As I write this post I am sitting on a plane with Lindy on our way to Phoenix to speak at the Converge conference, and I’m about three quarters of the way though Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel. It’s a 101-level social media marketing book (Joel is President of the digital marketing agency Twist Image) about the power of a connected world as it specifically relates to marketing, personal branding, and entrepreneurship.
In among the good foundation basics of the book, I’ve come across three slightly more advanced gems about building community online that I wanted to pull out and share with you, that might be interesting for associations to think about.
First is the idea that community building can happen through â€œfaith-based initiativesâ€ (a term first coined – in this context â€“ by Avinash Kaushik). This concept has to do with giving value away for free, in order to be able to charge for deeper, more focused value offerings later. Now, in the association blogosphere we’ve been debating â€œfreeâ€ as a membership business model for quite a while â€“ this point is not about that. This concept is specifically about how something given away for free might have the potential to create and nurture community by being a social object used to connect people to each other and to the organization. Think of the association as portal. Or an IdeaStorm-like â€œvolunteer town squareâ€ online for posting and searching volunteer opportunities, for example, could be such a faith-based initiative. A great blog that provides information, conversation and connection could be one. A growing research database/wiki of specific information, that people are keen to add their input to, maybe? I wonder what other examples might be out there. But the point being that value or valuable content, given freely and available to all, can in and of itself connect people and build community.
The second idea I picked up on is the concept of viral expansion loops. This is to do with spreading word of mouth â€“ which is gold for any organization â€“ but in a way that involves not just individual to individual â€œtelling a friendâ€ , but where the individual needs to bring in the collective weight of his or her outpost social networks in order to get full value. The research database I mentioned above would be an example of that (the more people and data the better the research), or something like the Associapedia wiki â€“ things that provide more value the more people participate. Another good example of a potential viral expansion loop for associations is a popular white label social network – as long as it’s open, and not private, to attract new people in who are already connected in other public outposts to the network members. This concept is also about niche interests – what associations are all about – a deeply engaged hub of people connected to a very specific field of interest who are able to engage and invite their colleagues from outside the association into the space. The growth of the community, specifically, adds value to the community – not because of numbers but because of the richness of the resulting data or content.
The third idea is about Digital Darwinism, the survival of the fittest online, which is unpredictable, another way of saying “it’s not about the tools”. It’s not about coming up with the coolest viral video or just adding a Twitter account or Facebook page to your communications arsenal. “Digital Darwinism favors the community, not the creator or enabler of content”.
“The challenge is this: Digital Darwinism will work for you (as evolution, not extinction) based on what your users, community members, and readers do with your content. If you don’t have any of these, you won’t evolve. If you have readers and users but they’re not active (taking part, reading, adding their own comments, passing your information around), again, you will become extinct”.
And the key to creating value, to creating community based on those social objects that will entice your users to do things in your space? “There is one common thread that you always find it all successful programs that take on a life of their own: They are awesome. They are smart, engaging, and able to delight. They offer a holistic brand experience.”
Or in Umair Haque’s words in the Awesomeness Manifesto, “Awesomeness happens when thick — real, meaningful — value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off.”
The three lessons here?
1. Share freely.
2. Make your members want to bring in others.
3. Be awesome.