In this post were going to talk about identifying your Community membership and finding out where they are today.

Before we start talking about that though, I want to level set on the 90-9-1 rule of social media.  It states that 1% of people will be your primary contributors, they’ll be the most active, typically will be the experts on your site.  9% will be people who casually engage with content that the 1% is driving.  90% of people will do nothing but read.  This is a difficult concept to grasp for a lot of people but I have found it to be true in every community I’ve managed.  If you have 500,000 unique visitors you can expect to have less than 50,000 active members and the majority of the content will be made by less than 500 people.

Forrest Lymburner

For the sake of this blog post we are only going to focus on the 9% and the 1%.  In a later post I’ll talk about content curation and making sure your community appeals to the people who come along long after the conversation has ended.

When you break down online community into the simplest of terms it falls into one of two categories.  Either…

While this seems overly simplistic it is key when developing your initial community strategy.  The majority of time, in my experience, the need for community was there long before a marketer came along and thought of building one but there are situations where creating the community itself started the whole thing.  For those situations there has to be real, disruptive innovation that starts the community.  In some cases this could be new legislation and a community forms to support or defeat it.  In other cases a community forms around being fans of a new product.  This is a rare thing to create purposely.

Most commonly there is a need that is driving the creation of the community.  And because of this your community members already exist and are already somewhere trying to do what you are building your community to do.

Step One: Figure Out Who They Are

I have seen many communities start where the audience is simply “The customers”  This “throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks” almost never works.  You need to figure out who will be the make up of your community, why they would want to participate, what would make them happy, what would piss them off.  If you can, try to find demographics to understand gender, age and cultural differences.  Knowing exactly who you think will make up your community is the first real step in developing an effective engagement strategy.  It is also enormously helpful when designing your site.

Step Two: Where Are They Now?

If you are solving for a problem your community members are not sitting patiently waiting for you to come along like Prince Charming and rescue them.  They are out there, solving the problem (or trying to).  While you are trying to build a better mousetrap people will make due with what they can find.  Here are some tips to help you find your community membership.

Doing this exercise will allow you to answer the questions who are your community members, what do they want and where are they now.  From these you will derive problem definition, engagement strategy, acquisition strategy and and marketing insight.

In our next blog post we will talk about branding your community.  Making sure that your name, url, colors and voice fit with your target audience.  As always, replies and feedback is appreciated!