Attributes of Thriving Online Communities

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.19.39 AMI got my start building online communities in 1999 with the launch of TechRepublic.com. We grew from a cold start of 0 to 2 Million members in less than 2 years before being acquired by Gartner – it was an insane ride.

I was first asked the question of (more or less) “What makes a thriving community” during the first few months of our growth, and frankly, I didn’t have a good answer at the time. I was primarily focused on designing the site, rolling out new features (like one of the first peer networks in the space), and tweaking architecture. One night when we were working on what was essentially a Social Q&A feature, I checked into our forums to look for inspiration and ideas around how people typically ask technical questions. What I stumbled into was an exchange in the forums about configuring Windows NT for a very specific enterprise environment. Probably 100 in the entire world were capable of having a meaningful conversation about this topic, and we had attracted 10 of this. For TechRepublic at that time, a thriving community meant attracting the most knowledgeable IT Pros in the world, and incentivizing them to share and participate.

I’ve asked myself the “what makes a thriving community” a lot over the years, especially when my practice takes me into a new domain. What worked at TechRepublic in ’99 and Autodesk in 2001 wasn’t necessarily the same criteria for the large NPO communities and collaboration spaces we did at Forum One, or even the range of communities we built and nurtured at Dell.

I was asked to think about the question again last week, and I put together the following list. Given where brands generally are with their social and community efforts, I feel like this is a good and succinct list – by no means comprehensive – but directionally correct.

Attributes of Thriving Communities

Attribute What it looks like to host: What it looks like to member:
Shared Value Business value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise, & advocacy. Value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise & access.
Shared Identity Members rally around, inhabit, and shape community brand. Helps birth and shape community brand.
Vibrant Participation Visible, regular and quality member participation and contribution. Regular Host presence, contribution and facilitation.
Community Leadership Defined rank and reputation model; extending management to members. Meaningful ranks and status; clear paths to achievement and privileges.
Quality Content Content base growing and evolving to most valuable state. Contribution, curation and feedback to evolve content quality.
Expertise Community attracts and develops SMEs. SMEs from host are regular community participants; opportunity to learn & develop.
Culture of Trust Culture of openness and civility. Members air grievances respectfully. Feel connected to host, part of governance & free to provide critical feedback.
Elegant Experience Mature community & social tools, fantastic UX, committed roadmap. Easy to participate and contribute, needs-driven features.
Growth & Responsiveness Base follows growth curve of brand / product. Base guides features & policy. Steady influx of new & quality members, participation in community governance.

 

What would you add?

Announcing the Online Community Unconference 2013 – We’re Back!

ocu2013_2

File under: blog posts I never thought I would be writing – but excited that I am.

It’s been an interesting journey to get here (and I’m certain it will continue to be), but I’m very pleased to announce that we will hosting the Online Community Unconference in Mountain View, CA on May 21ist.

You can register here. <

The Unconference planning team is rooted in the #OCTribe meetup and is made up of me, Kaliya Hamlin, Randy Farmer, Scott Moore, Susan Tenby, Gail Williams, Rachel Luxemburg and Maria Ogneva. Our plan is to closely follow the successful format of the Online Community Unconferences that ran from 2007 – 2010 in the Bay Area and New York that I produced when I was at Forum One – specifically:

  • Personally inviting key professionals in the industry to ensure a knowledgeable and experienced group
  • Adhering to the principles of Open Space Technology to ensure a quality event experience & maximum content – no filler / no talking head keynotes and no recycled presentations that you’ve seen from “noted experts” at other conferences. This is about real professionals having real conversations
  • A great location in the Computer History Museum
  • A commitment to document the proceedings  – see an example of the Book of Proceedings from the OCU 2009.
  • A fun and collegial environment

I’ll have more details as we get closer to the date, but the key things for now are:

  • Registration is open now with early bird rates @ $85
  • We are currently looking for a modest amount of sponsorship (feel free to email me)
  • Our hashtag is #OCU2013
  • We hope you can join us on 5/21!

And lastly… its nice to be back 🙂

Developing a Social Strategy: Research Project Open for Participation

note: this is cross-posted from the Online Community Report blog.

The next Online Community Research Network project is open for participation. In January, OCRN members discussed and prioritized a long list of topics, and the issue that made top of the list was “Developing Social a Strategy”.
The OCRN chose to study how social media strategy is developed, communicated and implemented because, frankly, so many organizations are actively struggling with the topic. We hope that by getting real-world feedback, advice and experiences from practitioners (read: the folks ACTUALLY doing the work), we can all gain insight in to this important topic.
If you are involved in the development of your organizations Social Media and Community strategy, I would encourage you to participate in a short survey here:
The topics we are exploring in this project include:
  • The definition of social media strategy;
  • The current scope of community and social media efforts;
  • The current state of strategy development;
  • The process organizations are using to develop strategy;
  • Ownership and governance of social strategy;
  • The biggest challenges that executives and teams are facing
I would ask that you please complete the survey by next <strong>Friday, 3/12</strong>. All participants will get a copy of the results.
The tag for this research project is: #socstrat

Online Community Summit 2009

logoWe’re just about 2 weeks away from our 8th annual Online Community Summit in Sonoma, CA, on October 8-9. We have a fantastic speaker and session line-up that I’ve detailed out below.

If you’d like to attend the Summit and you’re a senior online community or social media practitioner, please go here to request an invitation. There are limited tickets still available.

Please note: We restrict attendance of platform and service vendors to those sponsoring the event. If you would like information about sponsoring, please email me.

Check out the event site here for more information.

We have a great group of folks coming, including: Answers.com, Apple, Autodesk, Inc., Cisco, CNN, GlobalGiving, Moshi Monsters, Edutopia, LinkedIn, American Legacy Foundation, SEGA of America, Time Inc. Lifestyle Digital, WestEd, TripAdvisor, Dell, Executive Networks, Inc., Microsoft, REI, Care2.com, Stupski Foundation, The MathWorks, and more.

Event Schedule:

Thursday, October 8th

8:00 – 9:00: Registration / Breakfast

9:00 – 10:00: Introductions & Welcome
Bill Johnston – Chief Community Officer, Forum One Networks
Joi Podgorny – Head of Community, Mindcandy

10:00 – 11:00: Session 1 /Turning to the Crowd: Ideas and Contest Sites
How can you generate great ideas and enthusiasm for your organization at low cost?
Session Lead: Anil Rathi, Idea Crossing
Session Lead: Ryan Wilson, XPrize

11:00 – 11:30: Break

11:30 – 12:30: Session 2 / What You Need to Know About the Mobile Communities Revolution
As mobile usage explodes, the importance of mobile communities is increasing dramatically. We’ll review experiences from Obama to Armani to the American Cancer Society and demonstrate the coming wave of change that will impact your organization.
Session Lead: Kevin Bertram, Distributive Networks
Session Lead: Miles Orkin, America Cancer Society

12:30 – 1:30: Lunch

1:30 – 2:30: Session 3 / Social Marketing & Advertising
Communities and traditional forms of marketing and advertising have historically acted like oil and water. Progress is being made by innovative organizations that involve the community in feedback, permission-based programs and even advertising creation.
Session Lead: Paul Levine, Current.com
Session Lead: Bruce Smith, Answers.com

2:30 – 3:30: Session 4 / Break Out Sessions

3:30 – 4:00: Break

4:00 – 5:00: Session 5 / News Communities
While the importance of PR and marketing hasnʼt changed, the ways to influence major news sites has transformed radically. Weʼll discuss the news landscape and what it means for your organization.
Session Lead: Lila King – CNN.com
Session Lead: Chris Tolles – Topix.net

Friday, October 9th

8:00 – 9:00: Registration / Breakfast

8:00 – 9:00: Community and Good Ideas Demos (open podium)

9:00: Introductions

9:00 – 10:00: Session 6 / Social “ME”dia: Employees as Advocates
How does an organization combine employee passion with social media tools to meet organization goals?
Session Lead: Erika Kuhl, Salesforce.com
Session Lead: Lucia Willow – Pandora.com

10:00 – 11:00: Session 7: / Break Out Sessions

11:00 – 11:30: Break

11:30 – 12:30: Session 8: Operationalizing Social Media – Reshaping the Organization
As social media and community programs move form short term, tactical engagements to longer-term business strategies, organizations must transform to take full advantage of the possibilities. Hear about the topography of the “social organization” from our panel of experts leading the charge to transform their organizations via social media.
Moderator: Rachel Makool, Makool Consulting
Panelist: Larry Blumenthal, Robert Wood Johnson
Panelist: Dawn Lacallade, Solar Winds
Panelist: Jordan Williams, REI

12:30 – 1:00 Conference Close and Wrap up

Some of the current attendees include community and social media practitioners from leading companies including: Apple, GlobalGiving, Autodesk, Inc., Leadership Corps, Moshi Monsters, Edutopia, LinkedIn, American Legacy Foundation, SEGA of America, Time Inc. Lifestyle Digital, WestEd, TripAdvisor, Dell, Inc., Answers Corporation, Executive Networks, Inc., Microsoft, REI, Care2.com, Stupski Foundation, and The MathWorks, Inc.

Webinar – Online Communities: Surviving & Thriving in the Economic Downturn

Online Communities: Thriving in the Economic Downturn Webinar
A FREE webinar sponsored by Forum One Networks
May 7, 2009 @ 11:00 am PDT
Register here: http://thrivesurvive-rpm.eventbrite.com

The economy is in a state of flux, but interest in and use of online communities and social media has never been higher. Hear from a panel of experienced community executives about how they are guiding their community-based businesses through the economic challenges, and hear about the opportunities they see on the horizon.

I’ll be leading an incredible panel that includes Thor Muller of Satisfaction, Chris Kenton of SocialRep and Scott Wilder of Intuit for an in-depth discussion around social media and online community strategies and tactics for surviving and thriving in the economic downturn. Session highlights will include:

– Buffalo culture as a new metaphor for your online business
– How stakeholder attitudes are changing in light of economic pressures
– Why solid community engagement strategies have never been more important (or valuable)
– Rethinking “ROI”
– Advice on how to navigate the downturn
– Budget & staffing implications during the downturn

Please note: Attendance is limited to 200 people. Register early to reserve your spot!

Thor Muller – CEO & Co-founder, Satisfaction
Thor Muller is CEO & Co-founder of Satisfaction, a startup delivering “people-powered customer service for absolutely everything.”

He is also the co-founder and former Managing Director of Rubyred Labs, a San Francisco-based web apps firm. Since its founding in 2005, Rubyred has developed social software for a range of startups and leading portals.

Prior to Rubyred, Thor was a first generation Web entrepreneur, creating Web success stories for companies such as Yahoo, Dell, Bank of America, Intel, Virgin Records, Fujitsu, Discovery Channel, and Sony. In 1995, he started and ran one of the early Web development boutiques, Prophet Communications, later acquired by Frog Design where he served as VP Digital Media. He subsequently founded Trapezo, a venture-funded company that made Web software for syndicating content, acquired by Perfect Commerce in 2002.

Christopher Kenton – CEO & Founder, SocialRep
Christopher Kenton is founder and CEO of the enterprise social media SaaS startup SocialRep, and cofounder and consulting partner at MotiveLab a social media marketing agency. Chris was formerly Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy at the Chief Marketing Officer’s (CMO) Council, and its corporate parent, the international PR firm GlobalFluency, where he managed global business development, client consulting services and program development for business communities including the CMO Council, the Business Performance Management (BPM) Forum and the Forum to Advance the Mobile Experience (FAME).

With an extensive background in strategic marketing and software development, Chris specializes in market development, competitive positioning, marketing effectiveness and measurement, with a special emphasis on marketing technology and social media.


Scott K. Wilder, Group Manager, Intuit

Scott K. Wilder is currently the Group Manager of Intuit’s QuickBooks Online Community and User-Collaboration Web site. Previously, he served as Vice President of Marketing and Product Development at KBtoys.com and eToys. He also has held numerous senior management positions at America Online, Apple Computer, Borders.com, and American Express. While working at America Online, Scott helped create the first Web-based online advertisement and commercial Web site. Wilder has a Master degrees from The Johns Hopkins University, The New York University Leonard Stern School of Business and Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching Program.

Online Community Unconference East – 2009

Our first event of 2009, the Online Community Unconference East is going to be held on February 11 in New York City. We expect 150 online community and social media professionals to attend, and we expect there to be between 30-40 collaborative sessions.

Current attendees include: Google, Edelman, Ebay, Consumer Reports, Deutsche Telekom, iVillage, and others.

To register at the early bird rate of $145 ($195 after 1/19) please go here:
http://ocue2009.eventbrite.com

Last year’s Unconference East was fantastic, and we expect this years to be even better. We had an amazing group in 2008, including:
AOL, MTV, Consumers Union (consumer reports), Cyworld, Business Week, Socialtext, IBM, Mzinga, Spinvox, Twing.com, Salon.com, Harvard Business, MediaBistro, KickApps, HP, TV Guide and Zagat.com.

We also had an amazing list of sessions, including:
– What is necessary to start a successful social network?
– Social Movements/Communities with a Cause:
– Enterprise And Large Organizations Meets Community
– User Managed Communities: where users make the rules
– Community Building: Resources and Considerations
– Virtual Goods 101
– Social Media Optimization
– Customer/Consumer Communities for Co-Innovation
– Twitter Strategies for the Enterprise
– Culture vs. Community: Intention-based content
– Community Analytics: measuring success & failure
– Social Networks: Likes/dislikes and what you want to know
– Virtual Goods and Virtual World Interactions
– Building Enterprise IT: Colloboration & interface to internal systems (using wikis)
– Open ID & other user-centric identity technologies (Higgins, Infocards, SAML)

You can see pictures from the 2008 Unconference here:
http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=ocue2008&w=all&s=int

OCU East 2008 Wiki
The wiki is available if you would like to read the session notes:
http://www.socialtext.net/ocue08/

Register
Again, to register at the early bird rate of $145 ($195 after 1/19) please go here:
http://ocue2009.eventbrite.com

If you currently drive the community or social media strategy for your organization, and you are in (or will be in) the NYC area on 2/11, I would encourage you to come check it out!

We also have several sponsor opportunities open for this Unconference. If you are looking for a cost-effective way to reach NYC community and social media professionals, please contact me about our sponsorship options.

OC Unconference East: What to expect during topic selection

We are just 2 days away from the Online Community Unconference East in NYC. We still have about 5 open seats for those or you in the NYC area. You can register at: http://www.ocue.eventbrite.com

There is a really diverse mix of organizations coming, including: BlogHer Inc., Mediabistro, CMP, HP, Gartner, Autodesk, AOL, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Consumers Union, Zagat, TV Guide, allfacebook.com, Business Week, and Cyworld.

So, how does this work?
The premise of our Unconference series is that the best source of information on the topic of online communities is the community of folks building and managing online communities. The Unconference format provides a venue for folks to lead discussions about topics they are most passionate and knowledgeable about. At the end of the day, attendees walk away with new ideas, perspectives, and a long list of new professional connections.

One of the most amazing parts of the day at our Unconferences is the topic selection process. We are fortunate to have Kaliya Hamlin guiding us through the process again in New York.

The topic selection process starts the Unconference, when any attendee who wishes can come forward, announce a topic, and claim one of the 45-50 open slots on the grid.

Within 35-40 minutes the grid fills up with topics and the first session kicks off. It’s really inspiring to hear all of the topics that are suggested, and to see so many great ideas come together on the grid.

If you would like to see an example of the great content that comes out of an Unconference, please check out the Online Community Unconference 07 wiki. I would encourage you to spend some time looking through the session notes as there is a lot of great content.

Again – we have about 5 seats still available for the Unconference in NYC this Thursday, 2/21. If you would like a seat, register here.

Online Community Expert Interviews: The Best of 2007

I just put together a short list of our best interviews from the Online Community Report for 2007. We had a great group of Community experts sharing their experiences, and I think you will agree that the content is worth a second look.
Shawn Morton, CNET
“The big lesson … was to follow the needs of the community first, not the latest new thing that analysts, journalists or bloggers are raving about… unless your community is geared toward analysts, journalists or bloggers.”

Steve Nelson, Clear Ink
“They (communities) form themselves, so what corporations can do is to foster their organic growth, not force it. Understand that they will be equal players at the table, respect them and let them thrive.”

Lee LeFever, Common Craft

“In my experience, there is a much needed focus on the role of the community manager. Companies are starting to understand that community isn’t a technology that you plug in and leave alone – it’s a way of doing business that takes time and hard work. In the best success stories, there is almost always a person or small group that understands community processes, sets expectations, and balances the needs of the community and the organization.”

Scott Moore, Schwab Foundation

Regardless which definition of ROI you want to use (return on investment, information or interaction), I am hearing more and more community managers who are focusing on helping community members increase their return as a main goal. This doesn’t mean that the organization hosting the community gives up on return, but that it’s not the only bottom line (and it’s not just a monetary bottom line).

Bill Binenstock, CBS Interactive
“The good news about our industry and our space is that there are so many incredibly cool things to do and so much innovation taking place. The bad news about our industry and our space is that there are so many incredibly cool ….”

Guy Kawasaki, Garage / Truemors

Not everything has to be a Google or YouTube to be a “success.” Small sites
can be great “lifestyle” businesses: no outside investors, work in your
underwear at home, and use any Macintosh that you want. Life is good in the
garage.
(editors note: my home office is in my garage, but I generally put pants on)

Jake McKee, Ant’s Eye View
“But even as this awareness grows and the tools get better and better (anyone seen Facebook lately??), we still advise our clients of the same thing we have for years: build relationships, don’t implement tools. Relationships are the crucial part of any “social” activity, whether online or offline, whether business focused or personal.”

Joi Podgorny, Ludorum, Inc.
“It has been said before a ton of times, but I will keep saying it until it becomes common knowledge – Communities are hard work. They take resources to design and plan, but more importantly, they take resources to maintain.”

Susan Tenby, TechSoup

“Enlist your most opinionated and helpful volunteers and create a “management group” of sorts. Connect with them every month, outside of the larger group, if possible, through a conference call, take their agenda items and and help them help make the community a success by forming the structure of your community with their ideas and your vision.”

Know an online community expert with an interesting story to tell? Or are you one yourself? Email me, and you may be the next expert interviewee!

Online Community ROI 2007 – Report Released

We publicly released the Online Community ROI report last week. The research project was conducted as part of the Online Community Research Network agenda, and was initially released to OCRN members in May. The study had many interesting findings, including:

• Only 22% of respondents could clearly articulate ROI on community efforts
• The majority of respondents gave a high priority to establishing an ROI model in the near term
• 49% were reporting some dimensions of value back to management on a monthly basis
• “Value” of online community efforts are contextual to an organizations goals and objectives

Download the full report here, free of charge.

This was cross-posted from the Online Community Report