From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly (http://www.artofcommunityonline.org) by Jono Bacon
Buzz needs a target, and that target is the topic you are focusing on. Each time you steal away someone’s attention, she needs to know that it was worth it. You want to ensure that when someone looks in your direction, she feels it was worthwhile. To do this, you need to decide what you want to promote. Of course, buzz is an ongoing process: you will need to bring attention and focus to your community many, many times. Each of these times you need to ensure there is a purpose. Whether the purpose is announcing the community, attracting new members, or anything else, you should ensure that your goals and intentions are clear.
Two kinds of buzz campaigns are useful in virtually all communities:
- The initial announcement.
- Ongoing efforts to attract members.
We are going to explore both of these, looking at the four elements of the buzz cycle.
Announcing Your Community
The very first time you need buzz is when you announce your community. The goal is to get the message out among people who can contribute to your community, pique people’s interest, and get them to learn more. Your announcement should appear fresh and exciting, and an effective buildup phase is particularly important. Earlier I gave examples of the approach to announcing The Art of Community and 5-A-Day; you should consider similar approaches. Multimedia can make an announcement more exciting and memorable. Lawrence Lessig launched his Change Congress (http://change-congress.org/ ) campaign on his blog (http://www.lessig.org/blog/2008/03/change_congress_launched.html) by recording a short online presentation in which he narrated the goals of the project. I used a similar technique when I announced my Severed Fifth (http://www.severedfifth.com/ ) project. I recorded an announcement (http://www.severedfifth.com/news/2008/06/severed-fifth-launched/ ) and put it online on the day of release. These approaches really help captivate the viewer. The desired outcome with this kind of buzz is to have people visit your website and to spread awareness of your community.
Applying the buzz cycle
Ensure you have your website in place, and that all of the key information about your community and how to get involved is available. You should also ensure syndication feeds are available. Decide where it’s important to get mentioned (websites, magazines, personal blogs by leaders in the field, and so forth). You can often source a list of places by asking your community and identifying related websites and magazines.
If you have a preexisting blog or other site where you can post content, you could post “Coming Soon...” messages. If you are setting up a local community, you could put up fliers with the date of the announcement and a web address.
On the date of the announcement, you should publicize in all the communication channels that make sense. You should provide a short blurb that inspires people to learn about your community and encourage them to visit your website.
You can see where your announcement spread to and whether you were publicized in all the places you hoped. There’s also qualitative feedback: did comments and questions show that you described your project clearly? Did the types of people you want respond?
Contributors are at the forefront of what makes a great community. They are not only on the front line furthering your community in the direction of its goals, but they are also your representatives and spokespeople.
Although buzz campaigns can be started to attract contributors, this activity should be seen as an always-present and ongoing promotional effort. Your goal here is to constantly communicate the positive message of your community, its achievements, and how people can get involved. The greatest communicators of this message are your existing members: you want to turn their satisfaction into active promotion for your community. To achieve this, your members need to feel proud to be in your community. They should feel a drive and passion for your goals and objectives, and they should feel that they want to spread the word so others can enjoy the community too. A positive community will always generate a positive message and be a magnet for new contributors. The first step in achieving this is to build a sense of enjoyment, ease of contribution, and pride in your members. You build this by combining the elements discussed in this book: simple processes, effective governance, transparency, and so on. When you get these core attributes right, your members will thrive on the opportunities and direction that your community offers them. You now need to encourage them to share their happiness and drive with others. Their own resources and social network are an excellent communication channel for this outreach. Your job is to identify methods via which you can help them use these resources to spread the word about (a) the good work your community performs, and (b) why they enjoy being part of it.
For the former, give them buttons for their websites and blogs. Give them posters to print out and put in libraries, in stores, and on lampposts. Provide them with email signatures that they can use. Encourage them to set up Facebook/MySpace pages and more. Each of these resources should direct people back to the community’s website. To encourage your members to share their joy of being a part of the community, the key is that the communication focuses on the personal story: you need to encourage your members to share what they specifically enjoy about the project. In doing this you resort to the essence of community that we discussed back at the beginning of the book: stories.
Stories are a fantastic viral marketing asset. A great story is never told once; it is shared again and again. If your community members share great stories about their involvement in the community, the stories will travel far and wide and encourage new and unknown people to dip their feet into your waters. You should talk about the importance of sharing stories with your members. Help them to understand that on any given day they could talk to someone online, in a coffee shop, or on a train or plane and potentially inspire someone to join the community. This can provide your members with a powerful sense of opportunity for bringing people in and will get them involved. You should now augment this discussion with some specific recommendations of viral approaches of getting the word out there:
Blog entries get read, linked, and passed on across the Internet. They are easy to create, accessible to all, and are permanently archived in search engines and often crop up in random searches. Blog entries are also very gratifying for the author, particularly if the readers leave comments.
Earlier we discussed tools such as Twitter, identi.ca, and Facebook as excellent methods of sharing experiences: encourage your members to use these facilities as they do their work.
Word of mouth
Encourage your members to strike up conversations about your community in every possible scenario. Glorify the most insane and ridiculous cases in which a story is told and the recipient joins the community. As an example, one time I met a guy on the London Underground and told him about Ubuntu. He visited the website and eventually joined
- and participated in the community. This was incredibly satisfying. Share these
experiences, and encourage and celebrate them.
Some of your community members may have the opportunity to be interviewed on websites, podcasts, videocasts, or in magazines. These are harder to come by, but encourage your members to ask these publications if they can be interviewed. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
If you have members who are keen to speak at conferences, encourage them to submit papers. If you have some experience of this process, you should offer them help and advice on putting together a submission.
You should encourage your members to organize meetings and events in which they can tell their story about the community. When I first got involved in open source, I organized presentations and open events at my university to help others understand how fun and satisfying our community is. All it needed was a room and a projector, and planting the idea in the minds of your members is sure to inspire some to organize an event. An important element in building buzz to attract contributors is to showcase great work. I used many of these techniques when I started Severed Fifth and provided a range of website buttons and Severed Fifth posters (many of which were produced by the community). To generate buzz, I organized a campaign for fans to put the posters and stickers up in their local area. As part of the campaign, I encouraged typical destinations for the posters such as music shops, notice boards, and lampposts, but also showcased some of the wackier places. I saw examples of Severed Fifth stickers and posters in fish and chip shops, on the London Underground, in railway stations, toilet stalls, concert venues, buses, and even stuck to someone who was sleeping. As I heard these stories, I blogged them and encouraged fans to send me photos that I could put on the blog. The viral nature of the campaign encouraged more people to participate.
This viral marketing approach to building buzz has become the new way of doing business on the Internet. The idea is simple: you build buzz and encourage the consumers of your buzz to also build their buzz on the same topic. With this approach, when you unleash something on this network of viral volunteers, it spreads like wildfire. The key here is having this network available, and building that network can require a tremendous amount of energy in helping people to feel engaged, but when they do it will pay dividends in buzz. The key is in making people feel a sense of empowerment and responsibility to spread the message.
An interesting project that really set the standard for this kind of outreach was the Mozilla Firefox promotional campaign, Spread Firefox (http://www.spreadfirefox.com/ ). Back in November 2004, the SilverOrange Canadian web firm was commissioned to build Mozilla’s website. As part of their work they produced an evangelist application on their intranet to manage the structure and content of the site. Blake Ross (one of the forefathers of Firefox) conceived the idea that Mozilla should encourage and inspire the global Firefox community to lead the marketing for the launch of the popular browser. One of the people involved in this work was Chris Messina. At the time, Chris was a Firefox community member, keen to see the project get better recognition and more widespread focus. Eventually he would go on to lead the Spread Firefox community marketing project in raising over $220,000 in micro-donations to launch Firefox to a worldwide audience with an ad in the New York Times.
Chris remembers the formation of the project well:
- "Originally there were probably about 30 of us in this private intranet, but maybe only 10 of us participated in any regular capacity. For me, this kind of work was all new to me—both open source and this kind of semi-anonymous Internet collaboration. It’s not like I’d met anyone on the project personally—in fact, I only happened to find out about it because Steven Garrity had blogged that Mozilla was looking for volunteer designers."
After hearing about the project, Chris joined and applied his passion for Firefox to the campaign. At the heart of buzz is the ability to think outside the box to spread the work, and Chris remembers the approaches they used intimately:
- "I think there were a number of important elements of this, and that was that we made it fun to get involved. There was both a spirit of camaraderie and of shared purpose (fighting Microsoft), and with that in mind, people came up with some pretty clever ideas in the forums, contributing concepts, strategies, designs... telling the story of how Firefox made a difference to them. We worked hard to promote these efforts through things like the leaderboard (which measured the week-to-week growth in downloads from different affiliate links) and had, I believe, weekly contests or initiatives. Probably the most effective tool was the cumulative download counter... every time we hit a new milestone I would design new artwork to commemorate our success with each design getting more and more insane."
The efforts of the Spread Firefox team were exceptional: Firefox 3 was downloaded over 28 million times in 24 hours when it was released. The project has gone on to secure a global user base and a reputation for quality, and a thriving and active community that surrounds it.
You should fully research which media you want to spread your buzz to. Your aim here is to identify the kind of personality that will be interested in joining your community, and to target the media that they read.
I would not recommend any buildup to this target. You want to get straight out there and grab contributors.
The announcement should take place in a variety of media. Your aim here is to share and inspire people in the achievements and accessibility of your community. Sell them on the evidence: show them third-party statements and material that firmly demonstrates that your community is a fun and rewarding place to be.
Naturally, one measure of success is how many new people sign up or start helping out on committees. You can also try to see how many existing members helped the buzz with their personal statements, and why they were or were not comfortable doing so.