Lifting rocks to seed a community….
Posted September 17, 2006on:
Building a community can be like lifting up rocks on a mountainside to explore for bugs (or truffles, or whatever folks look for under rocks)… you need do some work, look hard, and treat each like it’s own discovery. Your hands will be dirty (or in this case, calloused from too much email), but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the real person you can find behind each outreach.
With our platform in place, and (of course) a company name settled, September’s focus has been to expand our community. We’re moving beyond just GV’s to build a credible & authentic group of real users. The challenge is to do it discretely – in a secret pre-launch beta site. This way, when we do “launch”, visitors will discover an experience and a real community to search with.
So, how can we discretely sign up hundreds of people who will keep us secret, but who will also buy our vision, bring us into their private “search life”, and forgive us for any early shortfalls? Given that many early adopters tend to blog about new sites they try, this can be a scary challenge.
One approach I’ve enjoyed is to reach out, just say hello, and be authentically interested in someone’s life… the “lifting rocks” analogy applies because each outreach is a unique challenge, takes time, attention, and a more studious approach than any traditional mass-outreach.
I started with our own users… contacting certain clipclip.org users, and opening up a 1:1 dialog. Effectively the email said “would you like to try our search community? Can we trust you to keep us secret?”. The dialog wasn’t just a mass mailing, but included taking each interested user and pre-discovering the person behind that username and email address. I studied users’ clips, searched their backgrounds on our search site, and (in most cases) tried to discover my own genuine interest in involving this person in our community. I did it over and over, with every user we invited. It was a huge amount of email (thanks Stanford J) but I felt more authentic about my invite being selective, and it seems the response was encouraging…
“Your appeal to early adopter and selectiveness got me.”
“I’m honored that I can help”
“I appreciate the way you talk to people you don’t even know (read “me”) ! It goes beyond the skills of sales person”.
Many of these emails have continued on to a thoughtful exchange of feedback, collaboration around expanding community.
The big question is how well this approach can scale and can it expand it to other online communities? Last week, I tried a posting on craigslist (after all, craigslist users have been great focus group members) “thank you craigslist, users for all your support so far …we’d love to have you join our search community….”. Again, it took work, but was fruitful, and many of our newest, most generous members are craigslist users.