By Marilly Douni
The Internet, as a new medium of communication, has, many times, been met with opposing views. There are people who suggest that through the use of Internet, human interaction is promoted, as it is easier to communicate with others, acquisition of knowledge is facilitated and territorial boundaries are eliminated. In these contexts, it is wise to briefly mention the concept of Network Identity (online identity). According to a group of researchers, people who join an online community (we will discuss further the concept of online community below), tend to either keep their offline identity while networking, or perform in a different way while joining an online community. According to Baym “Reality seems to be that many, probably most social users of computer mediated communication, create online selves consistent with their offline identities” (Castells, 2001). On the other hand, there are people who state that the use of the Internet has driven society to isolation, abandonment of face-to-face interaction and expansion of face identities and role playing.
A virtual community, is, in simple words, the informal shape of online interaction. Howard Rheingold, through his book “The Virtual Community”, argues that a new form of communication has been created, that brings people together online around shared values and interests; these shared values have the strength to form ties of friendship and relationship that can extend in to face-to-face interaction. When we are talking about community, we are not talking only about households or friendships, but also about professional communities. The aim of this post is to examine or identify how StartUps have taken advantage of the expansion of online communities, plus, what is the value for a startupper to build an online community rather than expanding to deep strategic steps of how to build an online community.
An exceptional advantage of an online community is that it does not consist of a single web location since someone can join one community and then transfer to another; that constitutes a spread of ties that is affected by the offline communities too, especially in professional levels. Both managers and users understand the importance of offline communities.
Online Community Roles
Have you ever wondered who constitutes a community? The community architect is the person or the group of people who form a community, set the goals, and design the strategy to follow. Despite the architects, there are the community managers who are the ones who manage the community by enforcing rules, encouraging social norms, helping new members and many more other responsibilities. The paid members are the ones that contribute comments to the community by spreading links or content to draw new members. Contributors (fall between free and paid members) are the ones who may offer financial backing. Power users are community’s managers’ best friends and are the ones who push for new discussions, enhance the community and provide feedback to the community. Free members are the ones who actively comment on articles, discussions, pictures and external mentions. Finally, an online community also hosts the so-called active and passive lurkers. Active lurkers consume community contents and share these contents to their own personal networks and to other external communities. On the other hand, passive lurkers are the ones who return to community to consume these contents but they do not share nor contribute at all.
The Value of Online Communities for StartUps
It is not easy to measure the value of online communities since there are advantages and disadvantages but it worth a try to do so because this will help you in your first steps since they can be beneficial to you. A common mistake people make is that social media do not cost a thing. Of course, this is true when you use them for your leisure time but what if you use them for business purposes? You need human resources to develop a strategy and then to carry out the various different online activities, so the answer is that yes, it does cost but it has also a variety of advantages for the young startuppers.
People who participate in online communities can offer valuable insight in terms of ideas, answers to your questions etc. It is to your advantage to use that insight as it can really provide answers to questions or problems that you might be facing that you never thought. However, this is not their only contribution! When launching a new idea/product, do not be afraid to ask for their feedback in order to finetune the details and move forward to its realization.
People do not forget (well, the majority of them!). They have the tendency to remember especially when they have acted as contributors. People will remember that you asked to involve them in your initial steps with your StartUp and that means that they realize that you have acknowledged and appreciated their contribution. Have in mind that some of them may return as “angel investors”. If needed, you can explore your online community and find the person who will help you either by offering advice, introducing you with a valuable connection, or offering you financial aid.
Reputation and Awareness
In order to boost your Startup and increase your online presence within the online community, it is strongly recommend to create company accounts in a variety of platforms, in other words, to create accounts in as many social media (online communities) as possible. Boost your reputation and create awareness for your Startup by using Twitter in order to find “customers” and people who are interested in your product/idea/service, use Quora to answer questions related to what you are offering, use Facebook to find “friends” and invite them to join your page. Sometimes (not to mention the most of the times), it is much more profitable (and less costly) to attract target groups through the different online platforms rather than printing and using a leaflet.
Boost your search engine rankings by using all of the above platforms and distributing targeted contents to share, vote, comment and link to other platforms. Create popular contents, increase their exposure and also attract links to your own website.
Building an online community is of crucial importance. Many startuppers wonder what to do: To raise money, build an online community by giving away your product or should you focus on building a useful product that you start selling immediately? The truth is that the majority of people/entrepreneurs invest on the creation of on line communities since they are based on common interests, they have broken geographical boundaries, and they can connect with others, like-minded people meaning that there is a great share of identical ideas, opinions etc. Additionally, online communities are real since create relationships among people who have never met before! The great thing is that these people trust one another in a more professional way and trust their preferences and opinions.
At this point, as a conclusion, I will introduce you some of the most vital and well-known online communities that will surely help you enhance your reputation, boost your presence and create brand awareness.
Take some time and enjoy the “Online Trip”!
HN is a social news platform dedicated to people who search ways to gratify their intellectual curiosity. If you’re building a startup, HN is the best way to receive genuine and constructive feedback. (Visit the site by clicking here)
If you are searching for a simple, well-designed platform with useful features, interested in the latest trends in designing templates, promote your contents and connect with different communities, then you may find DN really exciting! (Visit the site by clicking here)
If you are interested in the latest news of marketers, the latest strategies and tech news, then join InBound.org. It will really satisfy your marketing needs. (Visit the site by clicking here)
GrowthHackers, an idea that was born in 2006, is extremely useful to those of you who also want to meet experimental marketers and are interested in the latest news of hacking and technology news.
(Visit the site by clicking here)
Product Hunt is an online community that attracts people who want to receive the latest news for new products, who seek stakeholders, who search feedback on products and who are Startup-focused users.
(Visit the site by clicking here)
AgileGreece is a community for agile practitioners that aim to promote the application of agile practices in Greece.
(Visit the site by clicking here)
Open Thessaloniki is an online community/platform for knowledge and networking to share ideas and technology solutions.
(Visit the site by clicking here)
What to Pay Attention to When You Build an Online Community
After having mentioned the basic human roles that participate in a StartUp online community, it would be better to focus on some important points what will help you as a StartUpper to build an online community that will prove to be a niche.
1. Be embedded within your community
Be embedded means to be a part of your community; to take care of your community and know your problems and try to solve them. On the other hand, you have to know your community’s strong characteristics and try to promote and enhance them. A very crucial advice addressed to people who want to form an online community for their business, is to know their duty in order to be able to support it. Richard Price, a Philosophy Professor from the University of Oxford states “When building communities, one mistake people can make is not being in the community and not having a sense of what the real problems are and the instincts that guide product”. That means that for instance you should not build a Facebook page about recipes if you cannot or you do not like to cook.
2. Learn the Vocabulary
One of the benefits of being part of an online community is the use of the common language and managers must know how to speak the same lingo though this may be tricky sometimes because not all people speak the same language or some of its dialects. However, it is very important for all of the people who engage in a community, not only to speak the same language but also to create it since it not only creative (and creativity matters a lot), but it is a form of a common communication ground.
3. Reach the micro-communities
Though it is very important to think of a community as a huge blog of people, managers must make efforts to challenge themselves and find or explore sub-groups within an entire community. Segmentation is the crucial word here since through segmentation, you can proceed to a successful identification not only of your people who have joined your community but of their needs too.
4. Act Upon Customer Feedback
To have a great relationship with your online customers (joiners of your online community) means that you build trust, you create a standard reputation for your firm and you keep them satisfied, thus constantly joined with you. These people will come back for sure! StartUppers (you) must, above all, listen to what their customers have to say rather than try to push their agenda.
5. Seal the deal in-person
While social media have empowered the notion of online interaction and have revolutionized the way brands communicate with their communities and their customers, it is very important to remember to contact your people also in-person. Face-to-face interaction builds very powerful relations and strong connections with consumers.
6. Give users something cannot find elsewhere
The best way to build a niche online community is to give customers products/ideas or services that cannot find anywhere else. A great example of such an online StartUp community is the academia.edu through which not only researchers publish their work online, but receive metrics for tracking the popularity and influence of their work.
After having you proposed the best solutions when it comes to online communities and platforms (of course there are many more according to what your specialization is), it is up to you to answer the question: Does an online community really help the Startuppers? As far as myself is concerned…It really does!
Good luck fellows!
Castells M. (2001). The Internet galaxy: Reflections on the Internet business and society. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press Publications
DeTernay G. (2015). What being part on an online community really means.
Retrieved from https://boostcompanies.com/online-community/
Kraus J. (2015). The ultimate guide to online communities for entrepreneurs. Retrieved from http://www.sitepoint.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-online-communities-for-entrepreneurs/
Reid A. (2011). The value of online communities for startups. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/the-value-of-online-communities-for-startups-2011-4?IR=T
Swallow E. (2012). Six Startup strategies for building a niche community. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericaswallow/2012/build-startup- community/4/#5a119724342b
Volkman E. (2011). What is an online community. Retrieved from www.socialmediatoday.com/content/what-online-community