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Six P’s of Building Online Community The Secrets of Building a Successful Online Community by Incorporating Purpose, People Participation, Practical tools, Partnerships, and Promotion into your Internet strategy

Sponsored by:

Internet Strategies Group

Written by:

Don Philabaum December 15th 2007

$49.95


Six P’s of Building Online Community

2007

Six P’s of Building Online Community You reap what you sow! So you want to build an online community for your group or organization? Building an online community is a rewarding experience, but it does require some planning and commitment. Since 1995, I’ve had the pleasure of helping over 300 groups and organizations around the world create sustainable, dynamic online communities with ecommerce solutions that brought in millions of dollars. During that time, I learned a lot about what a community builder needs to do to insure their online community is successful. I’ve witnessed private, password online communities grow by 20,000 members in a relatively short period, others generate over a million dollars in ecommerce transactions in one year, and others who saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by sending out nearly 750,000 emails in 12 months. Most of the successful online communities earned a minimum of 10 times their annual investment; some were seeing 20 times return on their investment. On the other hand, I saw many online communities who invested more time in building out their online community and less time in expanding and growing it. As a result of their lack of focus

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

2007

and commitment to promote and market their online community, their online communities were more like ghost towns. Their registrations were low and participation was almost non-existent. During the past decade, the most common theme behind the communities that were successful was that they focused on six areas. Everything they did rested on and was built around these six areas. To make it easier to remember these, I found a word starting with P that best described the area they were focusing on. The six areas include:

The organizations whose Internet strategy focused on these areas had:    

More registered users. Higher participation levels. Decreased cost per user. A more valuable media property.

More users and higher participation naturally attracts even more users. More users’ results in a more valuable online community experience for users, but also a more valuable “media.” Facebook, for example, as a result of Microsoft’s recent investment of over $250m has a per user valuation of $400. Imagine growing your online community to 100,000 users valued at even $10 per user. That’s a million dollar business in virtually no time at all!

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

2007

You have a choice. Spend a great deal of time reinventing the wheel and figuring this out on your own, or spend a few minutes reading this white paper to learn the secrets I’ve learned from working with over 300 organizations with millions of members worldwide in building successful online community building. Let’s take a look at the six fundamental areas you should include in online community strategy. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Purpose People Participation Practical Partners Promotion

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

ONE -

2007

Purpose

THE most important decision you will make is determining what the purpose of your online community is going to be. You need to be clear on why you are creating an online community, who the community is for, and what role your organization is going to play in it. Too often, organizations create online communities with good intentions of keeping focused on the purpose and value to the users, but inevitably as the community doesn’t attract the size of the audience they wanted, the purpose broadens, which actually marginalizes the experience for most users. These participants become disenchanted with the community and leave for the thousands of others available to them. If one of your goals is to become the next MySpace or Facebook, forget about it. You are too late! Your future, your potential is using what makes you unique. (See my white paper Add L.U.C.K to Your Online Community.) You have tremendous potential to create an online community built around assets only your organization has. There are already over 200 million participants of Facebook/MySpace who will be taking “virtual day trips” out to find and explore small online communities built around their interests, hobbies, religion, or professions. It’s a good time to become a niche online community and do it right. You have millions of people who have learned the value of being a part of an online community and they’ll bring experience, enthusiasm, content, and their network to your online community. I’ve spent a good deal of time working with alumni associations whose primary purpose was to build their online community to gather data from their alumni, acquire email addresses so they could communicate more frequently to increase participation in events and raising money. Little thought went into planning a community around the users’ needs. As a result, their online communities had a difficult time not only getting alumni to register, but more importantly, getting them to return. To keep you from making that mistake, take some time with your colleagues to answer the following questions: (with question one being the most important!) 1. 2. 3. 4.

What is the principle purpose of our online community? What benefit will our online community provide our users? What is the expected outcome of offering the online community? How can the online community benefit us?

Exercise: Create a 30 second “elevator statement.” Your elevator statement should be a simple way to explain to an investor, board, prospective member, or person you report to that identifies what the purpose of your online community is. Test it out and continue to change it. When 9 out of 10 people “get it” without further explanation, you’ve got it right!

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

TWO -

2007

People

Ah, a very important ingredient for online communities! Mega online communities attract people from all walks of life, nations, interests, hobbies, and philosophies. To me, super online communities like Facebook and MySpace are the phone directory of the 21st century. They will continue to be a place to be listed at if you want to be found, but they will become less useful as more niche online communities develop. However, as we’ve cautioned many people before you, your online community should focus on a much narrower niche and attempt to satisfy a unique need by following the 6 P’s. You have to think very carefully on who your audience is. Is your audience x’ers, millennials or baby boomers? Or are they a combination of all age groups? Is your audience wood workers, dog owners, sports lovers, beer lovers, shoe lovers, members of a specific audience, or simply guys who are fanatical about their lawns? Understanding who your target audience is going to affect the type of practical services you offer, your website design, and the type of content you are going to put into your online community. In order to create a successful online community, you should be asking yourself:      

Who is our target audience? Is this a specific generation or multi-generational community? What is the size of this audience? Should the group be local, regional, or global focused? Is anyone else serving this group? How will we find our audience?

As you narrow this information down, you can set up a group on Yahoo Groups and test your theories. The forum tools they provide will give you a chance to ask your users what they would be looking for. This is a fantastic way to get started. Exercise: If you’ve located a similar online community serving the audience you want to reach, you should spend a great deal of time on the site, not only getting familiar with their strategy, but also to meet the people on the site. You have an instant focus group available to you. All you have to do is connect with some of the leaders of the site to find out what works and ask them what they would do to make the service better! 6

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

THREE -

2007

Participation

When you design your online community you should be thinking of ways to increase participation within the online community. If registrations are high but participation is low, you probably did a great job promoting the site, but a poor job developing your purpose. Once the users got to the site, they realized it provided little value for them. That’s why deciding your Purpose is so VERY important! Assuming you’ve got your purpose down right, your strategy has to focus on services, products, tools, or gadgets that increase participation. I suggest that clients adopt Push/pull techniques that deliver news, alerts, and/or information to users. These are personalized based on the users self identified interests and are designed to pull them back to the website to see the content matching their interests. To increase participation in your online community, ask yourself:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

How can we use their relationship with others to increase visits? How can we actively introduce our users to others with similar interests? What personal data should we collect and use to invite them to see similar content? How can we reward and recognize active community participants? What kind of content is going to increase participation? How can we actively connect and network members.

More than likely you are familiar with the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind.” If your online community does not have a strategy to continue to communicate with your members and draw them back in, if not daily or at least weekly, your users will “forgetabout YOU!” It’s extremely important to develop a successful participation strategy in order to engage and involve users. A weak participation strategy will result in an online community that lacks activity. You need to develop and pay attention to analytical tools that show how long your users spend on your online community, what pages they spend the most time on, and what pages they exit from. With this information you should make small modifications to increase the time spent on the site or on particular pages. Google Analytics is a free tool you can use that will provide nearly instant stats you can analyze. Exercise: Visit a variety of online communities and use the five questions above to look for samples of what others are doing to answer these questions. Not only will this provide you actual examples to show your programming team, but your participation in these will make it easier for you to explain it to them.

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

FOUR -

2007

Practical

Now you need to add technology and services that complement your strategy. I’m not talking about hammers, screwdrivers, and nails! I’m talking about blogs, podcasts, discussion forums, member alert tools, and other social media tools. As you evaluate these technologies, you have to incorporate them into your online community so they fulfill a practical need. You need to align your Purpose with the type of tools you offer and the application of the tools. For example, if your online community is built around photographers that take underwater photographs, you would probably incorporate how-to videos that will show exactly how you can take photographs underwater. You’d also want to incorporate Google Maps so your members can not only upload and share the photographs with explanations of where and how they took them, but also show on a map where they took the photograph. I would also suggest you develop a series of podcast interviews where you interview designers of equipment, successful photographers, and/or tour operators who provide inside, anecdotal stories that will engage your listeners. You should also find white papers and resource information and provide links to them. A business should look for tools and services that compliment their customers’ curiosity as well as provide practical benefits. For example, a pizza shop could develop an online community that provides local community members to identify what services they are looking for. In a day and era where it’s getting harder to get new customers, consider a business networking and yellow page area. We like to suggest that businesses use their online communities to engage their customers in product development. In the case of a pizza shop, I’d suggest they invite customers to create a new style pizza every quarter and let the community “name” the pizza. Not only does this get them in on helping them design the new “product,” but they are a part of the naming too! Your online community strategy has to take the tools and services available and reposition them so they best serve the needs of your users. A website with practical services that satisfy the needs of users will become extremely successful. Exercise: Make a list of Web 2.0 and Social media tools. In the column to the right of the tools, write down how you would use these tools in your online community. Get your friends and colleagues opinions too.

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

FIVE -

2007

Partnerships

If you are like most organizations, you have a limited budget and have been asked to coordinate the online community along with your normal day to day responsibilities. I’d like you to start thinking how you can work smarter, not harder. Stop for a moment and think of who you could partner with to increase registrations and participation, provide additional content, or relevant practical tools. You can accomplish a great deal more by spending some time looking for websites, organizations, or people who can provide you a distribution channel or promotional item. You’ve got to start thinking outside the box: 

Think of other organizations that have a network that you can tap into. Find websites or companies with tens of thousands of customers and offer them an opportunity to advertise for free on your website as long as they promote your website to their customers.

Partner with free third party websites to provide a richer experience for users. For example, by partnering with Flickr, your members will be able to share their photographs and rate them. Include Facebook/MySpace, YouTube, Linkedin, and other sites whose members have similar interests.

Make contact with organizations that produce products and offer services your target audience loves. If you create a niche website for boxing, look for a cigar company that would be willing to give away a free cigar to each person registering. If you have a website built around toys, find a toy company willing to give away product. Also, look for partners who could provide significant gifts for contests. As an example, airlines provide flight certificates, or look for a volunteer willing to donate 25,000 miles that can be used for a free flight.

Look at traditional media sources such as magazines, TV, and radio that have shown an interest in covering news stories within your area of focus. Have members contact them instead of PR staff.

Once you have your online community up, look to your volunteers to help you engage new users. For example, your volunteers could be part of a new member “Welcome Wagon” where they take new members through the opportunities on your website. Exercise: As you read the news, watch TV, and go about your day, be vigilant and continually look for prospective partners. Set a goal of finding one per day and have a form letter/email ready to send to them.

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

SIX -

2007

Promotion

Many people work long hours, invest a great deal of money in developing their online community, and then skimp on promoting their online community. From my vantage point promotion of your online community is critical. You shouldn’t even build an online community if you don’t have a budget set aside for traditional advertising, as well as a strategic plan to market your online community. Below are 10 areas I usually recommend you invest promotional time and money into: 1. Look for other websites and bloggers that could cross promote your website. Put their banner on your site and your banner on theirs. 2. Talk to suppliers and vendors and ask them to promote your site. 3. Adopt Web 2.0 and social media tools and find ways to expand your reach. 4. Invite active users of your site to join your founders club and help promote the online community. 5. Personally welcome each new member and encourage them to invite their friends. 6. Send electronic birthday cards, holiday cards, and encourage users to invite friends. 7. Hold contests and giveaways. 8. Develop a search engine optimization program for your website. 9. Identify magazines, newspapers, and other traditional media that your user base would read and advertise in. 10. Write white papers and reports to submit to “article” websites. Most of your online community promotion can be done for little to no cost, but you have to take the time to do it. For example, you could take video interviews or reposition your podcasts by putting them on YouTube. Blendit Corporation created a zany promotional video for virtually nothing by demonstrating how their blenders could blend 2X4’s, iPods, and iPhones. Their videos had millions of views online. Their promotion increased brand awareness, energized their sales force, and everyone had a great deal of fun with the campaign. Exercise: Identify what you want to do to promote your site. Create a written marketing strategy that includes responsibilities, goals, objectives, and due dates. Without a written Internet strategy, your promotion program will continue to get pushed back because your daily responsibilities will interfere.

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

2007

Summary The goal of this white paper is to get you thinking about the key components of your online community. We built them around words starting with P to help you remember them. As you are building, or continue to build, your online community, think back to the 6 P’s and ask yourself if you are doing everything you can to incorporate them. Creating an active, successful online community requires a great deal of focus, planning, and follow through. We live in a very busy world. People are time starved. With so many choices of entertainment, news, information, and day to day responsibilities, your online community has to be practical and very compelling. It has to satisfy a need in order to get their attention. My experience working with over 300 organizations with millions of members since 1995 who were interested in developing online communities has shown me that the most successful online community providers focused on the 6 P’s. Now that you have the roadmap – follow it!

If your day to day responsibilities are getting in the way of you executing this strategy, CALL/EMAIL us, we’ve been creating online communities since the MySpace/Facebook generation was in kindergarten! Your NEXT STEP There are five steps we recommend you take in order to facilitate discussions and “release” the ideas and creativity that will be important for you to incorporate the 6 P’s and include them in the foundation of your online community. 1) Create a vision of what you want you want to accomplish and how it will benefit your users first and your organization second. 2) Now that you have that vision, determine the resources, tools, software, staff, and financial support you will need to make it happen. 3) Determine the goals, benchmarks, and identify the stats you will use to determine if you are on track. 4) Identify how you will communicate your vision, both externally and internally. 5) Determine what kind of projects you need to put together to handle the planning and development in each area.

If your busy schedule prevents you from facilitating the discussions and building a written Internet strategy to find your “ness,” give us a call and we’ll cut to the chase and get you where you want to be faster, at less cost and hassle. When we do, we leave you with a valuable media property. 11

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

2007

About Internet Strategies Group The Internet Strategies Group helps groups and organizations understand how to use Web 2.0, Social Media and Online Community to acquire, retain, and engage customers. The company provides training and consulting services. Don Philabaum is the founder and President/CEO of Internet Strategies Group, author, and has spoken at trade shows around the world since 1995 about the benefits of social networking. Referred to as the father of “online community,” Don will tell every business owner from a butcher to an undertaker they need to engage customers online!

don@internetstrategiesgroup.com

White Papers by Don Philabaum 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Six P’s of Successful Online Communities Add LUCK to Your Online Community Five Mistakes Online Community Builders Make Create a NET-Centered Organization Four Simple Social Media Tools for Your Small Business 97 Strategies to Engage Your Customers Facing UP to the Facebook/MySpace Generation Policing in the 21st Century using the Internet D.I.M.E (Distributer Internet Marketing Engagement)

Blogs by Don Philabaum 1. Wiredcommunities.com 2. Onlinecommunity.com 3. Higherednetstrategies.com

Biographical Information on www.internetstrategiesgroup.com

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Six P’s of Building Online Community

2007

Get your copy of: Internet Dough, Make More Dough Marketing Online - suggests all business from as small as a pizza shop to a Fortune 500 company need to adopt Web 2.0, social media and online community tools in order to acquire, retain, and engage customers. You will learn:    

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Six P's of Building Online Community  

Simple, effective techniques to build stronger online communities