Building a strong, modern community | Tips & Tricks

The world is rapidly changing and with that, the way we interact and consume is also different today than it was yesterday.

In the last 10 weeks I had the pleasure of working on an interesting assignment for one of my customers to help them improve the interaction with their partners with a strong focus on technical content.

At first I was not that eager to start on it. It did not match my personal ambition of going back into technical troubleshooting and learning more about Azure and Dataverse.

Then I figured, why the hell not. I’ve done it before and I have been part of this digital transformation for years.

I like it when I’m challenged to formalize what I naturally do in a format that is reusable by others. The Design Patterns project and book are an excelent example. I don’t see a reason why we cannot do that with something less technical. Something like a “design pattern” for building a community.

The first communities happened more or less by accident and had a very nerdy character. Within the Business Central world DynamicsUsers and Mibuso.com are the best examples. The latter possibly the best where the story is that Luc van Dyck only meant to have a website to keep track of Navision stock prices which grew to what we know today as the BCTechDays event.

Later communities are created “by design” when marketing departments learned about the commercial value of the concept.

The most recent communities I worked on were the How Do I video’s for Microsoft, NAV Skills, the ForNAV Coffee breaks and QBS. I tried to analyze these gigs and see if I could transform them into a “recipe” for building a community.

Here is what I came up with… love to hear thoughts.

Step 1 – Pick a topic

To have interaction with a technical audience you need a good topic. Every odd six months this can be as easy as what’s new in vNext or you can check with hot topics from support.
Support is a great source of inspiration. It’s where things get fixed that go wrong. It does not have to be a programming bug, these are actually not good to use, it is better to pick a question that required someone to spend some time investigating. This will give the audience the feeling they are getting something in return for their time. Remember they also put in an hour or two of their week / month.
Don’t try to put too much in one webinar. It’s better to prepare something thoroughly. If you want to combine, make sure the topics are similar.

Step 2 – Prepare your video/demo

People love a live demo, but there is also a big risk that it can go wrong. Make sure you know what you are doing if you go live.
If your demo requires anything that takes time to prepare you can either choose to record it, or if your demo for example requires a machine to install software, make sure you have a second machine prepared where you can continue on the next step.
The advantage of a webinar, even if they are live, that they can be edited before putting the recording online.
Write down your text if you are unsure if you can remember what you want to say. Once you are more experienced you can write down keywords.
If your demo/story requires clarification, make sure to have a supporting PowerPoint, but remember that it’s a tool, not a goal. Your demo is what is most important.
Your PowerPoint should contain keywords and bullet points. A PowerPoint never contains sentences that others can read. The danger is that you will read what’s on the slides, which takes away the focus on the story. People may mute sound and fast forward the recording of your webinar.

Step 3 – Have a Fixed Format

Even though you probably do this webinar every week or month, the audience may attend for the first time. Each webinar should follow the same pattern with an introduction. This allows regular attendees to focus on their work during the first few minutes. You can choose to mix a general explanation and welcome with news about your community.
Do not, ever, never record the interactive part of the webinar. This ensures that the attendees are comfortable asking questions without fear of having a recording available.
If you have questions that are important to the story, make sure to record a Q & A afterwards and include it in the posted video.

Step 4 – Send out invites

Your audience is trying to run a business. They are busy and time is money. Make sure to remind them of your webinar and make sure the topic is clear. They may choose to skip it, not because they don’t like you but because the topic is something they already know about it or they may choose to watch the recording later.
Always link to the previous recordings in your newsletter.

Step 5 – Write a blog with the recording

After the webinar is completed and you’ve edited the recording you can write a short blog to go along with it.
Don’t try to repeat the content of the recording. Instead make sure that after reading your blog the audience wants to watch the recording.
At the end of the blog there should be a link to subscribe to the email that invites the reader to the next webinar.
Make sure to promote the RSS feed of the blog.

Step 6 – Promote the blog on Social Media

Share the url of the blog on Twitter and LinkedIn. Be careful not to overdo it. Social media platforms have smart algorithms to show content. It does not help to ask everyone in the team to share something as it will simply be filtered out or even be hidden as the content will not be unique.
The platforms are also smart against having the same people like the same kind of content over and over.

The most important ingredient

A lot of companies are making an attempt to build a community and if I would have to guess, less than half make it and are a succes. The ones that make it have strong, unique and honest content. The most commonly made mistakes is to make it too obvious that your community has a commercial character.

That does not mean your platform cannot support your business. Everyone understands in the year 2021 that a blog, mailinglist or videochannel has a commercial reason. Just make there there is balance.

One last tip!

Video content is hot and it works well with a blog. This means that to be succesful you need to learn video editing.

Ever since I started doing video I’ve used the software of Camtasia. The great people of TechSmith have let me use their software for free because of my community influence. I thought that after this many years a big shout out is well deserved. Thanks guys!

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