Size Matters: Grow a Boundaryless Social Media Community

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In the span of a decade social media has transformed the way brands connect with their customers. We’re no longer limited to print, radio, and TV ads. And we don’t have to fit within the editorial guidelines or timelines of media publications.

Social media provides the vehicle to instantly connect and engage with your customers, and build a community.

The challenge is size. A company needs to achieve a critical mass on its primary social networks to grow its brand and make an impact.

Spend some time looking at a company’s social media ventures, and you will find countless Facebook Pages and LinkedIn Groups that are floundering or abandoned. They’re virtual ghost towns. They were set up with good intentions, but failed to ever get off the ground.

In researching my new book, Sticky Branding, I discovered there are over 1.3 million groups on LinkedIn, but only three percent of them have 1,000 or more members. And less than 0.017% of groups break 10,000 members. Vibrant, engaged, and growing social media communities are not the average.

A social media community starts with 1,000 members.

The reason so many groups fail is they don’t achieve a critical mass. They don’t reach the starting point of 1,000 members required to form the seed of a community.

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, argues that groups function best when they’re quite small, or quite large: between eight to sixteen members or more than 1,000 members. He writes, “Being a participant in a midsize group often feels lousy, because you get neither the pleasures of tight interconnection nor the advantages of urban scale and diversity.”

A few hundred followers on your corporate social media groups is not enough to engage your customers and grow your brand. You’ve got to break 1,000 members to get your group off the ground, because as Shirky explains, “Better than 99 percent of the audience members don’t participate, they just consume.”

Only ten percent of an online community is active. Ninety percent of a community is silent. They don’t forward articles, respond to comments, or even press the Like button. They simply consume.

The active ten percent are broken into two groups: active members and curators. Only one percent of the community are actively participating, and the rest are participating through retweets, shares, and Likes.

To carry on a group conversation you need at least ten active members. They’re the kernel of your company’s social media community. This one percent takes your content, and gives it life.

But that makes it a numbers game. As mentioned above, to have ten active members, your company needs at least 1,000 members. This is the starting point for a brand to have a presence in social media.

The first 1,000 is the hardest part

Getting your first 1,000 members is hard. There are no silver bullets to achieve this milestone. It’s hard slogging.

The first 1,000 members will come from your network. They will be people you know, and they’ll join because you ask them. They are there because they like you, trust you, and want to support you.

For example, I manage one of the largest branding groups on LinkedIn, Sticky Branding. The group has almost 40,000 members. I chose to build the group in LinkedIn in 2010, because that was my most active social network at the time.

When I launched the group I had over seven hundred personal connections on the site, and it made sense to build a group where I could invite people I was already connected too.

When the group launched in May 2010 I invited all my connections, and three hundred of them joined. This was a good starting point. I then had each member of my team do the same, and they brought in two hundred more members. Afterwards it was one invitation at a time.

To get the group to a critical mass and achieve 1,000 members, I made a point of being an active networker. I attended conferences and events, followed up with old clients and colleagues, and reached out to people far and wide.

It was a good opportunity to connect and meet people, but it was also the touch point to invite people who shared my interest in branding, sales, and marketing. They joined because they were intrigued, and they joined because I invited them.

Communities are built by people, not promotions

It’s easy to get frustrated with the invitation process, and try to find shortcuts like promotions and giveaways to grow your company’s group(s). Avoid this temptation.

If your goal is to grow a community — a place where like-minded people engage, share ideas, help each other, and carry on conversations — you need a specific type of member. You need members that buy into the purpose of the community, and share similar interests and values with your brand. You need members who want to be a part of a community.

Promotions and giveaways don’t attract people seeking a community, they attract people seeking free stuff. You may get a surge of new members from a promotion, but it’s not likely they’ll stick around and become active members in your community.

Grow your brand’s community with pride

People can spot a promotion-driven group from a mile away. The content is all about the brand (the group owner), and not about its members. These aren’t communities, they’re marketing platforms.

The best groups have engaged group owners who love connecting with new people and sharing ideas and content.

Above all else, enjoy the experience of organizing a community. Have fun growing your group, and take pride in it. If you love your group it will be easy to ask people to join, and it will be easy to go out into the real world and talk about the exciting new group you’re building.

Your passion and excitement is infectious, and it will accelerate your group’s growth beyond anything else. It will be the most effective way to get your group past the 1,000 member mark, and enable it to grow into a boundaryless community.

Jeremy Miller is a Brand Builder, Keynote Speaker, and president of Sticky Branding — a brand building agency. Jeremy helps companies stand out, challenge the giants of their industry, and grow Sticky Brands. He is the author of Sticky Branding: 12.5 Principles to Stand Out, Attract Customers and Grow an Incredible Brand — it's your branding playbook. For more information or to connect with Jeremy visit www.StickyBranding.com.

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