If you are looking at how to “garden”, that is foster, your online communities, you are probably also wondering how exactly to achieve it. I’ve come up with three different approaches that I call “Keep It In The Family”, “The Great Escape” and “The Trojan Horse”.
A Keep it in the family
You’ve established that you want to use social networking to align yourself with a particular group. It is probably rather a small network, leaders in a particular industry, for example, and limited in number to, say, 50 -100 people. Your community, despite individuals’ success, is none too sophisticated about, indeed nervous of, social media. What they do want is to be able to network in a safe and enclosed environment where they can exchange ideas with their peers. The solution is an off-the-shelf social networking bit of kit. Here are the pros and cons:
- It’s closed, so secure – there is a guarantee to members that they will only network with those they know and not be approach by people they do not know
- Unlike a web-hosted, downloadable social media application, you can, at least, put up your own advertising
- It is going to take a lot of work to get it going and to keep it going
- You are going to have to get involved in the build
- It’s closed
B The Great Escape
Forget all that and set up a group in LinkedIn (or Facebook, or MySpace) group, whatever is appropriate for your demographics. Take a look at this group, set up for the Future of Social Media Conference. At first, it was hard work getting started, with most discussions and comments generated by our own teams. Then the conference took place within a vast social media bubbleand the LinkedIn group just took on a life of its own. Members now number 290 (as of this evening) and comments on discussion topics number anything up to nine or 10. It is not our group any more but everyone’s group. What are the pros and cons:
- Setting up a LinkedIn group is free, easy and avoids getting dragged into build
- The networking potential is enormous since you are immediately linked in to the provider’s existing networks.
- You could even go in every day and invite all those names to your group that LinkedIn spews out with whom you might have something in common
- You can brand it but you cannot place any advertising there
- Take care not to try to market yourself to the group too hard and put everyone off
- Note how Julius Solaris, founder of LinkedIn’s Event Planning & Management Group does this very subtly with sponsored meet-ups round the world
C The Trojan Horse
OK, you have already set up or tried the above groups, you’ve got up to speed with how to garden a group and it has really taken off, don’t stop there. Think of the demographics of your target audience. What social networks did they say they used when you surveyed them? Perhaps they are retail managers around 30 with Facebook profiles. They’ve used their profile for fun over the years (exactly the sort of thing that gets the “Keep It In The Family” sorts awake at night) but they have never used it professionally. Try setting up a group that is apprpriate for your demographics and tempt them in. Make their group your group.
UPDATE: Thanks to Keiley Yates for diagrams. Go here to see original, flipchart sketches.