How to Find your Community’s First Members

You don’t want to teach people about your company nor technology right now. These are barriers to tackle in the next stage.

To get going, you want people who are interested in your company or your industry. You want people who are comfortable with technology.

Here is some fertile recruiting ground:

  • Bloggers. Not the big bloggers, but people with a blog about your industry. They care so much they spend their time on it.
  • Comments. People that comment on blogs in your industry are great to contact. They’re interested, know the tools, and have the time to spare.
  • News Stories. Most news sites allow people to add their opinion to the story. Don’t be afraid to approach them.
  • Book Reviewers. People that review books about your genre are becoming more approachable. Visit Amazon, eBay and other sites to find potential members.
  • Facebook, LinkedIn and Other Social Networks: Learn how to search for people by interest and develop relationships with people.
  • Industry Magazines. Who’s been writing into your industry’s magazines? Read the letters and Google the names. They most likely have an online presence.
  • Customer Service. Anyone that’s shown such an interest that they’ve contacted the customer service team to complain or improve the product is someone you want.
  • Your Inbox. Anyone that’s written to you with a question, or a comment that never really got your full attention. Invite them.
  • Taggers. Who’s tagging content about your sector? Invite them.
  • Twitter. Search Twitter for mentions of your company and your industry. Invite the people you find, unless they have over 500 followers.
  • Conference Attendees. People that attended the industry conference are usually interested in being better at what they, or becoming more involved in the industry. You can often get the complete list of members from the conference site. Use with caution.
  • Regular Visitors/Lurkers. Put up a post calling for volunteers interested in getting more involved. You can’t announce the project yet, but they can e-mail you if it spikes their interest.
  • People They Know. Ask everyone you get from this list who else they think would love to be one of the first members of your new community – approach them.

Who not to approach:

  • A-List Bloggers. Too busy to bother with your community. Focus on the people that comment on their blog instead.
  • Current Customers. It’s too soon to invite your current customers at will. Unless they have shown an extended interest in your company i.e. they filled in the suggestions form, don’t invite them yet.
  • Journalists. It’s too soon for a journalist to care. Make something they can’t ignore.
  • Employees. Employees will notice that in the early days your community is looking a bit bare. It might put them off from coming back. Wait until you have something you can show them.
  • Newsletters. Don’t automatically try to convert your passive newsletter deletes into members.
  • Anyone From A Paid-For List. Just don’t.
  • Existing Online Groups/Rival Communities. Don’t mass invite members of pre-existing online communities. You don’t want a group of people that already know each other just yet. You want passionate people that you can forge into a community. That’s a big difference.

(Image: Reach Out, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from stuartpilbrow's photostream)

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