a roadmap, realistic and goal-oriented expectations, and a good attitude, a well-developed brand community may not be so far out of reach.

Make a plan and stick to it

The key to community building is putting effort and value into a strong foundation. Even if it’s brick by brick, a community with a carefully thought-out strategy is going to come out on top. Cement between bricks takes a while to dry, and if you stack your bricks higher too quickly, the structure is likely to collapse. In his article “How to Build a Community From Scratch,” David Spinks offers a one person at a time strategy:

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.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Although tedious, it’s this type of focused strategy that will produce results.

It’s also helpful to create a design persona of your target audience in order to always keep your messaging focused. Dino Dogan (@DinoDogan), co-founder of Triberr, wrote a piece for Business 2 Community, in which he describes the process of creating this avatar. The purpose, he notes, is to become one with the consumer—get into their head and know their fears, problems, and passions. It also ensures that your messaging is always human in nature, because in essence, your community is speaking to this avatar that you have created.

Richard Millington’s book Buzzing Communities also outlines various types of communities that help focus your content: communities of interest, place, practice, action, and circumstance. Considering the type of community you are looking to build, in addition to the demographics (geographic location, age, gender) and psychographics of the audience gives your new community a better chance for success. 


One of the most important things to remember when building a community from scratch is that you cannot expect the community to appear instantaneously. This is a problem that according to Spinks, both large and small companies face. Startups just want to scale as much as possible and grow as quickly as possible, but that is not the nature of communities. Larger companies feel entitled, established, and as if they have strong brand recognition that their community will grow instantly. As Millington describes, creating long and short term audiences helps remind us that we need to reach critical mass (via a well-developed plan, of course) before we can think about reaching as many people as possible.

All the tedious work is worth it

Remember, as Dogan carefully points out, a successful community will create fanatically engaged members. These fanatically engaged members will market for you while you sleep — and they’ll do it all for free. I can’t think of a better reward.

If Drake can do it, so can you.
(via “Eapatty01” on IGN.com)

Have you started your own community from scratch? Go ahead, what are you waiting for?!

Keeping Things Organized and Fresh

This week, I sat down with Morgan Johnston from JetBlue, David Yarus from MRY, and Nick Cicero from LiveFyre to discuss how each company handles their online communities. The guests gave insight as to who truly handles the community and ways to keep your company moving in the right direction.

Office structure

Community managers are unique because they work with a variety of teams. Yarus said that at MRY, community managers are daily community monitors, working with the creative, strategy and analytics teams to decide which direction the company should head with its product.

David Yarus explained how community managers impact a variety of departments within a company. Screenshot taken by Zachary J. Prutzman. All rights reserved.

David Yarus explained how community managers impact a variety of departments within a company.
Screenshot taken by Zachary J. Prutzman. All rights reserved.

“The community manager represents a very valuable piece of the puzzle in collaboration and conversation,” Yarus said.

All three panelists stated that their respective companies have a flat-structure when it comes to dealing with the community. Roles are divided in order to stay structured and organized, allowing employees to specialize in certain areas and gain the trust of their co-workers.

Having fresh ideas

Bring in a fresh mind can help your company reach new heights. Johnston suggested hiring people who do not have experience as a community manager.

“Those people who don’t necessarily know what the rules are provide phenomenal ideas,” Johnston said. “They push community managers to question what they are doing or how they are doing it.”

Sticking to the plan

When building and executing campaigns, it is important to have a plan… but finding a balance between customer service and campaign execution can be difficult.

“Its a tough process because you have this one thing that you’re working on right now as opposed to the millions of other things that are happening every day in the background,” said Cicero.

Having specific campaign strategies in place before execution is key.

What does a canary have to do with anything?

One thing that JetBlue has done extremely well is putting sentiment analysis into action.

“[We’re] watching every social mention,” Johnston said.

Morgan Johnston said that JetBlue uses sentiment analysis in real-time. Screenshot taken by Zachary J. Prutzman. All rights reserved.

Morgan Johnston said that JetBlue uses sentiment analysis in real-time.
Screenshot taken by Zachary J. Prutzman. All rights reserved.

The customer support team is hand-tagging posts for JetBlue, which means that they are actually reading what you are tweeting.

“Because they are so tied into the operations, we have the ability to not just address customers and what we see via social, but to help move that within the organization,” Johnston said. “How did we take that information that we’re gather to make operational changes…”

As a result, customers view JetBlue as proactive. When customer support teams identify a problem at a specific location, they alert employees in the area ways to solve the problem. Sentiment analysis allows you to make real-time changes.

“We tend to think of them as the canary in the coal mine,” Johnston said.

The WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHY and HOW of Creating a Community From Scratch

Now that the CMGR class is well under way, we approach the daunting task of actually building a community from scratch. The current wisdom out there offers many ways to get started on building your community. This post will cover some fundamentals to keep in mind, specifically the Who, What, When, Why and How of the community building process.

WHO do you want in your community and WHY

So you toil and trudge to bring a select and involved group of individuals around a brand, but the glaring question arises, do you want individuals who are just obsessed with your brand OR do you want obsessed brand ambassadors? Is there even a difference between the two? I say yes! And the difference is a valuable lesson in getting that community up and running.

First things first, who do you want to make part of your community? While there is no one correct answer, there is a general idea behind the ideal community member. We are talking about an individual who is interested in the brand beyond just the product — someone who believes in the ideology that forms the brand. You could describe this person as obsessed, as a fanatic. Or you could view them as a potential brand ambassador. The transition from fanatic to brand ambassador takes place alongside the growth of the community. The people that start out at the onset of the community’s creation as fanatics can very well be groomed to be brand ambassadors as the community matures.

So now that you know you are seeking out “fanatics” to turn into potential brand ambassadors it is a good idea to stop and ask why? Dino Dogan, business blogger and founder of Triberr (a social network for bloggers) offers an insight:

  • Those fanatically engaged members of your community are the ones that will market for you while you sleep.
  • They will field technical questions from other members.
  • They will recruit other’s to do the same.
  • They will do all this for free.

The last point key. Because no brand seeks to build a community with an unlimited supply of funding, it is absolutely crucial to seek out individuals willing to pull some weight for the community’s cause without monetary compensation. This not to say there is no compensation at all. Much like volunteer work, their compensation comes in the form of engaging in and about a brand/product/cause they are passionate about. But they will not engage with simply just the brand, so a clear human connection must be made at the onset of community creation. Dogan expresses it perfectly when he says

Communities are people. And people want to interact with other people.”



So how do you establish that vital human connection that is at the heart of a successful community? Focus on one person at a time. David Spinks, CEO of The Community Manager, describes in his blog post about building communities from scratch the first steps to focus on when getting your community up and running:

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.

This process is fundamental when getting a community up and running. More important though is to keep repeating steps one thru three until users begin connecting on their own and the initial foundations of your community begin independently taking form.



Once you’ve identified who you want to involve in your community (the passionate, the obsessed, the brand ambassadors!) and why, and have a basic outline of how to get ahold of these people, the next step will be to formulate some kind of long-term plan to assess the growth of your community. The Community Roundtable offers a great visualization to help chart the progression of your community and to make sure you are on track with the direction.


Source: http://www.communityroundtable.com/research/community-maturity-model/


And there you have it…the who, what, when, why, and how to go about starting a community from scratch. Easier blogged about than done is certainly a good mantra to keep in mind when forming a community from the ground up.  A well-founded and passionate community will not come together over night. But with the right approach and key success signifiers, a full-fledge community can be created from scratch!

Building Your Community

Building a community can happen when you least expect it. According to a great article by Dino Dogan titled “How To Build A Community of Fanatics”, communities are great to have and there are many important tips that need to be followed in order to build a successful community.

Where to start

Many think that you start a community by planning and thinking about how you want a community. But in fact, many communities come about by not even having the intention to start one. Dogan stated,

It all starts with intention. It all starts with your intention, but not the intention to create a community.

For example, if we have a problem that we would like to solve, we intend to do something about that problem. We may start a blog to express our concerns, but we may not have intended to start a successful problem-solving blog about product X which has grown into a successful community.

Photo courtesy of Niall Kennedy via Flikr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Niall Kennedy via Flikr Creative Commons

Once the community has emerged, it is crucial to make it successful. How do we do that? Well, the first thing we need to do is get to know our audience. I often write about a project I worked on last semester regarding a start-up do-it-yourself auto garage business where I developed a social media strategy. The owner, Nick, had to get to know his audience and believe me, once he got to know them, it really helped. Nick has gotten to know his audience over the past year and their opinions are what have shaped the company. He caters to them and listens. He reaches out to the audience and sparks engagement. The audience will most likely be the customer’s in the future and by knowing them, you can already know a little bit about them before they come to the shop.

Some more basics

Also in Dogan’s article, he states that it is important to be human and to have quality customer service. We all hate having something automated spit back information at us. Nothing is better than having someone actually talk to you, not a robot. Having people like us communicate and interact with the community is key. Dogan stated,

In short, a community will expect a certain level of service from a real human. Be that human.

There are many different ways that we are expected to talk to the community. I think the biggest takeaway is that we need to be vocal with the community, and what we say has to have meaning. Is what we are posting important? Are we just posting irrelevant content?

That leads to customer service. There were excellent points in Dogan’s article regarding customer service. Some key points:

  • acknowledge people as soon as possible
  • treat people like humans, not just a number
  • do not lecture at people

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 4.26.39 PM

It seems that in today’s world, we do things a million miles an hour. We become impatient if we are not responded to immediately. Whether you can immediately fix the problem a community member is having or not, it’s important to at least acknowledge them and let them know they are working on it. In the example in the photo, a person asked about a problem with the server. IBM Redbooks immediately responded to let them know they are aware of the problem and are working on restoring it. I believe that they will appreciate the quick response and will be more understanding rather than not hearing anything at all. Great customer service can contribute to a successful community.

Anything else?

Well, this already seems like quite a bit when we are trying to build a community. But, one of the most important tips according to Dogan when building a community is to have fun! Be creative and think about what the community would like. Be spunky not boring. Find ways to attract the attention of the community. Obviously building a community is a ton of work, but it can be worth it. You have to have some fun, because the last thing we want to happen is it becomes a grind engaging with the community.
What are your thoughts on this?
Can you suggest other tips to build an engaged community?
Have you had an experience where you have dealt with an automated message rather than a human? How was that experience?


The Best Way To Build A Community

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a community manager can be knowing that you helped to create a strong and engaged community. However, it can be incredibly difficult to build such a highly engaged community. While a brand, product, or service may have a lot of followers or subscribers, it’s important to build a community with members that are proud to be a part of that membership. Author Dino Dogan addresses this issue in an article he wrote entitled “How To Build a Community of Fanatics,” where he provides step-by-step instructions to build a community with avid users.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 2.35.04 PM

Some advice from Dogan’s article

The Breakdown 

By breaking down the process into six steps, building a community instantly becomes more of a progressive process. Intention, knowing your audience, being human, customer service, having fun, and positioning are all things that Dogan considers fundamentals to building a strong community. By providing evidence and examples behind why each of these steps is so critical, Dogan is able to build up credibility and effectively support his claims. However, Dogan concludes his article by telling the reader he’s “left out one enormously important component from this list.” He allows readers to share their opinions and ideas about a potential seventh step.

The Possibilities

The lack of comments on the article still leave present readers wondering what that missing ingredient is. It seems as though Dogan did a thorough job of outlining the different steps necessary to build a community, so his missing piece of advice could be hard to determine for some. However, based on our readings and panelist advice throughout a semester of #cmgrclass, it seems that Dogan really forgot to mention the importance of building relationships, which is an essential part of community management.

The Importance of Community Management

The biggest part of community management is making a community. Although Dogan discusses how to get people initially attracted to the information, he doesn’t discuss how to get them to stay nearly enough. Community managers are not only supposed to understand their audience (as mentioned in the article), but they are also supposed to cultivate relationships between them. Community managers should understand the different dynamics of a community and use that to leverage different relationships. A community isn’t a community unless people participate and talk to one another. While the advice Dogan writes in his article is all valuable and valid, it’s important to not lose sight of what a community should actually be.

Do you have any other advice for the best way to build a community? Let us know in the comments below! 

Vsnap’s Trish Fontanilla on Being Human

If you ask Trish Fontanilla what Vsnap means to her, she’ll mention the word human at least five times in under one minute.

Which makes sense, since Vsnap is in the business of connecting people. In the words of its website, Vsnap believes “customers are not people.” People, more than anything, are the building blocks of any company, and their feelings and input are as important to any enterprise as hard facts and revenue. As the vice president of community and customer experience, Trish deals directly with making Vsnap—an already personable brand, especially when compared to other business in the marketplace—that much more user-friendly.

And fortunately, I had a chance to speak with Trish and, in turn, got to learn firsthand what it means to be a community manager is, what it isn’t, and what she does to make Vsnap what she’d like to call “a lifestyle brand.”

A conversation with Trish Fontanilla over Google Hangouts.

A conversation with Trish Fontanilla over Google Hangouts.

According to Trish, the confusion between social media managers (SMM) and community managers (CM) is understandable. To clarify, however, she wanted to make the distinctions apparent.

Therefore, in her eyes, a social media manager:

  • Deals explicitly with social media.
  • Exists solely in an online workspace.
  • Often get restrained by email and social media.

A community manager, on the other hand:

  • Uses social media techniques.
  • Reaches out and (physically) goes out.
  • Has greater, personal investment in a company.

As a community manager for a company that already has greater visibility compared to most, Trish turns to people in other communities to help build her own. Aside from being an active member of #CMGRChat, she travels frequently and often shouts out to her followers to see if anyone is available for a real-life meet-up. In a professional capacity, she spearheads Customer Love meet-ups, which focuses on the stories and narratives—not the “slides” and “pitches”—of other CMs and marketing people who, as she says, just “get it.”

Stories, she says, are integral to Vsnap. Since she doesn’t work directly with search engine optimization (SEO), Trish relies on stories from users and other CMs to help gauge “grand sentiment metrics.” After all, Vsnap deals with users on a person-by-person basis; Trish even sends daily Vsnaps to users who respond on Twitter, celebrate anniversaries for involvement with the company, and any other reason to keep people engaged. Putting a face to the conversation, she says, is the whole point.

And she’s not worried about potential competitors, either. I’ve used Vsnap myself, and the difference between a business-oriented video platform and a social one is apparent. In fact, she says Vsnap supports its contemporaries, since it both increases social media activity and also trains users ahead of time in video before they turn to Vsnap. Which, if the brand’s accessibility and functionality is anything to go by, should be sometime soon.

Follow Trish at @TrishoftheTrade!