Does your community seem like it's DOA? Think about how you're using (or not using) disclosure and feedback.
Just because you get people to the party, doesn't mean they'll stay and have a good time. In the same way, just because you've captured an email address or a Facebook like, that doesn't mean you've created a sustainable community for your brand. A thriving community that really becomes an extension of your brand means continued engagement, and as any great host or hostess knows, this can be tiring unless you have some great tools in your toolkit to keep the conversation going.
Disclosure and feedback are two levers you can use to ensure that people come to the party, stay for a while, and actually become members of your brand's "larger team." Think about the groups or communities (online or offline) that you have been a part of – chances are that the most successful of these understand the value of the two and utilize them, often organically, to keep their members connected.
Disclosure: Getting people to feel comfortable participating in any conversation requires a sense of identity. When you have the opportunity to share more of who you are with the group, trust begins to build. The challenge is that too often, we expect people to jump right in and immediately warm up, when we haven't given them the opportunity to share a bit about themselves. Having the ability and encouragement to create their identity and to share what they can bring to the party is essential to starting things off on the right foot.
Several online social mediums include visual tools for disclosure - customizable avatars, signatures, interests, and profiles. But a good community manager knows she or he can get more sustained and continued involvement by providing additional real-time opportunities for disclosure outside of just a standard profile.
Ask your community questions that allow for people to share more about themselves - how do they manage their daily activities, relevant to your product or brand? What inspired them to join the community? How do they see your product or brand impacting their community? Even seemingly unrelated questions like what do they like to do on the weekends? People share when they care, and each time you give them an opportunity to do this, it's an opportunity to connect them more to your community and your brand.
Feedback: With the myriad of choices people have to spend their time, they're much more likely to go where they have some investment. Providing people an opportunity to give feedback/share opinions is likely to deepen the relationship. What else gives people more confidence and enthusiasm for a brand than knowing they had some voice in shaping what was ultimately brought to market? Yes, this may open a door to hearing something unfavorable about a brand or product, but it also gives your supporters an opportunity to come to your defense, as well as gives you the opportunity to enter the conversation directly, only lending authenticity and credibility to your brand.
Some examples of how you can solicit feedback on your site include the obvious - ask for opinions or thoughts on your particular brand or product if you feel comfortable doing so. You can ask for opinions or thoughts on market trends, product trends, or even recent news as long as the topic has relevance to your community. Recently our organization surveyed our Foodbuzz community about our annual Foodbuzz Festival and asked them vote on what sessions/panels they would like to see at the event and if any of them would be interested in hosting a panel or running an event. By giving people the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas, you connect them more deeply to your property and brand.
We all know that nurturing a dynamic community requires time and attention, but it does not have to be a mystery when you're armed with the right tools. If your community seems DOA, think about how you're using (or not using) disclosure and feedback. Thoughtful and appropriate use of each brings greater connection and loyalty to your community and ultimately, to your brand.
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Laney Whitcanack is Federated Media Publishing's chief community officer. Prior to joining FM, Laney co-founded BigTent in 2006 and focused on innovating online and offline ways to connect people with communities they care about. She spent the decade previous to BigTent coaching and training hundreds of community leaders, in the U.S. and Mexico, most recently as the director of community programs for the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.
A published author and speaker on entrepreneurship and community organizing, Laney received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2008. She is currently a board member of Zeum: San Francisco's Children's Museum and The Princess Project and is involved in even more community groups after the birth of her daughter, Campbell, last year. Laney has a B.A. from UCLA, and MBA from the Simmons School of Management, and an Ed.M from Harvard University.
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