I enjoy receiving questions from people. These questions are going to become common as community becomes an integral part of marketing plans.

I have a startup making a product. We’re selling them online. We have:

  • a website
  • a blog
  • forums

The problem is that not many come to the forums. And if they do, they don’t register or participate much.
Instead of trying to have our own forums, should we just join our customers where they are? But then I won’t be able to customize or monetize the forums.

Whether you have a blog and/or forums, it’s all the same. You need to build community around YOUR community. That’s how I started my online community work.

Here are the steps for getting things going:

1.  Provide a central gathering place.

  • It can be as simple as a blog all the way to fully featured forums (or both).
  • Add resources and information that provides value to your product & related topics.
  • Then jazz it up with interactive events of interest to your customer segment.

2.  Set up web analytics at your site.

  • Plug in Google Analytics
  • Claim your blog on Technorati
  • Set up Feedburner (although Google seems to really have broken this)

3. Start listening to find where your customers & potential customers are at

  • Set up Google Alerts
  • Monitor Twitter – Tweetdeck nicely sorts groups into columns
  • Set up a Social Media Firehose (put it in a dashboard like Netvibes.com)
  • Use an integrated tool like Techrigy SM2 (& yes I work for them)

4. Monitor and start noting trends

  • Check your monitoring  on a daily basis if you’re serious about this.
  • As you get things going, check your web analytics on a weekly basis (which may shift to more often as it becomes addictive).
  • Identify where your potential customers are hanging out at. It’s not practical to join every social networking site. So be selective.

5. Participate

  • Join specific social networks and get involved. Provide value & resources. It’s not about you or your product. It’s about developing relationships. Meet people as people.
  • Comment on blogs that are identified by your listening system. Join the conversation.
  • Contribute to the conversation at large by blogging about industry related topics on your blog.
  • Respond to those that are looking for your type of product. How will you know? if you’re listening for industry related topics then they will surface.

6. Build Brand

  • Be consistent & be everywhere. Listening will enable you to efficiently do that.
  • Provide a unique point of view that is memorable.
  • Find a way to be repetitive. Is it your logo, your photo, your username, etc Make it easy for people to remember you.
  • Establish yourself as a voice in your niche. Get to know others with common interests.

And if this sounds like work, it is. There’s no question about that. It takes time & energy. But remember that you’re creating relationships and something much bigger than just selling items. You’re creating a brand. If you pay it forward & provide value to those you interact with, then they will support you. In two to three months you’ll look back & see your progress.

What questions do you have? Which parts should I expand on? What has worked for you?