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Five more tips to get your community thriving

This is a followup to yesterday's five tips from Communispace.

6. Just plain ask. Companies often over-think how to phrase a question or issue to community members. The best way is to just ask, simply and straightforwardly.

One client came up with a dozen ways to try to understand why African Americans didn't use their products. Communispace advice: just ask African Americans flat out "why?"

A retail client was worried about customers' reactions to a number of store closings. The best advice: post the press release and ask members what they have to say about the closings. Another technique that is consistently successful is to ask members these questions: "What are we missing? Is there something we didn't ask about that you wanted to share?" Members almost always say something useful.

7. Pay even more attention to what members initiate. While companies regularly poll members and ask them to take brief surveys and answer questions, the best insights often come from discussions started by members.

How members talk to each other about how an issue or product "fits" into their lives can be incredibly revealing, as is how members influence one another. Within 24 hours of launching an investment community, there were 11 different dialogue topics underway and only four of those had been seeded by the community facilitators. The rest were created by members around issues they care about. Listen more than ask.

8. Don't squelch the negative. One of the most common mistakes marketers make is to try to squelch conversations about negative feedback. "We can't let them talk about that!" is a common reaction. However, some of the best lessons come from hearing about those things that annoy, disappoint or outrage customers. Encourage members to give the good bad and ugly.

9. Don't ask too much, too often. As marketers get to know their community, many become overly-enthusiastic about the ability to ask customers all the time, any time, about everything - new product ideas, advertising concepts, competitor moves. Don't ask members for too much too often or they will become fatigued.

10. Use the right mix of technologies and methodologies, and keep experimenting. Make sure the community is built on multiple underlying technologies and methodologies so that people aren't stuck just answering surveys or posting to message boards, and so you can mine the insights with the right analytics. Engage members through a variety of functions: conduct live chats, create visual member profiles, use icons to classify discussion replies, upload advertisements; ask members to review products, keep diaries.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.