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Adventures in community building

April 1, 2013


We all live in communities, whether we participate in them or not.

I’ve built communities online for years. The first one I ever created was a mailing list for my alumni of my high school.

The most recent one I’ve launched is a Google+ community for my hometown, Birmingham. I wanted to experiment with the new feature in G+, and Birmingham is always a good fit for me.

I like watching how others build communities, whether based on existing brands or willing them into existence.

Blogs have a unique relationship with the community concept. They can be communities, when they attract and engage visitors. They can spawn communities, whether in forums or on social media channels.

Bloggers often ask themselves whether their blog needs a related Facebook page, Pinterest board or Instagram account. The challenge with each new community is addressing the needs of its specific audience and finding time to work with it.

The advantages include expanding a site’s audience and reach, gaining new ideas and customers, and becoming better attuned to what fans like and need. The disadvantages include faster burnout, divergence from the brand and the occasional dead end (a community in decline).

The outcome I wanted to see on the Birmingham G+ community is starting to take shape: participation by members. Rather than just one person (me) feeding posts into the group, I’d like to see others contribute links, stories, photos, videos and comments about the city. This diversity of input makes for a richer, more engaging community.

Starting online communities can be done almost instantly. Nurturing and growing them remains the challenge for builders, but those who do it well find a common cause that quickly attracts like-minded participants.

Photo: UF Digital Collections (CC)

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