Building An Online Community (Tool #1: Blog)

For the next few months, I will be putting on the hat of an Online Community Marketing Manager and pretending as if I’m starting my own from scratch. For simplicity reasons, let’s assume I’ve already got all the back-end server stuff taken care of.

Some questions to ponder about building an online community are:

  • who will participate?
  • how much time with contributors need to spend on the tool(s)?
  • how long does it take to see results and how are these measured?
  • how will the online community integrate with other promotional and communication efforts?
  • should you allow comments?

Some corporations have only a few bloggers, usually expert thought-leaders, and others have a wide range of employee bloggers (like Sun and IBM). Figuring out what best fits the company’s culture is very important. Either way, here’s a good blog policy to follow (created by sun).

The next important question to ask is why you are blogging. How can you align the blog with the online community and most importantly, the overall messaging of the company. Here’s a few steps to do this:

  1. What is the corporate message? Write it down on a piece of paper and figure out how you can achieve this
  2. How can you shape the blog to support and coincide nicely with your company’s overall strategy?
  3. What trends and topics are hot in your industry? Visit sites like technorati to find out. Using tools like Google Alerts to keep up with the market. You need to be 100% up to date.
  4. Who should blog? An individual, a group, or the whole company?

It’s one thing to create tools and push them out there, but its another to have a strategy and a goal for them. They must be part of the value chain that ultimately leads to the corporate message. The blog should spark conversation within the industry, somehow promote the company’s image, and be used as a knowledge base for all.

There are a few important aspects of blogging that serve beneficial and could help jump start other community marketing tools as well:

  • Tagging – the method of categorizing information by topic, idea, customer, solution, etc
    • Taxonomy – formal categories grouped by data hierarchy, data relationship, and data type
    • Folksonomy – allowing users the power to define categories to make info easy to search, find, and store (i.e. flickr)
  • Webfeeds, RSS – allow sumarries and/or full text entries to be read in feedreaders (MyYahoo, Google Reader)
  • Comments – allow all comments, only delete spam. This fosters a dialog between multiple individuals at a time
  • Web Analytics – how will traffic be analyzed? Google Analytics is a great tool. What stats must every blog have?

These are all things a Community Manager must take into account and be ready for. Just the first step in creating a blog, but there’s more. What about other help docs? If I were to create help docs (as few as possible), they’d have the following titles (in no particular order):

  1. How to incorporate blogs with Flickr
  2. Best Practices for blogging: Blogging 101
  3. Blogging etiquette: What should and should not be said
  4. How to become social and up-to-date with industry trends
  5. Blog Analytics Essentials: How to make sense out of graphs and stats

Last, but not least, the role of a Community Marketing Manager is important. This person must possess certain characteristics in order to successfully evangelize the importance of such tools and to keep a program growing. Jeremiah has the 4 Tenets of a Community Manager, which are very difficult to uphold.

This should be enough for now. Please let me know how you’re doing…what roadblocks are you facing? Maybe we can help each other!