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Community Management

Community Management – Let’s Get this Party Started

Getting an online community off the ground.

Community Management Tidbits – Let’s Get this Party Started

Let’s Get this Party Started! You’ve made the decision to have a forum on your website. Great!

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It can be for any number of reasons, such as to cut the number of lower level technical support calls, to generate buzz for various advertising campaigns, to generate sales leads, or maybe to bring together people interested in a common cause. And you have a site with forums, done up in Drupal, or maybe using a PHP application out of the box. Or it might exist on Facebook exclusively. Or perhaps you’ve conjured up your own proprietary software.

And … nothing.

You’ve got no users, no content, no conversations. The community should be a hubbub of activity, a virtual village. Instead, you’re stuck with a ghost town.

Whaddaya do now?

Don’t panic.

Recognize that no one wants to be first attendee at a party. So, you’ve got to get the party started. But how?

Success?

For any website to succeed, you need to be strong in four areas:

  • Design
  • Metrics/Measurement
  • Contentand
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

So let us operate under the assumption that you’ve got the first two set (and, if you don’t, make sure you fix, perfect and beautify your design as much as possible). If you’re not already getting metrics, go get Google Analytics and Yahoo Site Explorer and get started on Compete (Compete takes a few months to gather data, so get cracking now). Add Alexa and Quantcast if you wish, as well.

Now with those two set, you can, fortunately, work on the other two together. First of all, let’s work on some elementary Search Engine Optimization. SEO divides into optimizing onsite and optimizing offsite. So start with a few basic offsite measures. It used to be that you had to submit your site to the DMOZ Directory. Yahoo runs this human-edited directory. At this point in time, that advice is out of date. Don’t worry about it. You can do just fine with social media and indexing on social bookmarking sites instead.

Submit your site to the follow social bookmarking sites:

There are any number of others but these are the really big ones and give you the most bang for the buck (most readers) versus others out there. You don’t need to pay some service to do this. It will all take you less than half an hour, no lie.

Content

For onsite SEO, let’s move onto Content. Because the two are intimately intertwined. Furthermore, your future users are going to want to see topics. And they are going to want to see them started by a number of different people. You’ll need to pull in some friends for this, and divide the new topics up as much as possible. Be sure to start with topics like this:

  • Welcome to the New Members/Getting to Know You
  • Basic News from outside your company, about you (if you’ve got a company blog or press page already, link to them here and
  • A few (say, half a dozen) topics showcasing your best keywords but are written for humans to read

Keywords

That brings us to keyword research. Go to your competitors’ sites, right-click and select “View Source”. Which keywords are they using? Consider using similar if not the same ones. So if your site is about, say, infant and child care, your main keywords and key phrases are probably going to be words and phrases like infant, child, child care, childcare, children, baby, babies, pregnancy. Do Google searches using these keywords and key phrases, with and without the words forum or community added. Look at those sites’ keywords and key phrases as well. Because you want to keep thinking of terms that your target audience will use for their own searches. Incorporate these words into your site and into the titles of some of your first topics.

Look at synonyms! If baby works better than infant, then use baby in the title but you can still put infant within the body of the post. Think like someone searching. What are they really looking for?

Specifics

Don’t be afraid to be specific, for the child care site, try topics on such subjects as teething, sibling rivalry and readiness for kindergarten. Keep the keywords in the titles if you can logically and grammatically put them there.

Consider some really niche topics, such as handling siblings who are acting out because one child has special needs or a terminal illness. Because searchers are looking for those answers as well.

Now, you’ve got some content, and you’re getting some SEO, even if you are still low in rankings (don’t worry, it’s percolating). But you still need users. Here’s where invitations come in. You, me, all of us – we have online networks. We’ve got friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter and a network on LinkedIn, and a whole host of other groups of online acquaintances. Plus we’ve got friend and family email addresses.

Invitations

So craft an invitation. Make it polite, pleasant, simple and short. Be definite about what your forums are about (e. g. write more than “Please check out my site.”). In particular, if you know people who like forums (perhaps you already regularly post on some other forums site, even if the main subject is radically different), invite those people. And do this in small doses, say, 30 people at a time. This will keep an influx of new members from overwhelming you. And you can greet everyone personally, at least to start. Furthermore, it will add to the feeling of exclusivity that a small site can engender. Don’t worry if people start inviting others to your site, even people you’ve never heard of before. Because this is a good thing. You want them to do this.

So look for sites to link to you, and be sure to get reciprocal links. Consider adding Google News Reader, and a blog to provide directed quality content if you don’t already have one. Furthermore, it will keep your users updated as to outages and new features as you add them. Add a Facebook fan page for your site, although I’d recommend waiting at least a little while after launching. After all, if no one likes you on Facebook, you’ll have the same issue. It’s trying to attract people who don’t want to be first. Furthermore, you’ll need at least 30 Facebook fans (that number may rise in the future) to get metrics. And then you can really get this party started.

But above all, have fun. And get this party started!

Next: Look at Me! Look at Me!

By Janet

I'm not much bigger than a breadbox.