NXNEi Day 1 – The Community Builders

They say community is everything. And that is especially true online. But creating and growing one is not for the faint of heart.

This panel took place on day one of North by Northeast Interactive, and was made up of people with their own war stories and perspectives about building communities online using social media. Guinevere Orvis, who is in charge of Digital Productions at CBC, moderated the panel, which asked how social media has influenced how the panellists built their communities online, and what challenges they had to face to do it.

Erica Ehm, Founder of The Yummy Mummy Club, had built a great community for mothers, and Scott Stratten a.k.a. unmarketing told her to try Twitter. As she began to use the platform, it amplified her reach and helped to take her community to the next level, increasing her site’s community by 30%. Now she uses Twitter to find and share content and engage with her community in real-time.

Someone who knows that next level well is Amber MacArthur, the Co-founder of the agency MGImedia.ca, whose book Power Friending was just released; she has managed many social media initiatives for brands, and says that when people say they don’t “get” Twitter, they need to wait for the “ah-ha” moment. That moment can be as simple as asking for the best restaurant in the area to go for Thai on your vacation that you often can’t get though your own circle of friends.

Social media is not only great for getting answers, but for having information come to you for you to take in when you see fit. That is how Alan Cross, the former Director of 102.1 the EDGE in Toronto, currently with exploremusic.com, sees platforms like Twitter. It is a two way street, and while many of the platforms are free for anyone to use, they require time and energy to use right.  

Using it also requires knowing what to measure, and while pure numbers are important, they are only half the story. That is why Alan says it as much about how many people are invested in your community than just the sheer volume. They will be a community’s biggest advocates and will amplify the presence of a community well beyond what any one person could do alone.

If social media can amplify your message, many wonder if your own site is even needed. No matter what you do, it is important to have a home base—a place the brand calls home. Fan communities and social networks are great, and you should have a voice on them, but not having a site and relying on them is like handing over the keys to the kingdom, taking the power along with it.

The keys to the future are going mobile, says Alan. He suggests we are in transition. Social media is increasingly mobile as smartphones features and 3G has improved. We are still in a period of transition and the fact is that modern tools put community building within reach of many more people.

There is a lot of competition in attracting those people, and this means expectations are increasing. Community building is not for the faint of heart and sometimes it also requires a little bit of luck, but if you ask anyone on the panel, building an engaged community and being a part of it is worth the effect because they will return the favour many times over if you do it right.