One of the more interesting projects I've engaged in recently is to help Director of Community at eZ Systems, Nicolas Pastorino, build out a marketing strategy for this successful open source content management project. The five core pillars we've identified for this growth strategy are universal, and we'd like to share them for the benefit of other community managers in technology or other sectors.
Five pillars of community growth
Education for all – A strong and growing community must focus on delivering and aggregating high quality educational content for participants of all levels of expertise. Knowledge is fuel to a professional community. Compelling content should be offered variety of formats to engage and promote learning and professional development. Learning styles are different from person to person. For some, text and traditional manuals are the best form of content delivery. Others will be more engaged by video “how-to” lessons or short tutorial screen-casts.
Health and growth of a community means a regular influx of new members who need to be guided through introductory content, and establish a good foundation for future participation and contribution. Intermediate members need to be challenged to continue learning and honing their skills and knowledge. Advanced members need to push the envelope of their skills, but also be encouraged and rewarded for helping educate and mentor the beginners.
Support Face to Face – Online communities are the primary hubs of activity. They must be in order to engage readers and contributors from across the world, and across economic and educational backgrounds. The rise of the web means an unprecedented ability to reach like-minded experts and technologists to work on important projects. But... the personal connection is still amazingly powerful. The online expression of community must offer encouragement for in-person activities. This might mean user groups, chapter meetings, meet-ups at larger conferences, or training courses. In person activities help to build the trust and bonds to make relationships last. This “Face to Face” pillar is social economy in real life.
Evangelism – Creation of compelling content will bring new members and contributors to the fold. Good community evangelism will promote member successes, tell the world what the organization or product stands for and explain its importance within its field or market. Technology communities are social marketplaces in action, sharing ideas, code, peer-to-peer support, and create an area of engagement for people interested in a particular product, platform or toolkit. Creating a sense of belonging and professional connection is a primary goal of the pillar of evangelism.
Support the Community Partner Networks – communities grow by engaging and supporting related communities in adjacent markets or fields of interest. Even when organizations are competitors, common methodologies, core technologies or industry practices can emerge as common ground that benefit all parties. Strong communities don't stay insular, but cross promote compatible groups and develop important and influential ecosystem bonds.
Segmentation – Communities on a growth path can be successful by paying attention to the people who willingly participate. As with any other marketing 101 program, a solid understanding of the community make up helps leaders design and encourage content and activities that meet the technical, experience and interest levels of the community. Understanding the ratio of beginners to experts helps find the right balance of topics and content. Understanding the basics of community segmentation means delivering value and stirring interest. Who is active and who's not? What's the geographic or language mix? Are there missing segments that could be attracted with new content? Understanding the audience helps shape the support activities for the entire growth strategy.
Interested in learning more about managing and growing professional communities? There are some great resources available. Here are some recommendations.