Making eCommunities Work

Over the last couple of weeks I have got rather (too!) heavily involved in a competition that requires active social media participation from a real life community.  In other words, the final winner is going to be the one who has managed to created an active, vibrant online community powered by social media from an existing real life community that is largely disconnected.  That is a huge challenge but a very interesting one.
Beginning with a Facebook page and a small number of committed individuals, the online community is gradually beginning to grow and that has prompted me to think about how that is happening and what particular things are helping.

I know there is a lot of advice out there about building eCommunities and I am sure there is a lot of academic research too which I haven’t had much time to pursue but the most sensible statement I came across is this:

Communities on the web function much like real-life communities; they unite around a specific focus and often pursue common goals.

It was this that set me thinking about the importance of having someone inhabit the virtual spaces in which the community will function.

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Imagine this:  Your local paper has an article on an issue that you feel strongly about and gives details of an initial meeting of interested folk.  You go along to the meeting to find an empty hall  – a couple of people are busily arranging the furniture and chatting to each other but they ignore you apart from a perfunctory wave in the direction of a chair.  You sit and wait for a while and gradually others drift in and sit in various corners of the room…….. No matter how interesting the subject matter, if you leave the meeting having had no meaningful individual interaction with others you are unlikely to pursue an active role in this community.

Exactly the same is true online.  Tweeting or commenting on a Facebook page is like calling out in a darkened room – if you are ignored enough times you will retreat to a safe corner or leave the room altogether – never to return!  You need to know that your voice has been heard, that you are saying appropriate things and that your contribution is valued.

Building a successful community, certainly in its early stages must recognise the importance of this.  There has to be someone who will respond very quickly to any interaction – a thank you for tweeting to a particular hashtag or a welcome to a Facebook page post – those things make a HUGE difference in engaging that person with the community you are building. They have to know that the room is not empty, that people are actively listening and want you to be there!

I have been doing my best to play that role as we build our GigatownNelson community.  So far it is paying off for the group but also for me personally, I can already see the new friendships and strengthening of tentative ones that are going to develop over the next few months.  It is exhausting and time-consuming but if the end purpose is worthwhile I know I will be well rewarded with friendship and a sense of having made a difference.  And to me that is what community, real or virtual is all about.

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