How to Make Social Work for Your Community: Ted Rheingold at ForumCon 2013

For anyone interested or involved in creating online communities, ForumCon is an event not to be missed. The conference offers a mix of keynote presentations, panel discussions, and breakout sessions, along with a healthy dose of collaboration. Session topics run the gamut from a history of forum software technology to SEO to connecting with your community in real life. Panelists presented a variety of perspectives on the business of community, but as a community manager, the talk that resonated most with me was Ted Rheingold's lessons on How to Make Social Work For Your Forums. Read on for key insights on creating a social strategy to compliment your community.

No community is so high and mighty that it doesn't need to participate in social media. As someone who owns or manages a thriving community, you might believe that Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Reddit aren't worth your time, and in some ways you're right. But it's important to have humility in the face of Facebook and other powerhouse social platforms. In order to grow and replenish your community with new members, fresh ideas, and voices, you will need to make social media your ally. Launch your community into the social sphere and encourage site visitors to do the same through 1) design, 2) presence, 3) engagement hacks, and 4) creating shareable content.


What the heck is sociality?

On page sociality: Someone reads a discussion or article on your site and shares it directly to her social networks via an on page share button.

On service sociality: Someone is scrolling through her Pinterest, Facebook, or YouTube feeds, and doesn't want to go elsewhere, so she shares direct links back to your community.

If you want people to share content from your community, it's important to own the process of social sharing and make it as easy as possible for visitors. Learn the top three or four services your audience uses and that drive the most traffic to your site. Focus on those -- remove the others. Additionally, you should create a baseline for metrics by using Google Social Analytics, which reverse engineers popular buttons and recognizes when they're clicked and submitted, so you can discover what your visitors are sharing and where they're sharing it.


Different levels of sharing

Brand-level sharing: These are the buttons that prompt a visitor to connect with you on their favorite social channels e.g., "follow us on Twitter," "subscribe to our RSS feed," and "follow us on Instagram." You should display these buttons prominently on your site, but they should not appear on every page, because the visitor will only take this action once. The top righthand corner of the main page of a website is an ideal spot for these social icons, and many visitors will expect to see them there.

Article-level sharing: Post and page-level sharing that should be prominent on every page of your community. Visitors can take multiple sharing actions and are more likely to share a post if the buttons are apparent. Top of post, bottom of post, and scrollbar social sharing buttons are most popular. A combination of top and bottom or bottom and scroll may prove even more powerful -- you can collect data or use a service such as CrazyEgg to see which placement attracts the majority of shares.

Content-level sharing: The most sophisticated type of sharing, this sometimes requires a mouse-over for a submenu to pop-up that encourages readers to share photos, quotes, or paragraphs. If overdone, you run the risk of exhausting your audience.


Social platform fatigue: How can you tell which sites are worth your time?

It doesn't take much to maintain a presence on a social platform. Being present on a social platform means adequately describing your service and product in your profile, including good photos and links back to your site. It's okay if you don't update your Google+ page daily or even weekly, but make sure your most recent update isn't from 2011, and keep it consistent. The important thing is that you do have a brand presence -- it's free marketing after all.


Engagement hacks for the most popular social platforms

Find the path of least resistance to improve your brand's reputation and increase its following on the most popular social platforms. Give your tweets and posts a personal touch and don't buy your audience!


Tweet as a "person" via the brand handle. Know your audience, and also know that the most sought after tweets are related to current events, breaking news, and personal updates.

Half-life: 30 minutes. If a tweet doesn't get any engagement in 30 minutes, put it in your back pocket and tweet it again later.

Engagement hacks: Use the favorite function generously and add people to 'prestigious lists' (e.g., most inspirational speakers, ridiculously awesome community managers, the best of the Internet, etc.). 


"Facebook Edgerank is brutal," noted Ted. If you're getting hit by Edgerank and are in a negative cycle, the best way to break out of it is to only post things that get major engagement. If it takes only posting pictures of kittens and dogs, do it. As you start picking up engagement, you'll get caught in a more positive cycle. "It's awful, but they're focusing on their users who would rather look at cute pictures." Finally! Permission to start posting disappointed cat pictures.

Half-life: One day, and the most engaging Facebook posts are news, culture, and celebrity-related.

Engagement hacks: Fan peer pages; like, share, and comment on posts.


Create very topic specific Boards. Instead of "for your home" try "wicker baskets for spring." Think of your Pinterest board as a landing page for your long tail searches. Make sure to use the target keywords in your pin descriptions and board title. Those keywords help Google index and rank your Pinterest boards, and will be a boon to SEO.

Half-life: One hour. 

Engagement hacks: Follow a single board of active users to get attention without flooding your home page.


Power up your Instagram feed by using top hashtags and following user-created trends. If a hashtag is hot, jump on the bandwagon.

Half-life: One hour. 

Engagement hacks: Use the heart liberally -- liking and loving photos will delight fellow Instagram users and generate potential community members. If your community is all about cycling, seek out posts with the #cycling or #bike or #bikesf hashtags and comment when it is meaningful.


The most popular YouTube content is how-tos, serials, and personality-driven programs. With the right content, viewers can get to know your brand better and in a positive light. Video content is exceptional at improving brand recall, perceived legitimacy, and overall reputation.

Half-life: Forever!

Engagement hacks: Read the YouTube Playbook.


It's important to build a presence on Google+ for search power and credibility. Create a detailed profile and share content from your community directly to your Google+ page. The content creators in your community can also sign up for Google Authorship, which can help establish brand identity and may influence the way a post ranks in the search engine results page.

Half-life: One day.

Engagement hacks: Find relevant groups and participate in them; organize Google Hangouts and invite influencers.


Get crowned as an influencer! How? We're not quite sure.

Half-life: One hour.

Engagement hacks: Participate in relevant groups, be generous with likes and comments, post new discussions, and follow influencers.


To have a big impact on Quora, answer questions thoughtfully. Seek out popular or trending topics, but only answer them if you have something honest and valuable to add to the conversation.

Half-life: Forever!

Engagement hacks: Share knowledge, be modest and informative. Follow relevant influencers and up-vote valuable content.

Big thanks to Lucy Bartlett, Murray Newlands, Oliver Deighton, and VigLink for organizing the event and inviting us to attend. 

Lead image of a very disappointed cat courtesy of PopKitten via Buzzfeed; image of a worried boxer courtesy of BirdsTalkingToo; photo of Ted Rheingold at ForumCon 2013 courtesy of Crystal Coleman

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