One of the great things about the internet is the fact you can connect with people from all around the world with diverse backgrounds and interests. In fact I think technology has followed a very human drive for connecting, when techies connected computers together they were really connecting people.
Only yesterday I was telling someone how networking got me to where I am. It’s true success is as much about who you know as what you know. I owe a huge part of my career to online communities and I can not imagine ever having achieved anything without what I learned from participating in them.
When I first discovered “going online” in the early 90’s it was with a 9600 baud modem and Fidonet bulletin boards, in particular a BBS called “sound and vision”. To begin with I was too timid to get involved but I enjoyed reading others comments. Later I moved onto Usenet and became involved with the Sci-Fi newsgroups.
Obviously there were a few extremely hostile members but it amazed me how warm and friendly the majority were. I had found an online home, a cabal of like-minded geeks 🙂 As well as discussion of the main topics there was friendly banter and even real-world meets. I still regard some members of the Red Dwarf newsgroup as friends, although we are not often in touch any longer.
Community participation is a vital skill
Although a trivial topic, the skills I learned from participating in that community has contributed to my career ever since. Those science fiction fans made me discover the human side to the internet, and how to navigate the discussions without the benefit of non-verbal cues. The WWW was still in its infancy so I had yet to get into web communities but it was an effective training ground.
Community leads to career boost
My first break came from a Microsoft ASP programming email list founded by a guy called Charles Carroll. They were the best email lists for ASP developers, hugely popular. Through answering questions and helping people out I made friends and contacts which led to writing for a leading ASP site and community called ASPAlliance, which then led to insider status, which led to early alpha/beta software access, which led to book deals. While I had already written a couple of tutorials for magazines, it was only then that work and offers started coming to me.
Communities lead to contacts, contacts create opportunities
In a similar way I introduced myself to the webmaster and SEO communities, which led to making contacts and friends with some brilliant internet marketers and bloggers. While many tutorials bang the Google and Digg drums, never underestimate the benefit of a friendly link.
Build your community profile now
So how would you go about doing the same thing?
- Give first – At no point should you be going in thinking “what can I get out of this?”. It should be all about making yourself useful. In any community there will be givers and takers. Be a giver. You need to get known for being a friendly, helpful and valuable member of the community.
- Go where people are – They will not come to you, you have to find them. Find where the best communities are and hang out. Follow the rules, written and unwritten, get involved and stick at it. Be consistent and don’t expect instant results. Learn how to comment. Leave quality comments.
- Be humble – If you begin to feel you are making yourself known then this is a dangerous period. Profile is good, arrogance bad. See #1 – valuable, friendly. Even if it is your community, it actually belongs to the members as a whole. One person does not a community make, no matter how magnetic your personality.
- Spread the love – If you have influence use it for good. Don’t be hoarding all the good stuff, link out, refer people, help people out, connect and match-make.
- Mix – There is more to the web than the big names. Seek out alternatives. Don’t just hang out where you are popular. This is not Cheers bar, you need to get out and make new friends. Where are you going next?
- Nurture visitors – Look after your own community close to home. Start with your blog comments. Interact. Make it easy to comment. Encourage comments by interacting, nurturing, incentivising, rewarding. When you have a good number of comments then you can consider a forum.
- Follow up – Make it easy for your commenters to follow up, and follow up on other blogs. Remember where you have been, do not leave a conversation hanging. Take good advice and put effort and thought into your replies. Be careful with assumptions.
- Know your communities – What is a community? There are communities all around us. Communities you join and communities you own. You have an audience, within that you have web readers, RSS readers, email readers (you do have email switched on, right?), commenters, fellow bloggers, MyBlogLog community and visitors, maybe forum members. Each have different requirements. Get to know each and deliver what they need. Actively build your community.
- Have fun – Even the most serious of topics are discussed by actual human beings. Your goal is to help and be friendly. It is far easier to make friends when you are having fun.
- Be brand aware – All you have online is your brand. Your persona, your reputation. The majority of people will not know you, they will think they know you. Look after your brand, think carefully before hitting submit, protect your good reputation, stop others from copying or damaging it. Be positive and constructive.
In summary, communities are a lot of effort but have the power to build your profile, make valuable life-long friends, drive traffic, create loyalty, and most of all are a lot of fun.
Thanks to all for your submissions, anyone who was not included there is always next time 🙂