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Invision Community Blog


Managing successful online communities

HelenG
 

How I started my community

In this new series, we hear from new community owners and follow their journey from opening the site to nurturing the fledgling membership.

In this article, we hear from Helen who shares her experience with opening a site catering for dog owners.


I'm only one month in to starting a new community and I've already learned a huge amount. I was a little apprehensive at first but I'm taking things one step at a time and I'm happy with how things are going so far.

The points I'm going to raise are working for me but I'm a beginner and running a website of any description is new. Nothing here is guaranteed and I hope to receive comments from established community admins so I can continue to improve.

The first thing I realised is that I wasn't actually starting a community but instead I'm going to be bringing new tools and ideas to an already existing one. My chosen subject is broad (Dogs) so there is already a well established real life community globally. My aim therefore is not to replicate already available content but to reach this community with unique content and encourage them to contribute their own. More on that later but before I could do that I needed something they could visit.

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The new community site

Get Started

You can spend days and weeks planning and writing business plans and these are all good things to do alongside everything else but they shouldn't stop you getting started. The only thing that really mattered to me was starting on the actual idea and to do that all I needed was a platform. You've probably already guessed but Invision Community was chosen for this as it offered multiple apps that would allow me to have both long form articles and forum content. There's also the monetisation options that appealed to me but I am not yet using. It's good to know they are there when I'm ready though. 

I also considered Wordpress but it lacked the community tools I was already sold on.

Rope in friends and family and use their skill sets

I'm not scared to admit where I need help and as I have hit problems or things I don't know I have called in favours. I don't have a large budget for stock photography subscriptions so a friend is providing photos in exchange for attribution. My fiance is more technically minded so he has helped with some of the set up and help with Invision Community features is only a support ticket away.

There is plenty of general information a quick web search away too but some topics are complex and I thought that if I could free up at least some of my time I can keep focussed on the direction. 

Help can be as simple as nudging friends into posting new topics or comments to get some initial activity and momentum. It's also a good test to make sure you have everything set up with your registration process and identify some potential problems.

These helpers are also now active members of the site of course so it's a two for one. I'm sure they'll be calling in return favours at some point but that's fine, they've earned it.

Encourage all contributions even if you don't agree with them

Coming from a primary school teaching background I see kids come up with lots of crazy and novel ideas all the time, they might sound silly but you never know, they may grow into something bigger. My aim is to foster a sense of community and belonging and people of all ages who have their ideas valued tend to stick around. If an idea doesn't work that's fine but you never know what will work so I'm trying lots of things and encouraging innovation. The forums are a great tool for this as everything doesn't need to be rigidly structured.

Be passionate and confident about your subject matter

Perhaps my top tip…If you don't value your own thoughts and actions then how can you expect others to? Show your enthusiasm and knock away negative thoughts and doubts. 

Use all of your tools

Once you've encouraged your initial core group of members, you need to keep them coming back. So far I've had success using the bulk mail feature for a monthly newsletter to rekindle the interest of early members who may no longer be as active. I was warned about bad email practices so I have our notification defaults set very loosely as I want to build trust by not spamming. Everything I send is opt-in and using the newsletter signup block I've been able to make this prominent but not obtrusive. I'm worried I might be missing out by not being aggressive enough with email but it's a risk I'm taking to hopefully get better long term members.

Get involved with your member activities and conversations

Join in with conversations on your community where it makes sense and be as active as possible. You're running a website but to do so you don't always need to be in front of a computer. Speak to your members face to face as well as through the keyboard. I've been going on local dog walks with clubs and other community groups which is a great chance to network and give your members and potential members the chance to see the people behind the website. If there are events or shows in your field get involved and spread the word verbally. I'm talking to dog owners face to face about behavioural issues and always in the back of my mind is the fact this could be discussed on the website to help others and build activity. Over time these "real world" relationships should also be represented on the website too.

Don't get distracted

I've got into the habit of using a reminders app to keep track of future things I want to do. It is tempting to start lots of things every time you have a new idea but that can take your mind off what is actually important right now. Don't forget about these ideas though, make a note and come back to them later.

Approvals and applications for things can also take time. I found myself sometimes sitting around waiting for adsense accounts to be approved or Facebook apps to be verified for sign in. Don't let this downtime be unproductive.

Keep writing new content

What we have started as new community admins isn't easy, it's going to be a long haul so you need to be consistent and regular with updates. On that note I have a breed profile about Chow Chows to write.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings and if you have any more tips please let me know in the comments.

Helen is a year 3 international primary school teacher currently living in Slovakia. She loves dogs (of course), books, and reading whenever possible. She has travelled extensively for work, particularly in South East Asia and has experienced many amazing cultures. She is a qualified Zumba dance fitness instructor and is now building what she hopes to be an invaluable resource for dog owners.
https://doglymail.com/


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Congratulations on the launch! It's exciting to see another community start up, especially for such a fun topic as dogs.  I appreciate the personal reflection and insights you share based on your background as a primary school teacher.  Those skills can translate very well into a community manager.  

You offer some solid advice on encouraging all feedback, bulk mails, keeping track of your activities, asking for help, and being passionate.  We look forward to more doggy updates! 

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Starting a community may not be as easy as it seems. However, consistency and commitment would be of a great help to anyone who wishes to start a good one. Like you have mentioned supra, one must learn to encourage all contributions, even if one disagrees with them. 

Princiology

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