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While everyone is seemingly on Facebook and Twitter, don’t think for a second that there is no room for smaller niche communities that cater to specific areas of interest. New online communities are launching all the time and those that don’t subscribe to the “if you build it they will come” fallacy can be quite successful despite the dominance of the big two.

I learned of two new online communities just this week: MultiUnitLiving.com and TeamRunSmart.com. Both cater to a very distinct audience. MultiUnitLiving.com is a community for owner operators and property managers of multi-family housing. It allows them to connect with their peers and discuss industry issues.

TeamRunSmart.com is a new community created by Freightliner Trucks, aimed at educating professional drivers on how to improve their profitability. Features include educational articles, blogs, operational tips and insight from professional drivers and “coaches” on how to be more successful.  Freightliner’s director of product marketing, TJ Reed says the Team Run Smart community is the “definitive guide to help business-minded drivers succeed,”

I think online communities are a fine choice and sometimes the best solution. Facebook and Twitter can be everything to everyone. Sometimes you need a closed, owned environment that doesn’t change every week, requiring you to adapt.

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Diving into a community head first can be intimidating for some people, even though it may be second nature to you and me.

Sometimes it’s much easier to stay in the background and lurk, enjoying the community with no real commitment.

It’s the lurkers sometimes, who contribute to that valuable “time spent” stat community managers often covet and it makes sense to consider lurkers when you’re developing features for a new online community.

I don’t believe that every action should require registration, and learned from experience that it can take a lurker up to six months to finally bite the bullet and jump on in. I specifically remember an e-mail from a member and a blog from another indicating that they’d both been hanging around for months.

By the time they did sign up, they knew which groups they wanted to join, which members they’d like to connect with and understood the community culture as well.  Lurkers are also less likely to create a new profile  and abandon it, never to return. They already view your community as a destination and that’s a beautiful thing.

By locking everything down, you don’t give people a chance to dabble, and sometimes you have to have a little taste before completely committing.

So as you think about ways to engage the community, do consider the lurkers. Include polls and other interactive features. Host live chats that allow guests to sign in, and publish snippets of your member newsletter in a blog post or forum so they can see what they’re missing.

This is an important audience, so be sure to show the lurkers a little love.

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I’m sure we can all agree that there are major benefits to patients who communicate about their health online, particularly among others with similar conditions. This is a major component of the conversation surrounding “Health 2.0.”

What some people find in these communities is empathy, understanding, different points-of-view and perspectives, compassion and the freedom to participate in open discussions with people who truly understand what they’re going through.

But what they’re also getting in some cases, which is a big concern among the health care community — is misinformation.

That leads me to the results of a new study which involved an analysis of  the 15 largest Facebook communities dedicated to diabetes.  The research team analyzed 690 comments across those 15 communities which had a total of 9,289 participants. Throughout the research, they found evidence of some of what I just mentioned: emotional support and valuable insights. But a closer look at the comments revealed that one in four were promotional in nature, generally for non-FDA approved products, which they say raises important concerns about the authenticity of participants in Facebook communities dedicated to diabetes.

I don’t know about you, but I find that cause for concern.

The researchers also found surveys, marketing pitches and efforts to recruit patients for clinical trials where the true identity of the poster could not be confirmed. I placed emphasis on that sentence because I personally find it inexcusable. Marketers communicating in this space should be completely transparent, even if that means the participants in the community don’t want them there.

Here are a few other findings from the study, which was sponsored by CVS Caremark:

  • A majority of posts (66 percent) are individuals describing their personal experiences with managing diabetes;
  • Nearly one-quarter of the posts (24 percent) represent sharing of personal information that is unlikely to be shared between patient and doctors, such as individuals discussing carbohydrate management in the setting of alcohol consumption;
  • Twenty nine percent of the posts are by diabetic patients providing emotional support to others grappling with aspects of that disease;
  • Thirteen percent of the posts are providing specific feedback to information requests by others in the diabetic community;
  • Twenty seven percent of the posts feature promotional activity and first person testimonials around non-FDA approved products and services.

In my opinion, the findings illustrate the importance of these types of communities for people in need of support. But they also raise a serious red flag, as mentioned in this conclusion from the researchers:

“Clinicians should be aware of these strengths and limitations when discussing sources of information about chronic disease with patients. Policy makers should consider how to assure transparency in promotional activities, and patients may seek social networking sites developed and patrolled by health professionals to promote accurate and unbiased information exchange.”

I find this topic intriguing, and I was happy to come across this kind of research. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens next as more of this kind of information is revealed based on these types of analyses.

Complete findings of this study can be found in the Journal of Internal Medicine.


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I am always rooting for Ning.

From the very beginning Ning made things easy. People migrated to the platform for its ease of use and the sheer power it gave them to connect around an area of interest, issue or cause. Remember when Ning announced that it was phasing out “free” back in April?

I’ll admit that I was really worried that communities would die because of it, but chief executive Jason Rosenthal told Venturebeat, that Ning went from 15,000 to 70,000 paying customers since it got rid of its free product.He also said that Ning is gaining about 8,000 new subscribers each month.

Wow!

The purpose of this post is to share another bit of interesting news about Ning, which is this: Today the company released new tools that will allow people to easily (there’s that ease of use thing again…) incorporate a social experience into existing websites with the same drop and drag features of which users of its standalone communities have become so accustomed.
The goal was to make it easy enough for technophobes, as illustrated in this comment from Rosenthal, posted here

“It used to be you’d have to hire a whole army of developers, but on Ning it is a drag-and-drop creation process so even someone with no technology skills can get all the features we expect to in a social experience online.”

Ning is also extending its platform to smartphones and an array of cloud services, including being able to integrate websites with Facebook or Twitter.

I appreciate the power that Ning brings to the little guy. Not everyone wants to put all of their eggs in the Facebook basket and this is one of the main reasons I will continue to root for Ning.

*Note: Check out my 2009 interview with Ning’s Jason Rosenthal.

 

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I have two days left as the community manager of a site that has been at the core of my professional existence for nearly three years. I am trying to detach because it’s the right thing to do but it isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Many of you may have already experienced this. Perhaps you launched a community and moved on and you  understand what I’m going through.  Others may not have done this yet but know that you will someday leave your community behind for something bigger and better, or simply less stressful.

Read the rest of this entry »

This is exactly what nearly 5,000 members (or should I say “former” members) of the website BeautifulPeople.com were told after packing on the pounds during the holidays, according to a story on CNN.com.

Founder, Robert Hintze states in the article that they “mourn the loss of any member,” but that his community demands a high standard of beauty.

“Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded,” he told CNN.com.

While my initial reaction included a smidgen of outrage, it soon faded because you know what? The community belongs to the members, and if they don’t want so-called “fatties” it is certainly their prerogative.

The good news is, these members will have a chance to redeem themselves once they lose the weight as characterized here:

“We responded to complaints by moving the newly chubby members back to the rating stage. This is the same as having them re-apply.” That comment comes from Greg Hodge, managing director of BeautifulPeople.com.

While I do find this a bit amusing I think there’s a lesson here about online communities. It’s one that I truly believe in. The community will develop its own culture and the members who are vested will work to keep that culture. It was the members after all who flagged these fatties.

Why?

Because like it or not, they care about what their community stands for.

And in this case, its beautiful people who can clearly exercise self-control around the holidays.

(This post originally appeared on the blog, SiliconAngle, where I am a regular contributor)

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This is the question I wanted to ask the woman who called asking me to remove a comment, actually several comments, she’d posted on a news story.

Wait, let me be honest and tell you that after a ten minute conversation I did ask her that question. And her answer, though lame, is a common answer provided by those who experience commenter’s remorse and go to great lengths to find the person who can actually remove them –  ME.  First they email, then they call. The call comes first if the comment is particularly troublesome.

The woman I’m talking about in this instance said she was caught up in the moment and couldn’t help herself.  Yes, go back and read that sentence again. She couldn’t help herself from posting a comment that could possibly jeopardize her job. She’d posted some telling information on a crime story about the suspect, and guess what? She had that information because she works at the hospital where he was treated.

Some common sense in this situation would have gone a long way.

It would not have taken Nancy Drew to solve that case had it become an issue or if it leaked that the information was on the site.

Since this woman was nearly in tears, I removed all four of the comments, but not before encouraging her to be more careful and making her understand that it was a complete courtesy on my part because it is not our policy to remove comments  and we are not obligated to honor her request.

But in this economy, I don’t want to see anyone lose their job and if I could do my part by removing four comments, so be it.

But just when I thought she understood my message and would take heed, she asked me to ban her account completely because she couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t do it again.

I was floored.

Can we get a little self-control with  that common sense?

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This is a cross post from the cool and very interesting social web meets tech innovation blog SiliconANGLE. I asked to be a contributor over there and they said yes. SO, I am going to be posting over there a bit and thought you might like to know. Enjoy….

The migration frenzy to Facebook by every company in America and beyond is something I absolutely understand and appreciate. Who doesn’t want their message in front of that many eyeballs? Just the idea of possibly capturing even a smidgen of a fraction of the Facebook audience is enough to make a room full of top executives salivate for a week straight.

I’m sure the conversations go something like this: “Just think, if someone posts something about our brand and it goes on their wall and the walls of their friends and then they see our logo and get curious and click on a link and the fact that they clicked on a link to our brand shows up on the walls of all of that person’s friends, we could be all over the place!” (Hear the exhaustive panting? See the sweat on the brow?)

…Okay, they may not go exactly that way but I know I’m close because I’ve been involved in such conversations. It’s insane not to give it a try. I get that. Facebook Connect is a wonderful thing.

But, let’s just take a deep breath for a second and remember that there are other online communities out there with huge memberships that might be worth your time as well. If you have a product of services that would be of interest to moms, it might be a good idea to consider shifting some of your online marketing efforts over to sites like CafeMom, or Momtourage. The pool may not be as big, but the water could be just as nice.

If you want to reach car enthusiasts, consider specific niche communities that cater to the audience you are trying to reach….

You can read the full post, Facebook may be the big Kahuna, but there are other fish in the sea..here.

And be sure to read some of the other great content over at SiliconANGLE, while you’re there. Tell them Angela sent you!

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The good folks over at eModeration have impressed me once again with their amazing insight into what it takes to successfully moderate communities populated with teens and tweens. In their latest white paper, How to Moderate Teens and Tweens, author and company CEO Tamara Littleton reviews some of the  common online behaviors of our youth that could lead danger right to their doorstep.

Much of the information was new to me, as my experience has largely been with moderating and managing adult online communities.

As a community professional I was surprised to learn some of what I’d never considered but as a parent I was  grateful for the information which has certainly given me a heads up on what to discuss with my daughters about online activity and what I should look for when considering which communities they are allowed to access.

Here is an excerpt:

“In our experience of moderating online environment for tweens and teens we find that tweens in particular are more likely to give up personal information about themselves online. This is the single biggest problem for moderators.”

Such personal information, according to eModeration,  could include phone numbers and street names and with teens, is often conveyed using clever wording or clues in an effort to fly underneath the radar. When filters are present, teens get creative and might type something like this: “My number is Too Tree Tree Ate On Fort Hive Steven.”

Alarmed yet? Wait, there’s more. This comment was taken directly from a large children’s brand:

“your my hero as i have no dad. i’m your biggest fan. please call me. my number is (XXX-XXXX)

Here’s another eye-opening excerpt, which the report says includes the jigsaw pieces of which could be enough to identify and befriend a child for a predator:

“My name is Louise and I love your shows! Are you coming to Iowa anytime soon for a show? I love to play soccer. I play number 11. and I know your favourite animal is a lion which is my school mascot.”

Here’s why this should cause concern. Consider this: If there is one middle school in Iowa with a school mascot of a lion, one could find the school, go to a soccer practice and see the young girl wearing a shirt with number 11.

I don’t know about you but that pretty much raises my spider senses to a new level. This is an excellent  whitepaper filled with highly valuable information and is definitely worth your time.

If you’re a community professional this is a topic on which you should become knowledgeable.   If you’re a parent, this is information you can’t afford to be without.

Kudos to eModeration for continuing to provide safe online environments for kids and keeping us all in the loop on their findings.

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When a person dies, family members go to great lengths to fill their obituaries with the most important aspects of their lives. They go as far back as their memories will take them, dredging up every great thing their loved one has ever done, and in some cases great things they didn’t do.

Career success and various other accomplishments are highlighted, along with their passions, hobbies and details of a very rich family life.

What you might not expect to come across in an obituary is mention of their involvement in an online community. Well, I came across that very thing a few weeks ago, and I was stunned.

Do you remember a recent post where I discussed the death of a member of my community? He was one of the first 100 members, joining the day after we launched, on July 3, 2007…a date that is etched on his profile page.

The community meant a lot to this member and he was liked by many. His family knew this, and they honored his active participation and involvement in the community by mentioning it in his obituary not once, but twice. It was brought to my attention by another member, who had attended his funeral with several others who knew him from the blogs and live chats on the site.

This is something I won’t soon forget. I have a copy of it in my office. It is a true testament to the power of community. Communities can change lives and make a real difference whether we acknowledge it or not.

I am proud to have grown a community that could register high enough in a person’s life to be celebrated in his death.

Don’t underestimate the power of community.

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This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. Feel free to challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section of each blog entry.

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