Two weeks ago, Catherine Walker had the AMA session in the Theta Club. It was awesome to see Theta members from all around the world asking about online communities and social media. Here’s what we covered.

Q: If you could give a piece of advice to a complete beginner, what would you say, where to focus most of my time considering community building? What would you do, with the knowledge and experience that you have now?

Thanks for the first question! I would say know where your audience is most active and listen there first to the type of conversations they're having. I've been involved in two different approaches, one, building a community/forum site and hoping our customers would go there and play nicely (they didn't) and the other was just watching different social media channels and seeing what organic conversations were happening (which worked!). Also think about what community means to you/your business/your topic - it's not defined by a platform or a location - for us, all our customers and partners and even our staff are party of our 'community'.

Q: I'm trying to build a positive and productive community in a company but it's not going well, what can I do to motivate myself to keep going?

Argh, I'm sorry to see that! I would say definitely don't put blame on yourself. A community is not just something you can build and hey presto it works. And it's not just down to you to be the seed and responder for every conversation. A community definitely takes time to grow and sometimes it will be a string of bad days, no content, negative content, low uptake and you just need to be patient. If you want to reply here with what you mean specifically by 'not going well' I can expand further.

Q: How would you advise growing a community like Theta Club?

Do not smother it! (Not that you are) but the times I've been involved in a community where it didn't grow was when we had too many staff/insiders rushing to respond and post to try and force the conversation and it just didn't work. You also need to keep on top of questions and comments that are directed to you/your business but also have the confidence to leave a little space sometimes to give others a chance to respond.

Q: Facebook vs Instagram: Which platform helps you more in community building?

In my experience for my company, it's been Facebook. Just because it's been around longer as a business tool and in our business we have accountants who use our product for their clients and they really like to gather in a Facebook group where they can talk about running their firms using new online tools, new types of fee structures, and also ask questions about our product in a comfortable place away from clients who potentially would see that they were unsure about different parts of the product. Also as a community manager, using tools like Salesforce Social Studio to manage streams doesn't give full access to Instagram so with that likelihood of missing DMs or questions we currently don't focus on it as a community tool.

Q: Can you give generic tips about growing niche communities? For example, what would be your best strategies to give people awareness about a community for 'women in tech' and to get people to sign up?

Yes this is a challenge! In our case we had our community of accountants and bookkeepers and through in person events like roadshows or seminars we encouraged them to keep in touch with us via social media, and sometimes set up LinkedIn groups to continue on the conversation. We certainly promoted the aspect of keeping in touch with peers, getting help to grow their business so the collegial nature helped. Because we're a product we also used a note when responding to customer queries through our ticketing system that let them know about our own community site. And of course posting interesting articles or commentary or finding them and posting about them to the niche audience is a good starting point, even if there's no interaction at the start, take note of what does get it and post more of that.

Q: What's your favorite community on Reddit?

Actually I am a Reddit nobody! I have an account so that I can keep on top of any work things that pop up but I've always been a bit confused/overwhelmed by it! So I'd love to know what your favorite is and how you use it :) Thank you!

Q: What are your thoughts on how to help online communities get together when they are at in person events.

We've done this actually. Sometimes by location at a conference, as in, meet your fellow users from Bradford for a coffee and chat. Another thing that has worked for us, given we're product focussed, is to hold AMA's or meet n greets with key people from our community or company (CEO, product leads etc) as there's a common denominator being our product. Great coffee and great food! While no-one likes to see lines in the breaks, they're a great way to meet people :)

Q: What are the most common misconceptions about community that you've heard while working with companies to build them?

Still some myths out there for sure!

  1. Build it and they will come
  2. Anyone can be a community manager, it's easy to just answer a bunch of questions
  3. It'll generate new customers
  4. There are mostly negative comments
  5. A community is a forum/website tool/platform

Q: What's most effective + specific way of building communities?

Being available, present and willing to engage in any conversation is key. Listen first. If you see what your growing community is interested in, even if it's the latest episode of a TV show, and you allow those common interests to become a kernel then your members will build up confidence to put forward their comments and know that they have found a place to engage. You can gently steer away from this as time goes on. Be willing to answer anything, in public if that's where it's being asked!

Q: What metrics can one use to measure community growth?

This is a tricky one depending on the type of community and reason for it. Number of members or posts is pretty standard, but I think some kind of engagement level is best. You can have 100 posts with no interaction so that's not really growth, perhaps seeing the average number of comments or reactions is the most true.

Q: What’s some ‘low hanging fruit’ in the community space that you think any blogger should start with?

I think sharing any examples of what's worked for you in managing a community. On a personal level. I know there's a lot of that type of 'How to' stuff out there but if it's in your own words and experience then it's unique. I think others who are trying to build a community would read blog posts on time management, or platform choices, or how to keep track of topics and responses, especially if you have multiple admins or responders on a platform. Is this what you meant?

Q: What’s the best way to deal with disruptive members of a community?

Definitely interact with them in the first instance, make sure they know their message has been heard. Beyond that the timing is a balancing act - at some point you want to give them no oxygen, and sometimes straight out asking what they hope to achieve with their negative or repetitive or off-topic comments is a way to diffuse. Make sure you have rules for your community, and that community members are aware of them, do not be afraid to hide or ban them from participating (depending on what your platform offers).

Q: Can influencer marketing be an effective way to grow your community?

Tricky ... I think this is a 'depends' answer. A community is very savvy and if they think there are 'plants' present to sell a product they'll know, and again, depending on the product or service that wouldn't work. In my experience I think genuine trusted topic experts work well compared to product selling.

Interested in joining the Theta Club? You can join here.