Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space. Follow her @marenhogan.
Build a Strong Community for Entrepreneurs
I started my career as a community manager for recruiting professionals, many of whom were entrepreneurs. Providing a safe place for people to ask questions, share experiences, participate in chats and yes, even lurk, was incredibly valuable not just for them but for me. People, especially those isolated by region, circumstance or profession, really needed the validation that comes from talking with your peers. Communities are also important because they provide a way to get out of a tunnel vision mindset and meet like-minded people. Tough problems become less sticky when someone has gone through them, even if they did it the wrong way.
Learn the Difference Between a Community and a List of Customers or Subscribers
The difference is the conversation. In an email list, the communication is almost entirely one way, and responses are rarely if ever shown to the larger community. Someone directs the conversation. But in a community, the conversation exists between the community organizers, members and even visitors with a level of transparency that’s attractive, especially to those who prefer not to be part of the conversation until they understand “the rules.” This does more than serve the eager-to-jump-in extroverts, it also benefits the more reticent introverts. The difference between subscriber and community is as different as reading a book and playing a game.
Establish a Community Around or Within Your Business
People so often think that having a community means giving up control over their brand or opening themselves up to criticism. And in some cases, those things do happen and are necessary. But allowing different voices in (with parameters firmly in place) allows the conversation to go beyond your community. From a management standpoint, you can help it along by encouraging participants. People want to interact with you and the people who work with you, so give them the opportunity to do just that! Contests, articles and live chats are all great “catalyst events” that can grow the community but don’t rely on members too heavily.
Encourage everyone to participate, even if their ideas aren’t new (no one’s are!) and if you see someone being bullied, enforce your rules. It’s also imperative to keep some old school practices intact, like consistent email communication, friendly UX and design and current technology infrastructure. Don’t introduce a new process until you’ve gained traction with the ones you’ve already introduced so your community doesn’t get confused with the scale. Finally, ask for feedback from those who were there from the start and from new members to get a perspective of what the community needs from YOU.
Learn From the Past
If I could do something differently, I would rely more heavily on visual mediums and incorporate video blogging into the mix. It is very hard to make visual outreach a habit for me, and if we’d introduced it to the community earlier, it might have grown in different directions.
Leverage Skills, Expertise and Value to Serve Your Business
To get leverage, we used our community to build out an incredible event recently. We’re in a smaller market and few people thought we could pull off a large conference, but with the help of our “tribe,” both in our local area and around the country, we made it happen. It was an incredible feeling to know that when you call on people to present, volunteer and pitch in, you can count on them. I just need to make sure I return the favor!