Building my own community

Apologies for the light blogging of late. I’ve just been super busy and – if I am honest – a bit lacking in inspiration.


I’m starting a new online community based around people like you: folk who read this blog, get my newsletter and take part in my webinars.

I’m guessing that we all have quite a lot in common – problems, solutions, stories, knowledge – and that it makes sense to share what we have as a group.

Also I will be creating special content to go into this community that won’t be on my blog or other online spaces – all of which will be created based on what you, the community, ask for.

Right now for example, there’s a video tutorial explaining how digital capability is being approached at the Department of Health, where I am working at the moment.

I’m not building something huge here. My aim is to have a nice, small, manageable group of people who all contribute and help each other out. I’ll leave the empire building to others 🙂

If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, just head over to the community where you can sign up for an account.

I look forward to chatting with you!

Minimum viable community

I was invited by James Cattell the other day to accompany him to a meeting to talk about what the best community software platforms are.

I think we rather disappointed the people we talked to, in that neither of us could recommend a particular system.

Instead we both advocated, in effect, a minimum viable community. Start with the simplest, lowest common denominator technology available. Something you know that everyone has access to, and they are used to using.

When people start bumping against the limitations of the technology, they might start suggesting new ways of doing things. This is the time to start thinking about what else could be done – when there is a user demand within your community.

The point is that picking a technology winner too early will put off some of your users – whether because they don’t like what you’ve chosen, or they aren’t comfortable with it, or because it doesn’t work for them.

Concentrate on getting members for your community and get them engaged, and when they start to want to do new things, let them guide you.

If you’re interested in building and managing online communities, you might like to sign up for my free upcoming webinar on the subject!

Loving lurkers

I couldn’t agree more with Mozilla’s Laura Hilliger:

We can’t force people to participate, and if we really care about educating people, we shouldn’t try. We should build and design for the people who are participating, and we should be careful to ensure that the lurkers feel welcome. We should create safe spaces of learning and mentorship where even those who don’t complete the call to action still start to develop trust in us, in our products. The fact is you are always a lurker before you participate, so we should be careful not to push people away by implying that they don’t count if they aren’t like us. If we work to love our lurkers, maybe some of them will find their reason to participate.

Developing your Yammer group

There are lots of guides out there on using Yammer, the internal social networking tool – how to set up a network, build your profile and so on.

However, that’s not all there is to Yammer and a key skill is community building, particularly if you are running a group.

Now, Yammer is a pretty easy to use bit of software. Many of the ways of making your group work as an effective community however, are nothing to do with software and everything to do with human behaviour.

Here are five tips to designing a Yammer group to succeed. A lot of the advice can be applied to any online community, too, so even if you don’t use Yammer, it ought to help.

  1. Make it look fun

This is key. If you want people to join your Yammer group and get engaged with it, you want to make it an attractive looking thing to do.

Things to consider:

  • The name of your group – make it sound nice and welcoming and don’t be tempted to make it sound all corporate and dull
  • The image you use as the group’s icon – again, avoid the dull corporate approach. Is there a fun joke you can make with the image? Pop culture and retro TV references are always a winner
  • Your short description – you only have a few words to make your Yammer group sound like the sort of thing a normal person would want to join. Use them wisely!
  • The longer information text you can add to the sidebar – this is where you can go into more detail, and perhaps add in some of the more serious work stuff that your group is about
  1. Start small and grow organically

It’s very tempting when starting something new to be excited and enthusiastic about it – quite right too! However, with any online community, it’s a good idea not to shout too loudly, particularly in the early days.

After all, when it has just started, your community is likely to be a bit short of content and activity. You don’t really want hundreds of visitors to stop by and perhaps be disappointed by what is on offer.

The way to get around this is to start small when it comes to inviting people in. Don’t do a big launch but gradually get more people involved, so that the levels of content and activity in your group are in sync with the number of people visiting.

  1. Engage the engaged

As part of the start small approach, who should you get involved first? You might be tempted to reach out to new people, to instantly get a return on your new group by being able to point to new audiences being engaged with your work.

However, it’s far better to get people involved early who you can rely on to make a strong contribution. Much of the culture of an online community is set by early members, so make sure the people you encourage to join will exhibit the sort of behaviour you want to encourage in your group.

  1. Give people a reason to join

If you are at a stage where you want to give your membership a boost, how do you get people to sign up?

One way is to make it so people have to be a member to get something they want.

As an example, say you run some training and want to share the slides and other resources with those that attended. Rather than emailing them around, why not upload them to the Yammer group, so that people need to be there to be able to access them?

  1. Keep up the flow

As a community manager, it’s vital to keep up a flow of activity. How quick that flow is, and how much of it you need will depend on the topic of your group and the personalities of those involved.

You will be in the best position to decided what the best flow for your group is – how often new discussions ought to be seeded, for example, or how many times documents ought to be shared for comment.

You don’t want the flow to dry up – people will lost interest – but then you also don’t want it to become a flood because people will be scared off.