Community Tip of the Day: Building Community from Scratch

In the last community tip of the day I talked about moderation - that is, the ability to undo, modify or delete user-generated content or prevent access by said users to your community system.

That was the stick part of the equation; the carrot comes now. There will be other posts about community building but here I'd like to cover the basics.

 Who comes, what they do

First, before you ponder anything promotional like FREE HOT PINK T-SHIRTS FOR EVERYONE, you might want to look at the pattern of behavior most community attendees exhibit. I've seen varying figures over the years but this Gartner diagram  matches what I've seen in developing communities at Microsoft and other places. The folks that keep your community lively, policed, and creative tend to be 10% or less of the total number of people who will visit you. And, unless you have pre-seeded your community with active people, all of your power contributors will end up having to move through the stages from lurker to casual participant to more active participant.

Pre-seeding saves you time but may cost you money (or time)

Having folks who are experienced community moderators, leaders in the topics your community is about, or real-world leaders in a community that has just moved online can create a focal point or energy for your community that is hard to achieve when starting from absolute zero. MSN Money forums for example have their normal Money columnists leading discussions in the forums as well as setting the tone/theme for the areas discussed (MP Dunleavy's Women in Red forum really acts as a user group nexus for her various Women in Red personal finance groups around the country).

Another example of pre-seeding though folks may not normally think of it this way, are applications like or Your offline community (yer partying friends) already existed - if only in your mental rolodex - before the event. The software made it possible to meet in meatspace. Your community is short-lived (one birthday party, one fried turkey event) but it's now also a group that can meet again next year. Cost applies to this too, however. To make these friends, you probably bought them beers or bought THEM birthday presents.

Sometimes you don't need pre-seeding or its not possible

Way back in the dawn of the Web (1995) when I founded the Seattle chapter of Webgrrls, there was no such thing as pre-seeding. I was on the hunt for ANY female I could find working on the Web professionally - everyone was an expert because the whole genre of work was so new, and women not that common. If your group is intended to highlight a certain subspecialty or interest - certain kinds of cancer survivors, top executives of X industry, people who LOVE surfing one-legged, then pre-seeding isn't the issue - just finding people who fit is the issue. Here you have to focus on promotion and attracting the lurkers to your door and sifting through those to find the folks for whom the community is built.  In that case, scale and numbers may not be the main goal of your community building - but having the right people, is.

Even in small communities there are always the divas and the catalysts that keep the community growing. You yourself are one, but you need others. Guy Kawasaki put it as "recruit your thunderlizards"  in his excellent blog post on the Art of Creating a Community. Jeff Sandquist nicely noted that the community host is a lot like a bartender - cleaning up the messes, jumping in to make people feel at home and/or leaving them be if the conversation is flowing. if people are attracted to your beer joint, who needs a pre-seeded crew of "welcomers"? All you really need may be yourself as the warm and welcoming guy selling the brew.

Be hospitable

Hospitable is one of those great words that always makes me think of its opposite. ("John Carter's square jaw set as he looked around the icy, cavernous, acid-spewing, hailstorm raining, garbage collecting INHOSPITABLE SANDS OF MARS...").  Chris Brogan has a great post about making a great blog that hits on key points around the crosslinking, writing tone, and attitude that allows bloggers to help each other up to search engine traffic.  I talked before about writing from your best place  which means - be authentic, try not to be a bitch, and in general be generous to your audience. I'm seeing a  trend toward "shorter is better" (hence my long discussion of twitter in a  prior post) but when you think about it: people are busy and they don't have time to read long treatises on the burger you just had.

I've been seeing more research around the net and in the MSR symposiums about the difference between teen attention span and my own. These are kids used to IM, texting, and Facebook updates. They are used to really horrible spelling and video getting its visceral licks in before the brain wielding its text hammers can get in to decipher the content.

(Probably the length of this blog post indicates what an old fuddy duddy I am but that's fine, they can use it for their homework papers on "what was the Internet like in 2008." )

When those kids are CEOs, info compression will be so matter-of-fact that being hospitable in a community may take on new levels of complexity. And yet, certain human impulses will stay the same. Everyone wants to be known by name, like the bartender on the TV show Cheers.Everyone wants to think their contributions matter. Everyone wants the chance to get positive strokes from people they are interested in.  The wavelength can't shorten beyond a certain point or the signal will be lost.

These human foibles are what you will think about when you ponder promoting your community...which will be the next community tip of the day.

Live it vivid!