There IS an I in Online

It may sound counterintuitive, but putting the “I” in online communities often results in a stronger feeling of “we.” By encouraging people to share their own opinions and thoughts, you increase the likelihood of people creating a community. This is because the strongest communities result when people not only feel comfortable sharing their opinions but are also empowered to do so. In short, the more passion and personality among individuals, the more the group flourishes as a whole.

Here are some ideas for powering up your online community, one person at a time:

1. Make your audience your co-owners.  By allowing people to experience and influence the community with you, more individuals will want to take the stage and make an impact. This means more community communication and involvement overall.

2. Attitudes are contagious. Want to attract enthusiasm? Be enthusiastic. Show off your personality to encourage others to do the same and “get more in the experience” – but remember that you’ll have to make the first move.

3. Practice stealth facilitation. You want to facilitate interaction without dominating it. Be genuine and spontaneous in public while monitoring what’s happening in the background. One-on-one interaction doesn’t always mean “one” has to be you. Let your community connect with each other.

Here are some real life examples of successful “I” to “we” online engagement:

Local – Austin Board of REALTORS® When the Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) members expressed a need to feel better connected and have their needs heard by the organization, ABoR created a strong social media presence on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn and its own Learning Communities to engage with members. Through its online presence, ABoR interacts directly with members to answer questions and address individual and group concerns. This one-on-one, personalized approach has made members feel like they have a more significant role in the organization, in turn creating a more engaged and interactive online community for members.

Statewide – Beer Alliance of Texas Craft brewers statewide are pushing for the passage of House Bills 660 and 602(bills that would change the way craft brewers are able to distribute their beer). Despite a meager budget, they have made significant strides towards gaining the Capitol’s attention by engaging individual supporters through social media. To facilitate this individual expression, @TxBeerFreedom posted the names and phone numbers of members of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, encouraging followers to contact their representatives and inviting supporters to join them on Advocacy Day at the Capitol. As a result, 60 volunteers joined the Beer Alliance of Texas on Advocacy Day. Together, they spoke with representatives at all but one of Texas’ 150 Senate offices.

National – Yelp Because Yelp wants to be viewed as a community rather than just a city guide, “Yelpers” who “Yelp” often and “Yelp” well become members of the Yelp Elite Squad. Determined by the frequency, quality, relevance and eccentricity of posted reviews, Yelp offers this status to those that express individuality through their passion and their voice. By building this army of frequent Yelpers, Yelp has found that the more people who can relate and connect to other Yelpers, the more everyone’s reviews and opinions start to matter as a whole. To keep the Elite Squad active (and this online community thriving), Elite Squad status comes with exclusive invitations and perks.   As these examples show, it’s about more than just the number of followers or fans you have that drives the strength of on online community. Rather, it is the voice of the individuals and the quality of their connections that creates truly powerful online communities. How will you engage an “I” today for a “we” tomorrow?