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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!