Wrote (mostly) a blog about the latest Building Online Communities meetup, published on Laura’s site as YouTube for Marketing and Online Community Building. Covers the talk by Dan Colbert, including the three aims for a YouTube channel, namely getting more clients, generating income, and selling a product or service. And much more, go read the whole thing there!
The November Building Online Communities MeetUp guest speaker was Shelley Taylor, who has been doing exciting things in tech for 20 years. In her own words an earlier venture of hers, a digital entertainment platform, was “both a huge success but also a failure” (the success part was 300,000 users). Very Silicon Valley!
A few years ago Shelley started thinking about old-fashioned fan clubs, which have of course been around for ages. Originally using magazines and letters in the post to communicate, it would be easy to think that Facebook and Twitter had completely destroyed the idea of fan clubs. But as is becoming more and more obvious, social media has fallen prey to its own success: artists, record labels, athletes, brands, can’t actually reach their audience on social media any more. This is largely due to the changing business models of the platforms – they rely on advertising for their revenue, so anyone wanting to reach people on them will now have to pay for the privilege (you can read articles with titles such as “What I learned spending $2 Million on Facebook Ads”). In plain terms, the Facebook algorithm will not show your update on your followers’ feed for free. And there are other pitfalls too. There are in the region of 60 Rihanna apps available. Sadly, they all fall under the umbrella of “unauthorized” – the artist has nothing to do with them.
So it might not be an exaggeration to conclude that social media marketing is mostly a waste of time and money. What is needed instead is direct contact and communication with your audience. Face to face, phone, email, can still reach people. Apps may also work better (if you get people to download them first!), as push notifications do get noticed. More old-fashioned, and more hard work, but probably also deeper and better quality communication as well?
This is where Shelley’s Digital Fan Clubs idea comes in. An artist can set up their own branded app, provide content through it, and actually reach their fans who can download the app for free. And it’s not just pop stars that can use the template. Anyone who needs to communicate with specific groups of people can use the same idea. And other organisations have seen the potential benefits, especially those with local information to share (such as a student housing provider).
An interesting and timely application of the idea is Shelley’s prototype refugee support app. Any organisation providing help and support for refugees can app information about their services to the app database, and refugees can then easily find local sources of support, whether legal support or information, food, shelter, or medical help (see image). By the way, it sounded like the biggest issue with this app was collating the data from all the aid agencies into a usable format. That does not surprise me at all…
The second Building Online Communities meetup happened on Tuesday at the new Google TechHub in Shoreditch. The theme this time was “What we can learn from peer to peer support online”, and the speaker was Jamie from TalkLife.
TalkLife is a peer-to-peer support network, for talking about personal problems and mental health, via an app or on the web. Jamie talked about how he came up with the idea and how it has developed in the last three or so years. It’s safe to say that there have been ups and downs… This type of community obviously has some very special issues to deal with, as it involves mental health and young people, but it sounds like TalkLife have managed to create as safe a space as reasonably possible, with an amazing active group of people keeping it that way. And in fact we talked about the possibility of having so much safety and security that the community just doesn’t function any more.
One of the most interesting points for me was TalkLife’s algorithm for quietly pushing posts up if nobody has responded to them. The aim is to make sure that everybody in the community gets their voice heard, and to keep engagement up. And that what happens in the first 15 minutes after joining TalkLife is the key factor in retention. Jamie also made some good points about their metrics: what is really important for them might not sound that exciting for others (e.g. potential investors), but absolutely make sense for their particular business and community. And their “vanity metrics” such as user numbers are very impressive too!
And if you didn’t write them down (or weren’t at the meetup!), these are the books that were recommended by Jamie and others:
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
Onward and Upward: Reflections of a Joyful Life by Michael Wiese
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
The Facebook Effect: The Real Inside Story of Mark Zuckerberg and the World’s Fastest Growing Company by David Kirkpatrick
Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance
The first Building Online Communities meetup was at Google Campus last week. To fully disclose, I helped a little in organising it. But it was a good one, even if I say so myself.
Helen talked first about the development of interests.me, which is a great platform for creating online communities. The most interesting point for me was the difficulties they’ve come across. For example, privacy and anonymity are often valuable features, but they can also work against building and expanding communities. Which makes Facebook’s insistence on using real names more understandable from one point of view (though not from many others). This is something that we’ve found with Club Soda too: talking about alcohol and drinking is still somewhat taboo, which means that many of the usual ways of doing things online may not be feasible. And the spread of something like this online is therefore not very viral at all.
The value of leaders in keeping the discussion going is also worth thinking about. At least one, or perhaps a few very active people are needed to avoid the saddest sight of all: an online forum with the most recent post from six months ago.
On the positive side, people are still looking for new ways of connecting with each other, especially if they already have something in common. And geography might be making a comeback: the whole world may be connected, but we are still most connected in many ways to the people in our local neighbourhoods.
The rest of the meetup was spent on discussing any problems or issues the attendees are experiencing. This was really interesting and useful as well – we talked about the pros and cons of various tech platforms, and the role of content in getting and maintaining attention.
So all in all a very good evening. And there will be more of these meetups, probably monthly.