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Forums, Social Networks, or Facebook?

Forums, Private social networks (like Ning), and Facebook all have slightly different tones. If you are wanting to create a social environment around your ideas or passions, which should you choose?

Forums: Forums are really the first form of social networking... extensions of the old BBS days. Back then, computers were more about sharing information and less about relationship. Users don't have a "profile" or a page about themselves. They are simply represented by a name (usually a pseudonym) and maybe a picture or icon. The information posted that is posted stays around later and can be searched, making a forum a great resource for experts who have gathered and contributed to them. While forums do provide a place for interacting with each other, the center focus is information sharing. I have seen true, amazing friendship happen in a forum, but those relationships are built primarily upon what is said in a group.

Use a forum if you are interested in idea or information sharing where the center of the social environment is what people say and where searching old information is important.

Private Social Networks: The main thing that distinguishes a forum and a private social network is the profile page. When people join, they don't just put in name and go, they invest by creating a robust representation of themselves. They can tell others about their interests, put up multiple pictures, add music, and even have a discussion that is entirely on their profile page. The effect of this is that the information and ideas become a little less important, but the people there are better represented. Creating profiles and returning regularly to the site may be a lot of work for some people, so they need to be pretty passionate and want the relationships around your organization or they won't keep returning and invest.

Use a Private Social Network if your people are passionate enough to take time and fully express themselves and will return again and again to journey with others.

Facebook: Facebook starts with the profiles already in place. The center is even more about the person and not the discussions. Old information disappears quickly and isn't easily searchable, so it is not helpful at all with archiving. The result is more of a casual association and less of the deep, real "hash-it-out" kind of discussions and relationship building.

Use a Facebook page to gather people that are more casually associated with you. The information you pass on through Facebook should be current and you should allow for light engagement with the people involved.

You may choose to use two... or all three... types of social environments. But understand the differences so you can use the right tools for the right effect.

Starting a Blog... the very basics

I have a friend named Fletcher Browne (I always thought he had a cool name) that asked me about starting a blog. He had a lot of ideas that he ran by me, but I encouraged him to start simple... just get in there and do it. I wanted to encourage him (and you) to just start a blog with the least hassle. So if you are thinking about starting your own blog, here are the very very basics to just getting started.

1) Have a passion. You are not going to just write about anything. Pick a subject or passion that is yours... a world you could introduce me to. Don't just write about your day. Blogs as personal journals don't work well. Fletch has thoughts on economics that are stirring. My friend Michael started a blog that could have been a just a personal journal, but he gave it a travel theme. I look forward to reading about his travels in a way that I wouldn't have if it was just random thoughts on everything.

2) Start free. There are service you can pay for, but don't. Wordpress is a great place to start. There are other free blogs. Pick something that you can customize later.

3) Pick a standard theme. Yes... you want it to look great, but again... later. Spend time on the look later down the line after you have some content. For example, my wife's blog at www.anamcara.com has been customized beautifully by Aaron at www.lolight.com.

4) Start blogging. Blog as you are inspired. If it is three posts right away, go ahead and do three posts. You may have to add more structure later, but if it is your passion, you can probably get a few posted up right away.

5) Wait to announce it. I have seen quite a few blogs only make it to 3-4 entries before dieing. Blog around 10 times before announcing it. Find out for yourself if you really are going to do this before inviting us in.

I would love it if my friends would do this. There is so much we can learn from each other's passions. If you post a blog, comment here and let me know.

Starting a New Forum is like Hosting a Party

I have seen organizations with a good mission and good people who decide to add a forum or private social network (like Ning)... but it doesn't work. They create a tab on their site that links to a forum that they installed and hope people come. It just sits there after a handful of posts and grows stale.

Why?

Starting a forum is like starting a party.

When people first arrive at a party they are unsure what the tone is, so they sit back and watch. A few outgoing people try to start up conversations... most become forum wallflowers (lurkers ).

If you host a party, you need to set the tone for your guests. This means that you will have to engage with them and let them know what the tone of the party is. You may need to start playing music. You may need to grab people that are right on the edge of dancing and coax them onto the dance floor. You may need to tell stories... or a joke. Maybe introduce friends that you know have common interests.

If you are a good host, the party starts to build its own momentum. A friend offers to DJ the music. The two you got dancing grab another couple out on the dance floor. Stories and jokes get other people telling their stories and jokes. People start introducing themselves or making introductions for others. With your hard work of inviting people, engaging with them, and setting a tone, you get a real party going. Your job as a host finally slows down and people just have fun.

If you don't host your forums like you host a party, people won't know what to do. They will wander off and find a better party.

Give Your Fans Instructions

Your fans (followers, friends) want to help you. They love what you are doing, they have said that they want to join you, but they don't know how to go any further.

Tell them.

"Share this page"
"Send us your ideas for our next DVD"
"Scream at the top of your lungs at 11:45 in a public place"
"Wait and buy my new book on Amazon on Saturday so we can make its rank jump"

Keep it simple. No multiple choice. One thing at a time.

Then thank them.

Over the Rhine

Let me tell you about Over the Rhine.

Over the Rhine is my favorite band. I eagerly otrwait for each album that they produce. I am on their mailing list. I pre-order when I know an album is coming out.

So a few months ago, I received a request from them. They want to self-produce their next album. They want to control their own artistic direction without anyone in between us and them. To do this, they asked for their fans to pre-order and pay for the album before they even started it.

They offered tiers. The simplest was a preorder. For a bit more, they would send a signed copy when it was done. For more than that, a "thank you" and your name in the album. And more from there... including a private concert for some ridiculous amount (that I wish I could have come up with).

I and most of my friends that are fans signed up. They received more than enough to produce the album the way they wanted... and they way we want to hear it.

I can't wait to hear it. I love that I could help and I feel the excitement of having made it happen.

A Body Needs a Head

Creating space on your site for people to talk is not enough to create community. "If you build it, they will come" is not a good community strategy.

They do come... but then they go... leaving an empty field.

When they come, they are looking for something. They are looking for a leader. They are looking for connection. They are looking for someone who shares their passion.

A body without a head doesn't live long.

In the beginning, that has to be you. If you are going to start a community, you need to be part of it, especially when it is first starting.

A Culture of Sharing

I have been enjoying Michael Hyatt's blog. He has a good grasp on social media as more than just a selling tool, but a way of connecting people.

In his blog, "Social Media and the New Culture of Sharing", he says:

Here are four quick ways you can share more meaningfully with others in your social media channels:

1. Share recommendations. Provide links to the things you find most insightful or meaningful. This can include blogs, news articles, books, music, and movies. Increasingly, “search” is becoming personalized. People are letting their social media networks do the filtering.
2. Share your expertise. Whether you realize it or not, you are an expert in some field. You have knowledge and experience that you likely take for granted. But your expertise could be a big help to others. Your followers will appreciate it.
3. Share your contacts. The days of holding these close to your vest are gone. If you don’t know the answer or don’t feel like you can help someone, try to connect them to someone who can. This makes the concept of “six steps of separation” practical and more useful than ever.
4. Share your empathy. Sometimes people just need your empathy. You can remind people that they are not alone. All by itself, this is an act of generosity. My brother-in-law recently found himself in Intensive Care. Gail and I shared it with our social networks. We experienced an amazing outpouring of love and prayer.

So in the spirit of his blog, I wanted to share what I have been learning from Michael with you.

Living things

bread

I spent a few years learning to make bread. Not with one of those automated bread makers.... I learned to make bread for real... by touch... with no measuring except my hands. I wanted to know bread.

I found that to really work with bread, you have to submit to the realization that the yeast in it makes it a living thing. It demands its own way, it adds its own character, but it also listens and moves as you work with it.

Social media works in the same way. Years of practice and a lot of skill still don't make social development scientifically predictable. There is a gentle give and take with real people that make these online communities, blogs, passions, and ideas thrive. Working with communities of people give a chance for us to become different, even as we change the world.

I love the skillful, but respectful work of growing living things. I would love to help you to engage, gather, and grow your community through social media... to craft your artisan bread.

Remind me to tell you about bread and beer.

Your Idea in One Breath

I had a great talk with a woman I met at the Renovare Covenant Retreat. I remember being excited about what she was doing, but I found myself at a loss trying to explain it to a friend when I got home. I had a lot of ideas, but I couldn't spit it out in one clean phrase... one breath.

My first attempt was something like this:

"Well, her name is Kat and she does yoga... well... something like yoga, but not... but it also involves spiritual formation. And she teaches. What she does is about the body and spirit working together to honor God and... well... it is like exercise."

I realized what a mess I was making of it.

I talked to Kat later and asked her for what she does again. She said "Scripture with meditation and movement." (She probably said that to be before, but I somehow lost it).

We need to have a clear phrase or sentence that lets people know our passion. This not only communicates from us to another person easily, it also that lets other people communicate our mission or ideas quickly.

Who are you? I know there is a lot, but can you get me going in the right direction in one breath?

(Kat's ministry is great, by the way. Check her out at http://www.studioignite.com/ )

People trust people

I have been watching a social dynamic online in a non-profit organization. A large, passionate community of people have been upset by the behavior of the leadership of the organization. They are discussing their disappointment. They want to be heard. Some are angry. Some are confused. It is really a mess. But even in the mess, the community was still in. They are still for the organization. They still believe and want things made right. But they needed relationship and dialogue. They wanted their hearts heard and to be treated as people. The response from the organization? A publicly posted corporate statement addressing their concerns. The results were predictable. When people are crying out for relationship and you give them what feels like a form letter, they cry out louder. Fortunately, the leadership heard their cries and posted again a few days later. This time more personally. One of the leaders posted using his own first name, dropping his title, and apologized for the corporate response. He admitted that he didn't know how to fix things, that he might make things worse, but he was willing to listen and try. The openness calmed everyone down. It may not be all that will be needed, but it was certainly the first step to what people were asking for: relationship. He just needed to be a real person. It seems that with all the corporate campaigns and talking heads, trust is hard to come by, but that doesn't have to be the case. People want to trust... they are still willing to trust... they will give that trust to real people.