Last year, I wrote some guidance for people responsible for promoting discussion spaces for particular issues on Friends of the Earth's Campaign Hubs. I think it stands up pretty well whether you're thinking about a website, a Facebook page, or a blog like this one.
So, I've rewritten it slightly to make it more universal and presented it below. Like any guidance, it's a work in progress, so do let me know if you have any thoughts.
Step one – What is your site or space trying to do?
If you can answer the question ‘what would I like to happen if I could talk with 50 friends in a room interested in my issue?’, then you probably know what you’d like to do with your online space.
It’s useful to be able to translate this into some general content aims - you may even want to create more detailed objectives depending on how serious you are.
For example, I don't have a detailed plan for this blog, other than use it as a space to write and promote my writing - but I have made significant strides in bottoming this out a bit in these posts earlier this month (see Auditing My Blog part one and part two)
Step two - Easy wins for getting your site space going
To get the momentum going you should be aiming to post at least two or three times a week. This is consistent with research on growing social media. If it's timely content - i.e. your latest news - then so much the better.
Don't reinvent the wheel
If you're stuck for time for adding new posts, just link to stuff you've written for other purposes - you have anyway. If you're in my line of work, you might take advantage of that regular flow of press-releases, campaign actions, new publications, photos, videos etc. that you either create or that crosses your desk.
For example, here's a photo of a stunt I took part in for our climate campaign in November. Why I didn't post it here at the time, who can say?
The fact that you've created something new - even if it's just a terrible pun - is worth telling your contacts about.
Ensure you're not infringing copyright or privacy, or inadvertently sharing things that aren't yours to share.
Potentially identify at least 1 or 2 other people who can help
Whether friends, guest posters, other staff, local group members or office volunteers, this stops your site looking like a one-person show and takes the burden off you, even if it's intended as a very personal site or space.
For example, I'm in the process of sorting out a week of guest blogs, Room 101 style, on things people would like to see expunged from their lives. Like, er, sporks.
Step Three – Ask people to check your site or space out
If you’re getting content up onto your space, then chances are you’ll want to tell people about it and encourage them to check it out. So, link to it from Facebook, from Twitter, pass it around e-mail networks or get it linked from other sites.
Not forgetting of course word of mouth – tell people about how awesome what you work on and write is!
Step Four – Encourage sharing
This is possibly too much sharing
Getting a group of people to contribute is the basic building block of online networking, helping to create communities of practice - networks of mutual learning, support and action.
So, for example, start discussions! If you were working on a campaign you could ask people to: feed back their experiences; how many petition signatures they obtained; how their lobby went; and many other questions besides.
Alternatively, start a photo or video thread asking people to submit their photos, of stunts, say. Almost everyone is a potential photographer these days, with access to stand-alone digital cameras as well as camera-phones. Adding a photo or linking a video from a post is not only an easy win, but provides unique, exciting content.
Step Five – “Conversation is king – content is just something to talk about” (Cory Doctorow)
After sharing, the next step in building that community of practice is conversation. ‘Talking shop’ builds trust, facilitates the exchange of ideas, and inspires and supports others.
For example, sharing your latest policy initiative, press release or politico-cultural musings is valuable in itself, but if you want more people to interact with what you’re telling them, then make it more engaging. Top or tail it with some personal commentary – let them see the woman or man behind the paperwork.
Planning is fun and attractive! Honest...
Bear in mind also that conversation is a two-way process. Ask people for their thoughts and opinions. Encourage them to ask you questions.
Simple netiquette is also important to bring the community together. Every discussion forum worth its salt has an introduction thread where people can introduce themselves and be welcomed. And even a blog or Facebook page can approximate this function through open discussion threads.
And a healthy online community actively thanks people for their contributions.
Step Six – Problem-solving and crowd-sourcing
If people are sharing, in conversation with each other and trust and personal connections have been built up, then many of the prerequisites for solving problems together are met.
So, post questions and ask for help! These could be problems to solve, requests for instant feedback on a suggestion, even a little crowdsourcing of ideas for a campaign. That you are taking risks and asking users for their opinions – will encourage others to do likewise.
That's all for now
But if you've got any good examples of the above that have worked for you, or other tips that you think I've missed, please comment. And thank you for commenting. :-)