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It takes a community to grow a business Tools for promoting participation in online communities

There's no place like home... but home can be anywhere! A Cultural shift in how we communicate is happening now Time and space restrictions do not apply Location does not limit your potential for connection Humans have a fundamental need to belong Online communities meet these needs by: Allowing members to create an identity Network with other people who share similar interests Create social capital

Benefits of engaging in an online community Scalability-Online communities allow businesses to leverage the work they have already done by answering questions and providing information in an open environment that can be utilized by customers down the road. Power to guide the conversation-More and more users are talking about companies, products and services in public settings like their blogs, Twitter and other social networks. If you opt to join the conversation you are at a better advantage to guide the tone and outcome of the exchange. Two-way communication-Having discussions in public settings holds all parties to a higher standard and again, insures the information is available for future use.

Time and Information

Communities provide high value return on your investment of time paying back what you put into them with interest.

Communities provide insight regarding the wants and needs of customers enabling you to determine new features and tap into revenue potential.

Utopia-Community at its best Our community proved valuable, not only as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. A new member asked recently whether she should use Yola to build her site. A number of replies from other customers encouraged her to use Yola for a variety of reasons, but one reply stood out. "This forum is a rare resource regardless of the subject matter and has to be greatly considered in how you rate Yola as a whole. " - John Harris, Community Champion.

Cultivating an online community In "The Art of Community," O'Reilly points out that Belonging is the goal of all communities.

Communities are a Social Economy In a social economy we are the products and the capital is respect and trust. O'Reilly defines social capital as the cummulation of positive interactions between individuals.

Practice hospitality! Welcome new members. When someone signs up or posts for the first time, make sure that it is a rewarding experience for them. You can do this by acknowledging them as people as well as acknowledging their contribution. Let them know that they have made a great decision to join your community and that they will get the help and support they need. Communities can become cliquey, closed off or even outright hostile to new comers. Make your community a welcoming place that informs new users: we will let you belong here.

Seed valuable content

A thriving community is a place people will come in order to save time, not a place they need to avoid because they don't have enough time. Users will return if they find valuable information which will answer a question, solve a problem or give them a great idea.

Acknowledge contributions Each time you take a couple of seconds to click a "thumbs up" or a "star" or rate an article, you are making a deposit into someone's bank account, and they will be likely to return the favor.

Cultivate community champions In order to cultivate their skills you must first identify potential community champions. Look for people who: Post more often to give help and advice, than to ask for help for themselves. Come back regularly. Notice when someone is struggling and make an effort to reach out to that person. Are familiar with the content in your community and can point people to the best information for their needs. Have others respond to them and express appreciation for their help.

Establish & enforce a social contract A social contract defines the rules of engagement, and ensures that people can participate safely and will get a relatively predictable response from you and the members of your community. Here are a few rules that are important to us at Yola: We don't tolerate spam, adult content, crass self promotion or flame wars. No personal attacks. No loud, demanding or pushy behavior - everyone gets help as soon as humanly possible. Once you establish a social contact, make sure that you enforce it by making it known to your users.

Keep it fresh! Add new content daily. Insure active discussions are underway. Garden your community a little bit daily instead of trying to weed it all at once. Set up a roster with active members to jump start new communities. For established communities, insure questions are answered promptly and that information is shared.

Make time to save time Consider time and energy invested in your community as paying it forward. At Yola our community saves us time because of all the valuable peer-to-peer support that our customers give to each other. Each time this happens, the customer wins because they get what they came for, and we win because we didn't have to help them ourselves. The community also saves us time because it has become a repository of valuable information. If I am stuck for an answer, I can search the posts and I almost always find exactly what I am looking for. Many customers report that just reading the forum posts saved them hours of struggling on their own.

Admit that you don't know If you lead an online community or participate in an online community, you don't always need to have the answer. By admitting that you don't know something, you can provide an opening for someone else to participate. There is nothing that shuts down the conversation more than having one or two dominant personalities who always have to have the final word. Even if you encounter a question or a problem that others would expect you to have expert knowledge of, admitting your own lack of knowledge humanizes you in the eyes of the community while giving someone else an opportunity to shine

Be transparent, be real Celebrate your successes and be open and honest about your short comings. Be a cheerleader- When a Yola user first publishes their site, or achieves high search engine rankings, or any other accolade, they proudly post it to the forum and they receive hearty and sincere congratulations from their peers. When one person succeeds, everyone feels successful. Warts and all- We also admit freely when we mess up. This is particularly true when the failing is on the side of the company such as a software bug or a service outage. A sincere apology can go a long way towards winning you the support and understanding of your community.

Grow yours today! An active, engaged online community can be a valuable resource to small business owners. Communities are social economies that accumulate wealth the more people invest in them. If you need help, information, experience and support then I hope you will turn to a community and discover what it has to offer. It takes a community to grow a business. Grow yours today!

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