Seven online community building lessons: Our findings from Social Jozi

In November 2012, we took on the challenge of building a common interest community for people who want to explore Gauteng. The basic idea behind Social Jozi is; solve the problem of people constantly going into shopping malls while their bucket-lists, of things to do around them, kept getting bigger.

We collaborated as with other creative teams from Momu, AFROmedia, Crayonsky Giant and, of course us, WordStart. This meant we had access to multiple skill sets from the start. After four months and five events, more creative teams expressed an interest in building the community. We then collaborated with Shigo Creatives and Lorato Tshenkeng.

The solution? Start Social Jozi, a common interest community that has at least one outdoor event every month; create an easy going environment for people to share culture; and create original content as part of the process. It sounded easy enough and fun enough. Six months in, the community continues to grow and here are some lessons we picked up along the way:

 

1. Find the common interest

The key was to find something that people wanted to engage with and it became evident that people want to meet people. As simple and basic as that is, it remains true. The second part was to get people to engage with their surroundings through interesting activities that we tend to overlook and narrow that down to outdoor activities.

As the community grows, we are realizing that inasmuch we all want to be out there playing and meeting people, not all the activities will appeal to everyone in the community.

 

2. Community building and the art of Content Marketing

“It all began with a plan” is how this sentence was meant to start, and it did. We created a content plan and strategy that we stuck to from the beginning and this includes finding activities and content that the community gravitates towards. This is not necessarily pictures of kittens, which we like as much as the next guy.

We are finding that more people on Facebook are likely to share content than they are on Google+ and Twitter, as such, most of our attention goes to Facebook where most of the community is.

Soon after we began, in March to be precise, we were called by PiE Magazine who wanted to feature the community as a social alternative in Johannesburg. As an experiential community, they either had to do a shoot at one of our events, or we should have done a high quality shoot before the piece. This was the least expected content, on our part, to come in useful for interviews and we had collaborated with Vimage Media, a team of photographers and visual media specialists. (More about collaboration later.) The images were used as original content about the community.

PiE Mag - May 2013 issue

 

3. Collaborate

In the case of Social Jozi, we realized that there are far too many activities that people would be interested in. We stumbled upon adventures and events that we knew would require a much larger community to plan – from inception to hosting – so we collaborate with the organizers and teams to give our community access to more activities.

 

Vimage Media

Our two most successful collaborations to-date are with Vimage Media who sponsor our photography and the guys from Pure Rush who run some of South Africa’s top extreme sporting activities. It enables us to host a close-knit social explorer and adventurer community while creating original visual content that can be used at a later stage.

 

4. What matters to you might not matter to the community

This tends to be quite a tough one to swallow, because when you build a community you assume you know what’s right and you make the “rules”, then you soon realize that you don’t. Letting go of control for the community  to participate was hard for us, and it continues to be, that’s when the results start to show themselves.

The Social Jozi community is interested in events and activities that we did not expect and where the community goes, we facilitate the process. When you see yourself as the facilitator of a movement or community, growth starts to happen because the people themselves make the “rules” and it begins to self-organize.

 

5. Don’t chase the numbers, connect with people

When you build a community the idea of increasing numbers rapidly is very tempting, with Facebook promoted posts being as little as ZAR96.00 (approximately US$9.00) you can reach out to more people easier. Google Adwords and other options are also quite affordable.

 

Promoting posts on Facebook

The mission is to realize what people are interested in, as pointed out earlier. Once you know what it is – content and activities of interest – leverage that to increase engagement and connect with people.

 

6. Build a platform that spreads itself beyond you

In a recent study by Syncapse, it was revealed that the value of a Facebook “like” is  $174.17 which is far less than the mere $9, cited I earlier, to promote an update per day. That alone can be tempting if engagement isn’t an important factor, for you, in the community you are building.

We opted to build a platform where Social Jozi community connects with us, each other and the activities that are of interest to everyone. In this way, the community owns the platform and engages with it.

 

7. Influencers appear from the least expected places

When we started, the idea was to build it and identify influencers, potential brand evangelists and early adopters from the start. We identified the early adopters whom we thought would take an interest in Social Jozi and its activities. At the time, we had overlooked that some of those people would come from some of the least expected places.

In the past six months, Social Jozi has been adopted by people with a keen interest in its growth and activities. These are people who want to see the community grow, the ones who attend every single event and evangelize the cause. They are the ones we focus on, because they the people who are likely to tell us when we lose our bearing.

Who are some of the interesting communities that you follow? Tell us in the comments how you find them to be and why you love them.