SocialEngine Blog

How To Build A Social Network

An online community is more than a flash-in-the-pan marketing or CPC campaign. It’s not something you just ‘set and forget.’ Merriam Webster defines a community as, “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” It’s more important than Facebook Fans, Twitter followers or just about anything you can do on LinkedIn. It can take care of itself, help its members, share experiences and create new ones. 

But how the hell do you start building an online community?

It’s a question I see online nearly every single day. In fact a quick search in Google brings back 503,000,000 results!

How to Build an Online Community

An online community is made up of red-blooded human beings, not Google crawlers. Do your homework and talk to others on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Reddit, or wherever else your potential community hangs out. If you’re looking to build an online community from the ground up there’s no better way to connect with someone than on existing social media channels.

Connections

Without connections there is no online community. It’s that simple.

Click to Tweet!

 

But where do you start?

What if you don’t have time for focus groups, email surveys or spending countless hours conducting your own research?

Don’t worry, because the best way to find out what’s most important to your future community is to:

Talk to people that share the interest that your community embodies

It doesn’t matter how small your sample size might be. Don’t worry about that for one second. What’s important here is to ask:

a) “Would you want to be a part of something that connects you to others that share your interests?”
b) “What are you looking to get out of this experience?”

I’m positive that you’ll get some sort of reaction that will help you. Maybe you’ll even get some negative responses! (Remember, a negative response can often be even more valuable than a positive response.) Either way, you’ll have some data to move forward with from your intended audience as to what’s most important to them.

Engage

Engaging is Caring

Some people respond to everything while others never respond. Ultimately how you respond is up to you but if you see a question that you know the answer to and it won’t take any skin off your nose, why not answer it and help someone out?

Naturally once your community is thriving it will be difficult to respond to every little thing and that’s ok! But if someone took the time out of their day to read what you posted and then either shared, liked, commented or performed any other sort of action, it would only help you and your community to follow up with them in some way.

I remember hearing somewhere that it’s best to give every comment a hug. Even if you don’t have time now at this moment to do so, just say thanks. It really goes a long way.

Appreciate

Know how to recognize your community members

Let’s say we want to take ‘giving thanks’ just one step further and formally call out specific members who have been nothing short of exceptional. We’re talking about the select group of people who have been promoting your upcoming community on their own channels and telling all of their friends about it. Maybe these are the same guys who have helped you test a certain Beta program :)

THANK YOU!

Your appreciation will encourage them to come back and spend more time with your online community in the future. In addition to thanking them, consider:
  • Prizes, vouchers, coupons, giveaways…anything to reward whomever you think deserves it
  • Ask for their opinion and then actually implement it
  • Find a way to do something ‘offline’

There are hundreds of ways to say, ‘Thanks!’ that might even be a better fit for your particular niche. Say you’re in the music business, you could give certain members tickets to a concert or a free guitar lesson. If you’re creating an online community centered around kombucha? (niche, I know) but maybe you could send a member a case of GT’s Kombucha.

Whatever you decide, if you make sure it’s meaningful they’ll love you for it!

Make it easy on them

Copy & Paste is so 1999

Click to Tweet!

 

Try to avoid any and all complications for your members. Make it frictionless for people to:

  • sign up
  • share to various social networks with a click of a button
  • message other members privately
  • search for people who share similar interests  relevant information
  • find out what’s going in their area

Be ready to answer questions, explain yourself and respond quickly.

Get out of the way

Like small children, sometimes community members just want to be set free

If you want to build an online community around your brand, service, product, etc., the best thing you can do is get out the way. To put it another way, create a space for people to gather and give them the tools they need to communicate effectively with each other.

This is why some online communities flourish while others die. Successful online communities create an easy way for members to find like-minded individuals and then connect with them without having technology steal the show. In fact the less that people are aware of what’s going on behind the scenes, the better.

Great online communities stick out by seamlessly blending technology and relationship building.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

…and neither will your community be

A real online community won’t happen overnight, these things take time. It’s important to focus on consistent growth and building your community one person at a time, attracting the RIGHT person and eventually, the conversation will flow naturally.

Bottom Line

This may look like a lot to consider but at the end of the day, there is nothing like a well built community. Period.

  • rony

    Excellent article. Very educative & honest. I totally agree that time is an important aspect & continuous update is very important to any community.

    • http://drewfrey.com/ Drew Frey

      Thanks @disqus_zF6R00hyG2:disqus

      Are you active in a particular online community already or looking to start one?! Please let me know how I can help!

      -Drew

      • http://www.facebook.com/todwongo Odwongo Timothy

        Drew I really like your article, am looking to start an online community with SE5 as soon as you launch, am not technology survey and was wondering if I can contact you immediately after you launch to get some valuable advice to smooth-en out my setup.

        • http://drewfrey.com/ Drew Frey

          Hey @facebook-609341399:disqus thanks a lot for the response. I’d be happy to help point you in the right direction using SE5!

          You can get at me on Twitter at @FreyDrew and when the time is right, shoot me a DM, reply…or whatever!

          Cheers!

          • http://www.facebook.com/todwongo Odwongo Timothy

            Thanks in advance

      • http://twitter.com/bucklea Andy Buckle

        Hi Drew. Great article, I think the advice is spot on, building a community does take time! I built a community website using SE4 (www.cannybet.com) that I launched in July. I’ve had quite a few page views from about 35 unique visitors, but so far only a couple of friends have signed up.

        Do you think nobody is signing up because there’s only me on there updating the website with posts, which might put people off? Shall I start to proactively try and get users to sign up and post content rather that putting cannybet.com ‘out there’ (mainly on Twitter and Facebook) and hope people will respond? Thank you for any comments.

        Andy

        • http://drewfrey.com/ Drew Frey

          Thanks for the kind words @twitter-541606965:disqus

          I’m sure that if you built a community around sports betting, you’re pretty passionate about the subject at hand, right?! So from your personal experience, do you know of anyone in your field that shares your passion?

          What about bloggers? Think of 10-20 bloggers that speak to sports betting and also provide tips/tricks. Once you have that list, reach out to them (via email, Twitter, or Facebook…whatever works.) Get them as excited about the community as your are!

          Even if you talk with a few people a week that love your particular niche, your community will grow.

          It’s about finding the RIGHT person.

          Thanks again Andy.

  • http://twitter.com/clareyt Clare

    Love this post!

  • http://twitter.com/natespees Nate Spees

    Great stuff, Drew!

    • http://drewfrey.com/ Drew Frey

      Thanks @twitter-14530669:disqus !

  • Monti

    To have an awesome online community you need an awesome community platform.
    So, when are you releasing SE5, hu? I can’t wait :D

    • http://drewfrey.com/ Drew Frey

      Glad to hear that you’re digging SE5 @disqus_h7ly1lYMbg:disqus ! (Thanks for all of your comments, feedback and all-around participation btw. MUCH appreciated.)

  • mitcharno

    Drew, really like your ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ comment. Me thinks people forget that you can’t force relationships or traction. You can however feed them over time however and watch your community grow. Problem with that plan is that many seem to be impatient and want it done yesterday ;-) Nice post!

    • http://drewfrey.com/ Drew Frey

      Thanks Mitch! Living in a ‘now’ society means that some of our business goals demand, ‘now’ results. Like you said, you cannot force relationships. These forced connections do not last overtime however, the ones that are slowly cultivated through honesty and just being a human being are the connections that can have such a lasting impact.

      Appreciate the comment Mitch.

      • mitcharno

        Agree Drew. I think 1 of the challenges is to show ‘return’ or, demonstrate growth in this type of setting. I’m all for qualitative measurements but find clients sometimes having a hard time hearing about ‘return on relationship’. Cheers-

  • http://onlinebz.com/ OnlinebzDOTcom

    The most important also the hardest thing to do is to grow the user base. I believe there is no shortcut to that. Just like you said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”