The Humpty Dumpty Syndrome in Building Social Communities
Relying on a single platform that you do not have complete and unlimited control of is the first mistake you can make. Relying on a single platform is the second mistake you can make. And relying on someone else’s platform is the third mistake you can make before you even start building a social community. Many people think of a social community as though it was a bunch of people who get together in the same place. As tough it was a group with a strong sense of belonging and unbreakable cohesion. That may be true for the army but definitely not true for online social communities. There are very few niches where the actual community plays a dominant role in the individual members’ life. So much for theory, let’s get down to practice.
What platforms should I use for my Social Community?
Business or Consumer? In either case you will have a LinkedIn Group and a Facebook page, but the emphasis on one or the other will shift with your target group. Both give you access to people social presences, so you can create viral content for FB, and create heated debates on LI.
Twitter. Yes, you need a megaphone, and a way to let people show the love by retweeting your stuff.
Youtube. It is not quite as social as it could be, but it is one of the top 3 search engines, so your presence or absence makes a difference. Also, YT has a very interesting core community that can carry you on its shoulder to the top.
Onlywire. Nope, it is not a community, but it gives you a really easy way to syndicate your content. It is an easy way to share the best of your brand with people on the fringes so you may be able to attract them to one of the above/below mentioned channels.
Standalone platforms such as forums or whitelabel communities. The problem with all the previous ones is that you are dependent on third party services, that while making your life easier, also expose you to significant risks that you need to mitigate. Buddypress, phpBB, MediaWiki… whathaveyou. You can run them on your own domain, on your own server. You can charge for it if you want to. You can make it members only. You can lock out the engines, or let them in.
Also, if you are seriously considering creating online communities, you need to become an early adopter. You cannot let things go haywire without you knowing about them. If there is a new service, try it, register, experiment, if it does not work for you, move on. But make sure your brand is registered on it. You can always come back to it 2 years later when it actually took off and skyrocketed. But if you only try to join once it went through the roof, someone else may have already snatched up your keyword or brand.
And I left Google Plus (G+) as the last item on the list. Go for it. It is not yet fully mature, but hey, you are an early adopter, so you gotta give it a try. And don’t forget your gplus.to custom URL to go with it.
On a closing note, not all of these are going to perform equally well. Some will fail, others will succeed. Be prepared for both. There is nothing quite as sad as seeing a thriving online community wither because it is ill- or mis-managed. And don’t expect any success if you do not make any effort. Online social communities don’t grow on trees.