Creating Community With Your Joomla Site

I run a professional networking website for the apartment industry using the Joomla system.  Of course, not all Joomla sites are meant to be “social”, but for those which are, inspiring participation, adoption, and sharing of your site is no easy task.  Too many people assume that putting up a slick new site will automatically have people flooding towards it, but in reality, most social-based sites lie desolate.  So here are some tips on how to create a vibrant community on Joomla, or frankly on any social website.

Make your niche compelling

I was already in the apartment industry when I started Multifamily Insiders, so it was a natural fit. Besides, there was really no great networking site for apartment professionals out there, so it definitely filled a need. So make sure your niche is truly a niche – don’t bother with appealing to every single person. Unless you are a mega social network, the best bet is going for something that you are already passionate about.

Pre-seed with other social networks

Eight months prior to the launch of my actual Joomla website, I created a LinkedIn group, which served as my “staging area” for my group. From there, I was able to get a hold of industry professionals, share my vision, and get them on board before I launched. This is incredibly important as people inherently do not want to join a new website, especially with a new login. Granted, services like Facebook Connect are clearing that issue, but even now, a large portion of your audience will register the old-fashioned way. This means, only a certain percentage of your audience will actually take the time to register with your site, so your initial audience must be quite large to begin with!

Also, consider your site like a party. If you attend a party where there are only a few people there, and nobody is really talking, then you are more likely to leave yourself. This causes a vicious cycle as nobody sticks around to gain “critical mass”. So your launch needs to have enough people that are already on board with your concept in order to truly get the ball rolling. I used LinkedIn, but my audience was professional in nature. So I would also recommend Facebook, Twitter, and others that you frequent to start seeding your group, so when you finally make the plunge into your own Joomla site, you will have a set group already in place.

Launching Your Social Website

Once you have built up critical mass, you can finally start the process of migrating this group to your main site. If you have a large enough group, you can actually get sponsors for this process! I had just over 800 members on LinkedIn when I made the plunge. I was able to get 6 sponsors with varying commitments – I believe they ranged from $25 to $100. I kept NONE of this! I put every penny into prizes for the launch.

So let’s assume you have sponsors, or maybe you just decided to throw $100 of your own money for four $25 gift cards. Regardless, don’t just give them away. Think about what you actually want accomplished! Do you want forum posts? Blog posts? Recommendations to their friends? Make your prizes tied to these events, although you may want one prize that is completely random for just a sign-up.

Make sure your distribution system is solid

You should always assume that your visitors will never come back to your site on their own accord – instead you must remind them! You must let them know about all the great conversations they are missing out on. You can use different systems to accomplish this, such as email newsletters, Facebook wall posts, Tweets, etc. These systems can be used directly by your site to distribute information, or you can set up your site so that your users share your content for you. Facebook and Twitter have easily-to-implement share buttons, and I have implemented my own share button for LinkedIn. All in all, our conversation stream is hitting our audience in a variety of different ways. So as you set up your system, make sure you have all the share button options you need.

This is also true for allowing your members to share your site itself with their network! When a person joins your website, that is the time with the highest probability of them sharing it with their friends. So while they are most excited about your site, make sure that sharing your site is part of the process! Possibly include that at the end of the registration, in the follow up email, or anywhere else that new user will see it!

Knock on doors

As I mentioned before with “pre-seeding” your community, there is a lot of work that is involved with getting a community to be social enough to stand on its own two legs. I literally sent hundreds of personal emails to people inviting them to the group and to participate. I was able to use partial form-letter style, but the majority were very personal and made the person realize I wanted them to be a part of the community.

Lead the conversation until it can stand on its own

People follow by example. If nobody is participating, a new person to the site won’t participate either. So you must help lead the conversation while the community is catching up to you. I have a 156 blogs on my site, even though I rarely blog anymore, which shows how much I was pushing the conversation at the beginning. Hopefully, your efforts will yield a handful of early adopters who take over most of the heavy lifting.

Provide different incentives for different people

People participate for different reasons. Some like being responded to, others like competing for rankings, and others simply like to share. So you need incentive plans that handle each of these needs from your users. The same can be seen here on HubPages! Some people live for comments on their hubs, while others incessantly refresh their profile to see their HubScore change. I use JomSocial, which allows me to allocate points for different actions on the site. For example, when they post a discussion post, they get 3 points, when they post a blog, they get 10 points, and so on. Another system for this is Alpha User Points if you are using Community Builder.

Just as a note, I migrated from Community Builder to JomSocial about 4 or 5 months ago. It was a GREAT decision for me. Community Builder was an ok product, but development was insanely slow, and although there were a lot of integrations possible, I always felt like the system was patch-worked together. JomSocial provides many out-of-the-box tools for great interaction with your community, although the groups section needs a lot of work to be truly useful.

Make sure the site remains “friendly” to all visitors

Bullying is a very difficult issue on community sites. I have been fortunate to work with professionals, so bullying isn’t as much of an issue, but I do find that the person running the community often “sets the tone”. Your personality will rub off on others, especially considering how active you must be to get things going. Once people turn nasty, it’s hard to pull back away from that.

Also make sure that your new members are not the subject of attacks for being “noobs” or anything. Those new people now may be leaders 6 months from now. For abusers, I am probably going to be in the minority here, but I have personally contacted each person abusing my site. (not hackers, but rather people trying to cheat the system or otherwise break the rules). I have found that most people will apologize and end up being absolutely great contributors afterwards. So try not to get jaded by someone breaking the rules. Just have a chat and usually it turns out fine.

Be consistent with the rules

When you do have issues, make sure you are as consistent as possible. One of the challenges with creating rules for any website is that people are infinitely creative and you can’t possibly list every way they will try to abuse your site. So try to be consistent with the “spirit of the rules”, tell them to do the same, and you will be fine!

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Comments 4 comments

joleenruffin profile image

joleenruffin 5 years ago from Tracy, CA

Great hub. I run a local social network for my city (tracyislandonline.com) and use the Ning platform. Very good information for anyone wanting to start a social network.


brentwilliams2 profile image

brentwilliams2 5 years ago Author

I really like Ning, but the only thing I was concerned about was the portability of my users if I ever left. Seems that on Ning, you don't really have users - Ning has the users... Am I correct on that?


karenfreemansmith profile image

karenfreemansmith 5 years ago from Oregon

Awsome hub. Great information and very useful as I'm trying to start a social networking site. I'd like to know more about your pre-seeding, especially from what can you do if you weren't that smart several months ago and are much closer to launching the site? How can I make up for lost time? Thanks!


brentwilliams2 profile image

brentwilliams2 5 years ago Author

Karen, thanks for the feedback! As for how to pre-seed on a short time frame, it does depend a bit on how short a time frame. I would suggest finding related, but not competing smaller niche networks to help build your network. Each network administrator will act a little differently - some are very open networkers and always want to collaborate, while others are very protective and territorial. If you are open and honest, and don't try anything predatory, these network admins can be very beneficial. But I wouldn't immediately approach them. Instead, know that each of these people appreciates those who drive content on their network, especially if they are small. Even though my network is pretty established in my niche, I realize that I always need new blood in order to drive a lot of my content, so I appreciate those that really help me out in that fashion, without trying to be self-serving.

So long story short, here is what I would do:

1) Become VERY active in some related niche networks without being self promotion AT ALL. Do not mention your network, your idea, or anything else that would be beneficial to your own situation. Instead, only add valuable content.

2) After doing that for at least two weeks (if possible), contact the network admin about how you are staring up your own network and would like to promote theirs in the process. In other words, don't go in asking for favors.

3) After that, ask for advice - see what feedback they can give, and see if there is a way to work together. If the networks are related but not completely competing, there might be some interesting possibilities. You might need to bluff a bit regarding how big your potential network is, because they will need to see a reason to bother...

That is just one strategy with existing networks. There are other strategies, of course, but hopefully this one might be a good start! I'd be happy to talk to you more about this.

All the best,

Brent

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