Daily Archives: November 8, 2013

Community Building is like Making Friends

We’ve all done it. It can sometimes be difficult, but the rewards outweigh the effort.

It’s making friends.

Probably not the best way to build a community. Courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner.

Probably not the best way to build a community. Courtesy of Toothpaste for Dinner.

Not everyone has built a community, but most people have made a friend or two. It’s tough, but in order to do it right, you have to put yourself out there, meet new people, figure out if you want to hang out again, and repeat.

Just like making new friends, there’s a lot to consider when starting a community. There’s no one answer, and there’s no wrong answer. It all depends on what is right for you and your community.

The readings this week, however, did give some great advice for community managers just starting out, and I think that across communities, these factors will hold true.


The key to making friends is that you need to get out of the house to do it. People can’t talk with your RSVP, just like a community can’t talk to your website updates. You need to be present for things to happen.

You are your community’s biggest asset – a human face, a personality, and a lot of passion. David Spinks hits the nail on the head when he says the key to building a community is doing it one person at a time.

Reaching out and making personal connections may take time, but there’s no point to being a community manager if you have no one in your community. So go out and make some friends.


You can go to the club, the pub, or anywhere in between. Where you go depends on what you want, but it’s probably best to start small and make friends at the pub. Community building is like that, too.

In Buzzing Communities, author Richard Millington echoes Spinks when he says:

“A community should not target its entire possible audience in its launch.”

You should, however, target people with whom you know you’ll have something in common. The more focused your audience in the beginning, the faster and more clearly you will understand the dynamic and direction of your community.


It’s no fun to get to the pub and realize no one you can make friends with is there. Where did you go wrong?

Simple: you didn’t plan ahead.

When you’re making friends, you have to communicate with them to make plans. You can’t just show up at a pub and expect them to come to you.

Once you’ve made plans, next you need to execute and figure out how it went:

  • Did they show up?
  • Was it fun?
  • Did your new friend throw a drink in your face?

If the answers are yes, yes, and no … then you probably have a solid friendship starting.

This kind of thinking is equally important for community managers. At the beginning of the community lifecycle, it’s important to talk to people, but it’s also important to understand what your following wants. Having a focused audience not only helps you focus your community, but also lets you figure out data fast.

You already know the audience because that’s what you targeted – now look for what you couldn’t before.

  • Are people spending more time on your pages?
  • Is your audience growing?
  • Are they participating?

Use the answers to guide what you do next. If your friend gets drunk and throws drinks in your face every time, it’s probably time to hang out with her at the coffee shop for a little while.

Apply that same logic with your community. If they don’t respond to blogs about [relevant topic X], try posting about [relevant topic Y].


You might not be a community managing pro yet, but odds are you’ve made friends in your lifetime. Stop over-thinking it and put those friend-making skills to good use. As a community manager, it’s all about making connections. Get out there, be yourself, and find others like you. Community will follow.

Do you think starting a community can be this easy at first? Also, what about personality types – are introverted community managers at a disadvantage in this respect?

Key Factors in Building a Community

One of the articles from this week had a quote that really stuck with me. “You can’t spark a community by wanting to spark a community no more than you could start a fire by wanting to start a fire.” You can’t just decide you want a community. You need to know why you’re starting one and who you’re dealing with before you can eventually gather the wood to make it happen. There are a few key factors that should be considered when starting a community from the ground and building it to become something great.

Have a Plan

As stated earlier, you really need to be prepared. First, you have to determine if your brand or product (or topic) is even meant to have a community surrounding it. It very well may be that your community is better left as a two way conversation rather than a group of people with common interests. Once you determine if a community is right for you, you have to decide what type of community you will be. This includes all aspects of planning including where your community will exist, how will it work, how often you will post, who your members are, what type of responsibility they will have, and what you will focus your content on.

There are so many factors that go into making a community great, and it’s really important to keep them in mind from the very beginning. An article I found on my own talked about that. Read more here!

Know Your Audience

This is arguably the most important factor in starting a community from scratch. You have to truly understand the audience to determine how to cater to them. According to Buzzing Communities, “the community serves to improve the lives of its members”. Without an audience, your community is nothing—in fact, it’s not even a community! Knowing your audience means:

"Psychographics" are all about understanding what is going on in your audience's heads. Taken from Google Images.

“Psychographics” are all about understanding what is going on in your audience’s heads. Taken from Google Images.

  • Understanding the demographic. Where are they located? How old are they? What do they do for a living? In other words, who are these people?! Determining a demographic is essential to figuring out what the community is going to be like. It helps determine what type of content you’ll be posting as well as how it will be presented. 
  • Understanding their habits. Once you’ve figured out your demographic, you have to get to know them personally. What Internet tools do they use? How often are they online? What do they do when they’re online? This allows you to create habits and a schedule based on theirs. Once you track activity, you can find peak hours of engagement and know when to strike!
  • Understanding their wants/needs. Buzzing Communities says, “a community manager does not change someone’s values or attitudes. Community managers identify what people are interested in and build a community around those interests.” This is very important. You can’t tell people how to think or feel, but you can cater your information and content to how they feel.

Build it Brick By Brick

How can you gather this information? It’s easier than you think! When you’re just starting out as a new community, getting to know your members is crucial. You have to take it one person at a time. You can learn more about them by talking to them personally! Of course, you can use metrics and analytics to gather information, but

Build a community brick by brick, and you'll have something really solid. Taken from http://thecommunitymanager.com/2012/02/07/how-to-build-a-community-from-scratch/.

Build a community brick by brick, and you’ll have something really solid. Taken from http://thecommunitymanager.com/2012/02/07/how-to-build-a-community-from-scratch/.

why not talk to people one-on-one? If you actually interview your first few members, you can gather a sample for your target audience and use it to make goals! For example, you need to know your audience and look at each individually to understand what type of role they will play in the community. Will they be posting content or simply responding to posts and activity? Are some of them potential moderators?

Buckle Up! 

It’s not going to be easy! Being a Community Manager is a 24/7 job, and, especially when starting out, it’s going to take a lot of time, energy, and dedication.

Brick By Brick: Creating Your Community

With all this talk so far this semester about community managers, it’s easy to forget the other, perhaps more important, half of the equation—the community itself. Yes, community managers (CMs) have to be fiercely defensive of their communities, but the community has to be fiercely defensive of itself as well as the brand it advocates. As such, CMs bear the responsibility of building a community and maintaining it long enough before it can function on its own. And with proper building techniques, CMs can create communities that, in the real world, do what CMs can’t do on their own.

Community building doesn’t just happen overnight.

Building Your Community

Communities are comprised of individuals. Remembering that means remembering to reach out to one person at a time. Startups and larger organizations alike suffer the same problems of having to keep audiences in mind, whether that means having to start slow or having to do more than just “throw money” around to get eyeballs on content. Being a human comes first and foremost, since CMs have the dual role of representing and humanizing a brand. Reminding potential community members that there’s more to a company than just its logo and mission statement fosters a relationship that could translate into future loyalty.

Maintaining Your Community

Once customers start coalescing, conversation is key. Strengthening ties between the brand and the community as well as between community members themselves marks a key difference between CMs and social media managers; after all, it’s one thing to attract people, but it’s another thing to keep them there. Fostering natural discussion with community members ensures that everyone connects with each other. Starting simple and focused, rather than using rewards and incentives, allows for organic community growth.

Letting Your Community Go

This doesn’t mean actually letting your community go. Rather, it means working up to a mutual level of trust that both the CM and the community can function less intimately, but without losing efficiency. Just as show dogs grow tired with each hurdle, communities lose patience with every added hoop they have to jump through. Form upon form and promotion upon promotion can quickly become taxing, so CMs would be wise to step away from expecting more from their communities and instead let them work on their own terms. At the end of the day, word of mouth and fervent community dedication matter most—not micromanagement.

What brands or companies seem to have succeeded at community building? Which ones haven’t? Share in the comments!