10 Tips for Creating Successful and Sustainable Online Communities

August 7, 2013

NingI have set up a number of online communities throughout my career. Here are my top 10 lessons learned over the years:

  1. An initial time investment of 25 hours to get your online community set up is not unreasonable. It’s easy and fast to sign up, but there’s more to it than setting up an account and a profile. In the beginning, you need to build a foundation for ongoing and sustainable social interaction between your members. You need to create a community that provides value, resources and a sense that time there will be well spent.
  2. You also need to collect and add some quality content to populate the site from the very beginning. Do not wait until you have a critical mass of members, assuming that high quality content will simply appear. Set the example for what type of content you expect by populating the site with some initial contributions yourself.
  3. Most popular content includes “how to” information, tips, lesson plans and very practical hands-on type information. Avoid lengthy diatribes, theory or “heavy” philosophical material. Multi-media content is also popular.
  4. It’ll work best if you “seed” the community with at least half a dozen (or more, if you can get them) key individuals who are well-known in the social group. These “founding members” should be hand-picked by the administrator. They are folks who will be seen as trusted authorities or influencers. Get at least half a dozen founding members fully signed up (including their profiles and photos) before sending out a mass public invite. You may have to follow up with them once or twice to nudge them, but it’s worth it. Seeding your site with a few key influencers can help build the online community quickly and effectively.
  5. People will have a look to see who else is part of the online community before they sign up themselves. If they see people they know, trust and like on the list of virtual community members, they are more likely to sign up themselves.
  6. Ask each of your “founding members” to contribute one piece of content — an article, a blog post or something that will bring value to the community. Part of the success of your Ning will depend on having quality contributions from a variety of members.
  7. Plan on updating your online community at least once a week. One of the biggest downfalls of online communities is that they stagnate because no one contributes.
  8. Approve new members. Human spammers or spam bots may try to sign up for your online community. Some services that offer online communities give you the option to require that new members be approved. If your service offers that option, I recommend accepting it. It’s a little more work upfront, but it keeps the quality of your online community high… which will keep your members happy.
  9. If you do get spammers in the community, eject them immediately. No apologies and no questions asked. If necessary, you may need to apologize to community members for spammer activity and let them know that you have taken steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
  10. Invite contributions from members on an ongoing basis. Send out periodic and personalized e-mails to members letting them know that you have showcased their work or you’d like to invite them to contribute. Avoid sending form letters or messages that are not personalized. Sending occasional personal e-mail communications will be more effective than mass mailouts or “blasts”. By the way, this goes beyond a form letter that simply has the person’s first name in the salutation. That no longer counts as genuinely personalized communication. Add a comment about the person as human being. Ask about their spouse, kids, pets or latest project or vacation, using specific details that lets the sender know it is not really just another form letter.

Over the past few years, I have noticed a curious trend. Five years ago, fewer people knew what online communities were all about. Those who knew signed up without much resistance and contributed generously. Now, more people know what online communities are and understand how to participate in one, but at the same time, people are getting pickier about what they sign up for. Even though more people have higher technology literacy levels when it comes to understanding both the concept and the “nuts and bolts” of online communities, that does not necessarily correlate to a willingness to sign up for one.

The trick to creating a sustainable and successful online community is continually providing value to members, without overwhelming them. You must respect their time, their privacy and their willingness to engage. Time and energy are valuable personal resources. If you want someone to spend time and energy in your online community, make it worthwhile for them.

An online community is not a sales platform and nor is it a space for one person to broadcast their ideas or opinions. A community — whether it is online or in real life — must be interactive, engaging and supportive for everyone.

Ning is my favorite online platform for online communities, especially for education and non-profit. There is a cost, but it is minimal. The Ning name is also trusted and well-known. I don’t think you need to budget tens of thousands of dollars to have a custom-built platform.

(Note: I have no affiliation to Ning and receives no financial or other benefits from promoting them. I just think they are a good service that’s worth recommending.)

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: 10 Tips for Creating Successful and Sustainable Online Communities http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Do

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


De-grouping to be a more effective leader

August 2, 2013

LinkedIn logoYou are probably familiar with the term “re-grouping”. It means taking a breath and a step back from a situation in order to re-assess the current state of it.

Lately, I have been “de-grouping”, mostly on LinkedIn. For a number of years, I have been a member of the maximum number of groups allowed, which is 50. I signed up for groups related to topics I was interested in professionally including leadership, literacy, languages, marketing, education and other topics. I tried to read discussion posts and contribute. I thought it was a good way to keep my pulse on sectors and industries that I felt were important to my career.

What I found was quite the opposite. Instead of staying on top of news and trends, I was inundated with messages, many of which did not help me learn, grow or provide many insights.

On the flip side, I was also unable to contribute much of value to many of the discussions.

I have pared down my membership to 10 LinkedIn groups. Here are the three criteria I used to decide which groups to stay in:

  1.  I personally know some or all of the members. I’ve seen the whites of their eyes and I can easily remember their smile.
  2. I learn something from the discussions.
  3. I can contribute something of value to the discussions from time to time.

For me, cutting back on the number of groups I am a member of on LinkedIn has helped free up time and energy for other activities such as tending to my clients, teaching students and preparing upcoming presentations and workshops for the fall. All in all, being more selective about how I spend my time and energy online has helped me to cultivate my professional and leadership skills overall. I’m still online… just more selectively than ever before.

I have increased energy as I am using laser-focus to determine which activities bring value to my profession and where I can also make a meaningful contribution.

Related post: How to delete LinkedIn contacts who spam you (and why you should) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1CO

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: De-grouping to be a more effective leader http://wp.me/pNAh3-1De

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


How to delete LinkedIn contacts who spam you (and why you should)

July 14, 2013

Have you noticed an increasing amount of spam messages coming to your LinkedIn inbox? I have.

A few years ago, I adopted a LinkedIn Open Networking (LION) policy. I would accept connections from anyone who requested one. I have recently changed my mind on that for one single reason: Inbox spam.

The topic of LinkedIn spam has been growing online. This commentary by Andy Lopata in the Huffington Posts questions whether LinkedIn will sink in a sea of spam.

Lopata reminds us that LinkedIn can be a valuable professional networking tool, but that potential is often not realized. Sinking into spam tactics is bringing down the value of the social networking platform for all users.

Characteristics of LinkedIn spam

I have heard that technically, “Inmail” isn’t spam, but rather a message from a Linked in contact. I disagree with that. Spam is unsolicited virtual junk mail, no matter how it arrives. Spam messages are rarely personally addressed and even if they are, the content is generic. The content is not personalized or individualized. The hallmark of spam is that it is really never about you. It’s about them, their product, their website, their business, their search engine rankings, their whatever.

These direct messages seem to fit into one of these categories:

“Like” spam

I first heard this term from Daylan Pierce who wrote about it on his blog. This type of spam essentially asks you to “like” this or that. The reason people do this is that the more “likes” post gets, the higher it boosts their ranking in social media. If people really do enjoy a post or a resource, they’ll take it upon themselves to share it anyway.

Invitations

These are either sales pitches or calls for action that are couched as “invitations”. They are not actual invitations, but rather a mass message asking to you buy a product, visit a website, sign up for a program, etc.

Requests for reviews or feedback

As an academic, I have written reviews of professional products that have been published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. This is very different from LinkedIn spammers who send mass messages with requests for feedback on their latest product or project. If I’m going to spend my time reviewing a new product and then share that feedback in a public way, it is likely going to be a resource that really piques my interest. Spam messages do not pique my interest. LinkedIn spam messages asking me to visit a website (i.e. drive traffic to the website, for the purpose of driving its search engine rankings) and leave a comment (i.e. increase activity on the website, for the purpose of driving up its search engine rankings) get deleted, not reviewed.

Sponsorship requests

As if calls on a weekly basis from telemarketers asking me to donate to a cause weren’t enough, now requests come via LinkedIn spam. Here’s a hint: I won’t support spamming… or causes that ask for donations using this method. There are plenty of good causes out there that get my donation dollars. The recent flooding in my home town of Calgary is a good example.

 “Check out my latest __________” requests

Requests to check out the contact’s latest blog post, YouTube video, webinar or whatever is just an attempt to drive traffic to their sites.

I now have a new policy: If you spam me via my Inbox on LinkedIn, I delete you as a contact. No reply. No questions asked.

How to remove LinkedIn contacts

It is not an intuitive process to remove a LinkedIn contact. You have to go through several steps to do it. Here’s how:

Note down the name of the person you want to delete as a contact.

Click on Network. This will produce a drop-down menu.

LinkedIn contacts

Click on Contacts.

This will produce a list of your contacts.

On the left-hand side menu there is a box to Filter Contacts.

Filter contacts

In that box, enter the name of the person you want to delete. Hit enter.

That should produce a search result of the unwanted contact.

Check the box next to his or her name.

Then, in the upper-right hand side of your screen, click on “Remove connections”. That choice is on the far right of your screen:

Remove connections

This is a bit of a laborious process, but it is worth it. I have found that once someone starts spamming you with Inbox message, they do not stop.

Why I am no longer a LinkedIn Open Networker (LION)

I admit it. For me, being a LinkedIn Open Networker has failed. Instead of widening my network in an open and inclusive manner, open networking has filled my Inbox with unwanted messages that are a waste of time and energy.

I rarely send LinkedIn mail any more. When I do send Linked InMail, it is personalized, specific, to the point, and of legitimate value to the person or people I am writing to.

On occasion, I have received a message from someone I know personally who is working hard to build a new business or brand. If they send me a message asking me to visit their website or like something, I will do that for them… but the reason I do is because I know them personally. We already have a relationship and they are asking for a favor. I know, intuitively, that if I were to ask for a similar favor that they would do the same for me. The difference is the depth of our relationship and a sense of loyalty to one another. Spammers often do not even know who you are… They just spam everyone in their address book. There’s no depth to the relationship, no trust and no foundation of history or loyalty that justifies asking for a favour.

LinkedIn can be a powerful professional networking tool. Building trusting professional relationships takes time and effort… and it starts with caring about the other person as both a professional and a human being. Let your sense of personal leadership and a desire to cultivate meaningful professional relationships drive your LinkedIn (and all social media) activity.

Related post: De-grouping on LinkedIn to be a more effective leader http://wp.me/pNAh3-1De

_____________________

If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Share or Tweet this: How to delete LinkedIn contacts who spam you (and why you should) http://wp.me/pNAh3-1CO

If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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