What works for Dell might not work for you!

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You are reading all these great stories about online communities. Yes – hot topic these days. Suddenly all your problems will be solved: from sales, customer service/support to innovation. Easy – isn’t it? Lots of great examples: Dell is making tons of money on Twitter, the same for JetBlue. So you are rolling up your sleeves: let’s build a community.

After you go through your list of family and friends, asking them to join your online community, you continue to neighbors… Then you start loosing all the excitement. Your online community is at about 100 members with marginal level of activity. Your brand and products are not well known. You stuck!

Instead of giving up, its time to re-evaluate your community building strategies:

– Are you just talking about your company and products? If your brand is not well known that might not work;

– Constant promotions and coupons and offerings of your products at discounted prices [@DellOutlet example] probably will not work well for your somewhat unknown brand;

– Are you using the right platform for your community? Should you use just one or many? How to choose?

– Do you have a content strategy?

These are some of the questions you need to address to determine the right set of steps you need to take to continue development of your community.

Your community building strategies will go through transformations and adjustments as your community will move from one to the next maturity level.

Based on my experience building online [and face-to-face] communities for very different subject areas I came up with the following definitions of stages of community development:

Stage 1 – growing from 0 to 50 members [family and friends stage];

Stage 2 – growing from 50 to 100 members [learning the audience];

Stage 3 – growing from 100 to 500 members [understanding the content and community management strategy];

Stage 4 – growing from 500 to 1,000 members [early maturity stage];

Stage 5 – from 1,000 members and up [maturity phase – main focus on community management; getting into viral growth mode].

Each of these phases dictates the use of different strategies and techniques. The overall methodology as I have learned by building many communities is the same.

The success of your business going forward will greatly depend on your ability to build, grow and manage communities.

Do not give up – re-think your strategies; do not blindly apply someone else’s techniques to your business. .Constantly monitor the health of your community. Measure against the goals and adjust!

What were your learnings from building online communities – mostly interested in stories of brands that are not well known and do not have endorsements from well know personas – typical SMB companies.

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