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7 reasons why you should focus on building a community around your startup — January 21, 2014

7 reasons why you should focus on building a community around your startup

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A community comes in many forms. It’s greatest form, some might say, is a movement. David Spinks elaborates…

I know, it’s a bold request to ask a startup to focus on anything other than their product and growth.

I know, because I’m a startup founder myself.

Time is our most limited resource and that you have to say no to a lot of things in order to maintain your focus, and sanity.

So why am I writing a post telling you to focus on community? Because I’ve seen first hand, and in the example of many other startups, the power that community can wield even at the earliest stages of your growth.

Lyft, Airbnb, Eventbrite, Lift, Foursquare, Soundcloud, Skillshare, Udemy, Github, Binpress, Yammer, Hootsuite, Buffer… I could rattle off startups all day who have invested a great deal of time and resources into building community. Social products, B2B, B2C, technical products, toys, fitness, non profits… name the kind of company and I can name several companies building a strong community around their brand and products.

Why is that? With all the things a startup has to figure out, why do they focus on community?

7. Create highly engaged evangelists

The simplest and most valuable thing you’ll get from a community is highly engaged customers or users.

When done right, your community creates a sense of belonging. Members feel like they’re part of something important and they’re proud, they feel special. Their experience with your brand then becomes so much more than just products and features. They develop strong emotions around your brand. They build relationships with other members.

My mentor Aki Sano once said something along the lines of “You’ll know you have a great business when you can find just one person who’s absolutely in love with your product”.

I’ve seen first hand how building a strong community can create an environment where your members do in fact fall in love with your brand.

This high engagement leads to the rest of the benefits…

6. Stay close to your customers

Perhaps the most important value is that you get to stay very close to your customers.

Your community = your customers.

By creating a community where your users/customers can interact, converse, share and help each other, it gives you an opportunity to be a fly on the wall and learn more about who they are.

There are things you’ll learn from watching them talk to each other that you’ll never see in a survey.

And when you have a highly engaged community, you have a pool of customers that you can call on individually to give feedback, test features, hop on a call or whatever else you need to do to learn more about their experience.

5. Support network for reviews and rebuttals

For many companies, getting good reviews early on can make your product. Your community will jump at the opportunity to support you and show you some love.

They’ll also be a great resource for testimonials. When we needed some more customer quotes for our homepage, it was as simple as posting in the community and asking for volunteers.

At the same time, there’s a good chance if you’re building up some steam that there will be trolls out there to pull you down. Your community can be the people who stand up to defend you and call out their bullshit.

4. Build the foundation for a movement

A community comes in many forms. It’s greatest form, some might say, is a movement.

You’re an entrepreneur, which probably means you’ve set your sights on a real big vision. You’re not looking to just make a quick buck. You’re in it to change the world.

Well, community is what can help you get there. All of the massive companies you know today started with a small, loyal community. That first community serves as the foundation for growth for years to come. Look at Facebook, Instagram, Ebay, Pinterest, Craigslist, Couchsurfing, Meetup, Yelp… I can go on. They all started with a small, loyal community that developed into a larger movement.

3. Improve your customers’ experience

Humans need community. It’s helped us evolve and survive since the beginning of our time. It touches on a basic human need.

So when we have the chance to become part of a community and feel that sense of belonging, we’re happy. That means that community can serve as an added bonus for your product. Not only do your customers get access to your features, they get access to a support group, a network of peers.

Most products become better when people don’t feel like they’re alone in the game.

2. Defensibility

Anyone might be able to copy your product, your brand, your design and even your voice. But there’s one thing no other company will ever be able to copy and that’s your community.

There’s no faking community. A true community is built on relationships that can only be formed through genuine interactions and a dynamic of trust and respect. This dynamic can take a long time to develop.

Your community members are loyal, and they’ve invested time into building a reputation amongst the group of peers that you’ve brought together. It will take a lot for another company to take that away from you.

1. Make more money

In the end, it’s just a good business strategy. Your community members, being more loyal and engaged, are more likely to come back and buy again.

Make people happy. That’s what it’s all about. If you can do that, with your product and potentially with a community, you’re on your way.

Now I’m not saying every startup should blindly jump into building a community now. It’s important to understand why you need a community. It’s important to tie it back to your goals and make sure it’s in line with everything else you’re working on.

So take a look at what it is you’re really hoping to accomplish and then think about how a community might be able to help you achieve those goals.

Not sure where to get started?

If you want to become more efficient at building community for your startup, and understand how community dynamics work, come join us at CMX Summit on Feb 6 in San Francisco. (Use promo code ‘thefetch25’ for 25% off.)

We’re bringing together some of the world’s leading minds with completely unique perspectives on how to build communities. Or if you’re looking to hire a community manager, you’re guaranteed to meet the industry’s best at CMX.

About our contributor // David Spinks is the CEO of TheCommunityManager.com and LetsFeast.com. Lifelong student, community builder and writer. Follow him on Twitter via @DavidSpinks.

Image credit: California Pass

Awesome tools to help your team work better remotely — November 10, 2013

Awesome tools to help your team work better remotely

remote

Working remotely can make teams happier, faster and better, or it can do just the opposite.

It’s the double-edged sword of modern workplaces – what technology gives with one hand, it takes with the other when subbing in for face-to-face contact. But it’s starting to look like technology can now clean up some of the messes it’s made, with new solutions for some common remote working woes. Let’s look at a few of these and how being smart from the start can combat the disconnect often suffered among distributed teams.

Productivity

For some, putting distance between colleagues can boost productivity, while others are more easily distracted in their own space. Whatever your personality may be, time lost to updating colleagues with progress reports is unavoidable. Or is it? US startup Peak has developed an automated tool that tracks and reports your activity by trawling through your use of online services like Gmail or Dropbox. It can alert colleagues to file updates, tasks checked off, time spent on jobs, invoices raised and other project milestones.

It also gives insights into how team members work, such as most productive work days or times of day, who’s busier than usual and how people work.

peak

Image: Peak in action

Peak also syncs with widely used project management solution, Basecamp. Created by 37signals, Basecamp is a web-based application that brings together team calendars, file sharing, email, timelines and milestones, et al, in the one platform. Its co-founders are behind the useful reimagining of workplaces books Rework and Remote. Founders of the group also recently launched a tool to help leaders keep up on how their team feels about the company, its vision, direction, work, culture and so on.

basecamp

Image: Basecamp explained

Communicating and collaborating

Remote work is often about dealing with multiple time zones, magnifying the challenge posed by communicating virtually. Founders of Colour Lovers, Darius A. Monsef IV, Chris Williams and Aaron Epstein work from Hawaii, Portland, Oregon and New York City respectively. Monsef, who logs in daily at 6am to make contact before lunch, travels a lot and is forever on the phone. “I think I spend a few hours a day on the phone with my co-founder Aaron, sometimes neither of us talking, just working like we’re in the same office,” Monsef told Fast Company. The team behind the creative community for sharing colour palette also use HipChat for group messaging, along with IM on Skype to bridge the communication gap.

Compounding the problem for startups with remote teams is the frenetic pace of work. “It’s hard to stay on the same page when we’re working so quickly,” co-founder of Australian photo-sharing and sample tracking service The Photo Diner, Gaby Howard, comments. Howard’s partner Nadine von Cohen stresses the importance of documenting and scoping everything and reviewing regularly. The team of four uses agile project management tool Planbox to assist in this process.

Many are using tools such as Yammer, Trello and Salesforce, three tools instrumental in gaming monetization platform Playerize’s success. Founder Derek Shanahan estimates that while more than 75% of the team’s time is spent in or near the office, most of its collaboration is done asynchronously using web-based tools.

Managing and motivating

Managing and motivating staff from afar is another a major challenge faced by distributed teams, particularly in the startup world where the feeling of being part of something is a crucial ingredient.

The automated tools already mentioned, such as Peak, can help with performance management. Chuck Cohn from Varsity Tutors advocates the use of productivity-based measures to keep staff on track. “Your team needs compensation for productivity-based measures and salary. We developed workflows to require collaboration and transparency. Everyone can see what everyone else is doing,” Cohn told Readwrite.

double

Image: Double is the latest craze in startup telecommuting

Until Google moves into organics and lets us attach our brains to each other, we’ll have to turn to cold, hard, shiny technology to help out. And if a lack of face time in the office is still a problem, why not invest in a robotic body double that can be driven around the office by remote control, like in this video.

About our contributor // Chris Byrne is a writer working on the journalism-marketing merger. He’s a data journalist, content and comms freelancer. Follow him on @penseive.

Opinion: Who is at the bleeding edge of social in Australia? — January 3, 2013

Opinion: Who is at the bleeding edge of social in Australia?

Jacqueline Shields recently interviewed Pete Williams in a local profile for The Fetch. During question time, she also discovered his thoughts on who is leading social’s edge within Australia.

pete-feature

Pete Williams, Chief Edge Officer at Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge Australia, helps senior executives understand emerging opportunities on the edge of business and technology for corporate growth. Here, he shares with us his thoughts on companies and industry sectors succeeding at social – those that are adopting different business models in rapidly-changing landscapes.

To offer great customer service there are a few options open to companies. One is to employ more customer service people at a high cost. Another is to off-shore it at a lower cost even though you know that your customers aren’t going to be satisfied. The smartest way is to get the people who know most about your products, the people who use it every day, to help each other. Both Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank do this well.

Examples

  • Telstra’s CrowdSupport Help & Support Community Forum

Rather than Telstra manage all their customer service activities, they have their customers support customers. This model incorporates cloud, social, mobile, crowdsourcing and gamification and it’s been a spectacular success. There are around 60,000 enquires a week dealt through that channel alone and this has resulted in them being very successful in customer support.

  • Commonwealth Bank Pi

The Commonwealth Bank has just launched a platform called Pi. It’s a next generation tablet payments system like a next generation EFTPOST machine. What they have done is opened that up for developers to get involved and create apps. Again instead of the organisation saying, “We will come up with every idea and build it and launch it”, they are acknowledging that there is a smarter model.

This model taps into an explosion of innovation, leveraging clouds and seeing themselves as a platform provider as opposed to needing to be responsible for everything they do. We’ve been seeing that for many years with the web titans – the Amazons, the eBays, the YouTubes and it being popularised through Apple’s and Google’s App Stores.

Theory

Both these examples show how business can look at what is going on at the edges and explore how they could use a crowd or how the gaming world applies to them. It’s not so much building games but using aspects of gaming such as levelling up, reward and recognition, badges, achievements, leader boards, and kudos, and bringing them into the process to encourage your customers to do what you want to do with them.

It’s a bit like an open-source community where you have support forums and that’s an edge that we have been seeing for many years of how these communities share knowledge and knowledge flows at a user-to-user level. Two such communities are the high end World of Warcraft guild and the top end Angry Birds community where you need to be monitoring what new ideas and new strategies you have got. Also what are you learning from your personal dashboards, because the community keeps learning and learning so you have to be able to analyse all that information, then quickly synthesise it in the terms of the way you operate.

These online learning communities with elite people all have one thing in common – a propensity to share, using leaderboards, dashboards and social features. This means that the community drives other users to a new level. So adopting gaming techniques can be very effective for organisations. Although as a Telstra user, I do at times question why I am doing customer support for them! But by the same token if I have a problem it tends to be something exotic so the community has also helped me when I have needed assistance.

What about the politicians?

If we look at who has embraced Facebook as an effective communication tool, it tends to be celebrities, sports people and sports clubs. Interestingly enough, politicians have taken the bull by the horns too. No matter what people say about politicians are smart enough to realise when they can connect and reach a large audience. So they are a very interesting crowd who have adopted it while I don’t see the government agencies that they are theoretically running have adopted it any were near as much.

Malcolm Turnbull is particularly good with social media. So is Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Kevin did a tweet recently of a pic of a leak of an orange pen on his shirt. He tweeted that he’d put it in his pocket with predictable results. He tweets what he doing and what he is seeing but he also tweets personal stuff.

Obama set the tone with the 2008 election and it continued on. That was when politicians realised how much of an effect it could have. There is a group that is seen as potentially conservative but who are smart enough to work out what to do with it.

Retailers

Retailers have enormous numbers of people on Facebook. Coles have a massive following. Supre has always been a standout. And were one of the early starters. They got in early. They tried stuff. They experimented. They got a core audience and now it’s just massive. They do A/B testing i.e. Which skirt do you like? This one or this one? They engage people with simple, easy non-dinky bullshit campaign stuff not just because someone wants a prize. They incorporate it into part of their long-term business strategy.

The luxury brands are massive like Tiffanys, BMW, Mercedes. Those luxury brands that people aspire to tend to have mass followings.

If we look at who is doing Facebook well in the banking sector, the Commonwealth Bank sort of does okay. Ubank does pretty well. But what we see in a lot of those traditional business to consumer relationships is that some organisations think they are above it. But as I say, if you are above it then you are above your customers and employees so probably not a great place to be.

Hall & Wilcox the mid-size legal firm across the road use it well. But we haven’t seen the legal profession really understand how to adopt social media.

Recruitment

We are starting to see mining companies use social media for recruitment.

In terms of the business to business side we tend to see organisations using LinkedIn. Someone who does that really well is Deloite Globally. We’ve done fantastically. We’ve also done really well with Facebook largely in the area of recruitment. The first thing we did with Facebook was not to build a Facebook page but to build a Facebook app for our employees in 2008 called ‘Join me at Deloitte’. ‘Your future at Deloitte’ is the Facebook page. But before we had the Facebook page we had the Facebook app where employees could put it on their Facebook page and people could say they were interested in a job at Deloitte. So again leveraging the networks of our people at a time when we didn’t have a Facebook network ourselves. We use Twitter particularly well for pushing information out there.

The use of enterprise social networking is growing in people to people knowledge type organisations Deloitte won the 2011Forrester Groundswell Award award for Best Collaboration System (Management) through our use of Yammer. Capgemini is a big Yammer user and they use it very well as do NAB and Suncorp Group. So we are seeing organisations who have large bodies of people that want to get better innovation, better collaboration and better learning using enterprise social networking technologies.

But there is a long way to go for most organisations and the key thing to understand is that it isn’t going away even if you want to ignore it.

About our Ambassador // Jacqueline Shields. Luckily Jacqueline is not a cat. She’d be on her ninth life. Her inquisitive nature sees her say yes to pretty much anything – a  Tough Mudder, an African Safari, sailing down the Nile in a felucca and even a HTML workshop. And each and everything she tries, she takes great joy in writing about. You can connect with Jacqueline on Twitter @hillrepeats.

Event Review: Business as usual- social media in a laggard B2B sector — September 29, 2012

Event Review: Business as usual- social media in a laggard B2B sector

Community Ambassador Keith McGuinness attended ‘Business as usual: social media in a laggard B2B sector’, part of Social Media Week London’s programme of events. 

What: Business as usual: social media in a laggard B2B sector

When: Thursday 27th September

Where: Offices of Aviva Investors

Organised by: Social Media Week London

For someone who fancies himself as a budding Gordon Gecko, a social media event hosted by an investment firm was too good to turn down.

And while I didn’t leave with any insights into the next big thing in the stock market, I did learn about some really interesting ways B2B social media is being employed in the financial services sector.

The first two case studies explored how social media platforms are being used to engage other players in their respective sectors.

Dawid Konotey- Ahulu introduced us to Mallow Street, a standalone platform dedicated to the pensions sector. Mallow Street’s main objective is to help Dawid’s company Redington establish strong relationships with their clients and it aims to achieve this by offering relevant content and a lively discussion forum. However Dawid emphasised that they also organise regular face to face networking events as they still find this the best way to establish relationships.

The second case study was presented by Andrew Scott of M&G Investments who spoke about Bond Vigilantes, one of the most popular blogs in the financial sector.  ‘Bond Vigilantes’ focuses on the fixed price bond sector and has built up a significant following over the last five years mainly thanks to senior executives at M&G embracing social media. Andrew referred to the blog as a ‘broadcast’ tool that can be used to reinforce their position in the industry rather than an attempt to initiate conversation.

The third presenter was Louisa Hunter of FreshMinds Research. FreshMinds specialise in using social media to monitor brand reputation and conduct consumer and competitor research. Louisa discussed three different types of projects that the company undertake: social media audits, trend spotting and brand benchmarking and how important it is to fully understand your audience before engaging them.

The last presenter was Tony Stewart of our hosts, Aviva Investors. Tony discussed how Aviva have resorted to using a social media platform called Yammer for the company’s internal communications. Yammer allows employees to share all sorts of information such as project updates, news and opinion and HR policies across its global chain of offices. The platform was only launched eighteen months ago but already enjoys 85% engagement amongst its 1,500 employees.

The seminar ended with a lively Q&A session before the attendees adjourned for the customary networking session.

So, summing up, what did you miss? A fascinating insight into some of the innovative ways social media is being used from a B2B perspective in the financial services sector.

About our Ambassador: Keith McGuinness runs digital agency 1Four Media. Connect with him on Twitter @1FourMedia.

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