Last Sunday (22nd September, 2013) I was lucky enough to attend a Guardian Masterclass on building online communities. Below is a brief rundown from the most informative and interesting speakers on the day.

Whether you’re doing some simple social media engagement, content marketing, or trying to build a full blown online community, I think you’ll find some useful insights below.

The Power of Online Communities, and How They Might Benefit Your Business

Speaker #1: Joanna Geary – Social & Communities Editor, The Guardian

Joanna talked about the different reasons why communities are important to business. She compared helping to run operational tasks such as customer support like giffgaff to the more traditional idea of using a community as a marketing platform. Joanna also mentioned the idea that you don’t necessarily need to create your own community, it may be better to go to an existing large community and carve out your niche within it. moo.com did this successfully with business card designs through flickr

Joanna shared an interesting statistic that 61% of Generation Y are making their purchasing decisions based on social media and review sites. However this came with the caveat that you should not go to these communities with solely monetary gain in mind, and instead be inspired with a desire to share and contribute on something you are passionate about. After all, if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing – is there really any point in doing it anyway?

Joanna also mentioned the Cluetrain Manifesto. Originally written in 1999 this document is still extremely relevant in today’s social world. Its general message is about contributing value in a genuine way and in a human voice not bound by traditional corporate language. You can read a full overview of it at www.cluetrain.com.

Joanna also talked about measuring the results of your efforts, while being careful not to treat people like numbers, statistics, or ‘eyeballs’. Measuring is incredibly important and each organisation will have different units of measure that are most valuable to them. These could be;

  • Unique Visitors
  • Volume of Traffic
  • Repeat Visitors
  • Web Registrations
  • Number of Comments

Or whatever is most important to your goals. These can be measured with a variety of tools such as Google Analytics, Chartbeat, Alexa, and Technorati.

Finally, Joanna left us with a warning. Never, ever make the common assumption that the community will eventually run itself. You need to be constant and consistent in your engagement, including;

  • Thanking them for contributing
  • Ask questions on topics you want to write about
  • Find out their passion points
  • Give them reasons to login and engage

Building Communities with Content

Speaker #2: Laura Oliver – Community Manager, The Guardian

The second speaker on Sunday, Laura defined two distinct types of communities;

Short term, in the moment, communities that are centered around an event and are typically subject to a high volume tweeting and and information sharing in a short space of time.
Long term, established communities, that are developed around a subject or on-going topic.

The second of these requires the most nurturing and consistent attention. You need sustained engagement and understand the views and interests of your community and audience. You should have a good level of understanding on how your readers will react to different stories.

Consistently engage. If there is a flood of activity which you cannot respond to individually in the short term then let them know this and ask for their cooperation.

How to Make Something Utterly Shareable

Speaker #3: Luke Lewis – UK Editor, BuzzFeed

Luke gave some very good points on how to achieve virality with your content. While the typical reader may be very different to yours, his comments were broad enough to offer value to anybody looking to produce more shareable content marketing.

Luke encouraged marketers to be data obsessed. Learn about your readership and what type of articles offer the most shares, and to stop thinking about SEO it really opens you up to be creative.

Know your platform and what pieces work with those audience. For example, Buzzfeed targets the follow platforms with specific posts:

  • Facebook – Posts that relate to personal identity (graphical location, sex, generation)
  • Pinterest – Topics that a female audience relate to (Home DIY Tips / Lifehacks)
  • Twitter – Topics surrounding the media and recent events (Newsworthy, Literature)

Luke also said that to get virility, rather than go for a broad topic that you think a lot of people will relate to, it is better to go for a niche. Hit a small section of the population well, something they will identify with. Here’s a great Buzzfeed example: 26 Signs You Grew Up on a Scottish Island

Luke’s tips when creating content:

  • Make it mobile friendly
  • Think visually (photo based)
  • Be Original
  • Humourous
  • Timely

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 10.53.45

What makes people share:

  • Awe 24%
  • Association 18%
  • Anger 13%
  • Grief 11%
  • Inspiration 6%
  • Happiness 28%
  • Negativity doesn’t share (although Anger comes in #3)

When producing list-based articles, Luke also mentioned the funny realisation that odd numbers are shared more than even. The idea is that a specific, odd, number in a title like 21 cooking tips that will change your life sounds more realistic and less engineered titled like  “10 Tips to a Better Life”, where some of the tips might just be there to make up numbers.

Engaging the Influencers; Developing an Audience of Advocates, Both Online and Offline

Speaker #4: Sarah Drinkwater – Google+ Local

Sarah split the digital and physical world and suggested that to really invest in your success you need to work on building audiences in both.

Online:

Sarah discussed the difference between ‘Power Users’, being the 0.5% of your audience that make up your actually user base, the 19.5% which have been to your website between 2-5 times, and the 80% who visit your site once never to return. She suggested focusing your engagement on your power users and producing content to convert the one time visitors.

In order to successfully engage and develop your audience, you need analytics. Analytics allow you to build repeatable, scalable campaigns. Set goals, and measure success. All of these help to gain buy-in from senior staff as they provide reportable results.

There are several things to offer that motivate your ‘power users’ and keep them coming back;

  • Tangible Rewards – Physical or Monetary Gain
  • Intangible rewards – Digital Rewards e.g. Karma, Status etc.
  • Altruism – “I use this site because it helps others”
  • Utility “I use this site because it is helpful to me”

Offline

Sarah recommended going for coffee with lots of people. Finding the influences and early adopters in your industry and connecting with them in real life can have huge benefits. It doesn’t have to be big sell, just let them know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and how you could help each other.
Sarah’s Golden Rules:

  • Authenticity
  • Be thoughtful when you target your audience
  • Ask for feedback
  • Measure, measure, measure
  • Talk to influences

I think Sarah’s golden rules appropriately sum up what was a very informative Sunday. There are no quick wins or short cuts in build a community. You need to be enthusiastic and engaged in the topics and if you can successfully transfer this emotion to your audience then they will respond well. Set realistic goals and make sure you know when you hit them.