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HelenG

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  1. When I wrote my last entry, The Dogly Mail had just reached the 100 member milestone but since then things have grown impressively. The photo competition has proven very successful at encouraging new signups and we are now at around 1400 members picking up 15-20 new members a day. This is far better than I could have hoped for but there a few caveats… Not all traffic and content is equal In building website traffic I’ve realised that high member numbers are great and help to validate your ideas but member quality is far more important. I have been able to boost the member growth non-organically with a minimal Facebook ad spend in conjunction with the competition but we’re still trying to find those super contributors. The members we have are not yet invested in the site themselves and the sense of community that is required to be sustainable long term is still in its infancy. We have also found that with the opt-in mailing list, around 50% of the registered members are signing up for the newsletter during registration. This is encouraging to me based on the non-organic growth so hopefully, with more organic growth this will rise further. What are we doing to get higher quality contributions? We are collaborating with a vet on professional articles to give the site more credibility in the areas I am not an expert in and Andy is covering dog news where he has time. Hopefully, over the long term, this will help to improve the organic traffic to the website. With the articles, we now have high-end long-form content covered although I would like to get a more varied team of writers on board to broaden the appeal of the subject matter. We also have more fun commenting, likes and meme social interaction covered in the photo competition section. This leaves a gap in the middle for more serious user-contributed discussion and opinion and what ultimately will make or break the website. For this, we’re working on getting the blogs application ready for when we feel the traffic is sufficient to launch another area. When it’s ready we will slowly transition the ad spend towards the new blog section and forums to provide more balanced traffic coming to the site. We will also be able to promote the new sections via the newsletter. I am almost at the end of the school year so my time on the site should increase and I can get more involved with discussion topics to try and foster that sense of community. What else have I learned? Keeping people’s attention is not easy and once a member has left the site you need to work really hard to get them to revisit. It’s something I read a lot of on these forums so hopefully, Invision is working on this to help us keep people engaged. As you can see we’re still in the try lots of things to see what works stage but the learning experience is part of the fun. We were running AdSense ads and getting a little back from the spend we were doing ourselves but I feel at this stage it is counter-productive. We have decided to stop AdSense for the time being in order to concentrate on building traffic and the membership and will revisit the monetisation options once the site has grown. Not running the adverts has also given the site a substantial speed boost which will hopefully help us with organic rankings. If you’re running your community as a hobby you may not wish to spend anything on advertising to start and may prefer to slowly add to your website content. With so much competition for traffic online though this would be a very slow strategy for us for what I still hope to be a commercially viable micro business. On the current growth path, I hope to be profitable in 12-18 months and will keep you updated with the highs or lows along the way.
  2. Is it possible to have this delay the email but not the PM? I would like to send an immediate welcome PM and then follow up later with an email but it looks like the delay applies to both?
  3. Since the last blog entry in this series I have been very busy. I’m still working full time so haven’t been able to spend as much time as I would have liked on The Dogly Mail but I’m really enjoying the time I can. Early growth has been promising and I have been experimenting with different ideas that have come from founder members to see what might work long term. We recently broke the 100 member milestone and that all came from word of mouth. We’re not talking huge numbers but I’m very encouraged for the future. My focus is now on building interactions with four main areas of the site. Forums I had imagined the forums being the most active area after seeing other Invision Communities but I don’t think there are enough regularly active members yet for this area to be truly useful so it is (for now) not the main priority. I am however using some forums functionality effectively. I’ve added a special offers forum that is viewable by non members but to get to the actual topic contents you need to register. This seems to be enticing a few people to sign up and I want to approach more retailers to build on this. I also installed Simple Topic from the marketplace to simplify the posting process down to the absolute minimum steps required. Polls are also proving popular and new members who may not want to commit to introducing themselves or posting a full topic are at least interacting. I’ll be looking for more ways of adding easy interactions such as this. If anybody has any ideas for encouraging early discussion please let me know in the comments. Articles In the articles section new items are slowly being added and I find this a good opportunity to show some personality and indicate to users what they can expect from the rest of the site. I am trying all kinds of articles such as news, reviews, recipes and dog training guides to find out what I should focus on. I would also like to attract some guest writers for different viewpoints and to free up some of my time. Being able to see article view counts in Invision Community and the direct commenting functionality gives me good feedback. Events The launch of the events section coincided with a large dog related event in London and through it I was able to collaborate with the event organisers and do some succesful networking. This has led to some future opportunities for product reviews and reinforces my point from the last blog article where not all of your time should be spent behind the keyboard. Most of the events are being added by myself but hopefully as this section builds others will find it useful for promoting their own events. Photos One of the early members was quick to suggest we incorporate image sharing into the website as after all how can anybody resist cute photos of puppies? For this I originally looked at the Invision Gallery but felt that this section needed to have a voting element and Gallery was perhaps too feature rich. I wanted it to be a simple first interation with the website. I wanted people to be able to vote and more importantly encourage their friends to sign up and vote too. We started out with a simple topic and for the first month with not many people this worked great. One post was an entry and people could “Like” their favourites. It quickly became quite popular and it was clear that we would need something dedicated to the task so I commissioned some custom work. This was real investment but is already showing promising signs after launching April 1st. New members can now enter the photo competition and register at the same time so most new registrations are now coming from this route. I’ve recently discovered the profile completion feature so will enable that this month to try and increase engagement a bit further. I want to keep to our non intrusive privacy policy so this will all be optional and limited to member photo and some simple dog breed and numer of dogs fields. The Auto Welcome plugin from the marketplace will also be used when I figure out the best way to deploy it. With what I have learned so far I have a better idea of what is going to work to attract registrations and there is also a credible amount of content. This month I will be starting to look into some paid promotion with the hope of hitting my next milestone of 250 members. I will share my findings and hopefully some helpful marketing tips next month.
  4. Thank for the support everyone. Your feedback is much valued and appreciated.
  5. 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. 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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