Building an Online Community: Give Them Open Space to Express

Matt Rhys-Davies has worked in all areas of digital over the last decade; from development and build, through to content, marketing and site analysis, of which he intermittently blogs about. He is currently the eCommerce and Marketing Manager at Goodfibres and Spinning Hat

I’m writing from Goodfibres – a website dedicated to crowd-sourcing ethical and sustainable design. We’re not here to plug our t-shirts and designs, but rather to explain the trials and tribulations; joy and frustrations that we have encountered in building our online community, how far we’ve come in a short space of time, and where we feel we’re headed and where we’d like to take you.

To ensure that you’re able to follow our journey with the intrigue that I hope you will, I’ll begin by briefly explaining what it is we do, and how we do it. We’re a clothing site with a difference; we encourage the submission of art and design work to be voted on by the community, with the highest voted pieces going into print to produce unique tees for the world to enjoy. Each piece that is sold generates a commission for the designer as well as a donation to charity.

Goodfibres: Website / Facebook / Twitter

As you can probably deduce from the above introduction, people and talent are at the heart of our mission, of our goals and of our site. So starting out armed only with a concept, how did we get from 0 pieces of art and 0 designers to where our community is now; a thriving hub of users and designs. I’ll provide a step by step breakdown of how this was achieved.

First you need to define exactly what it is you’re aiming to achieve with your site and who the key movers and shakers in your particular niche are. This can be done by searching through Google using your keywords and appending the term blog. This will then help you to identify those at the top who are generally considered an authority on the subject.

Once you’ve decided who the ideal people are to help drive your project, the next step is to reach out to them individually. Research them and their work, address them by name and make each email tailored to each user. No-one likes to feel part of an unsolicited marketing campaign, so ensure your community doesn’t become this, remember it’s about building a focussed community with a mission firmly in your mind.

Now that you’ve hopefully garnered some interest from your desired elite users and have enticed them to come over and join your site, what now? Well the key element is to engage them, give them something to do and a reason to do it. Goodfibres entire point of being is to be an interactive experience by voting, commenting and sharing designs. On-site we’ve made it as easy as possible to get involved by voting and commenting on art. Off-site we’re trying to spread out across the web as much as possible, harnessing the power of social media – particularly Facebook and Twitter – to communicate and interact with our community.

The key element in building the community is really giving users an open space to use, free from moderation (to an extent) where they can express themselves, discuss ideas and get feedback on the work they’re submitting. Once that you’ve started the foundations of your community, it’s integral that you listen to what they have to say, and respond accordingly; by not listening and blindly progressing with what you think to be best will only serve to alienate yourself from your community and ultimately lose them.

So this is how we’ve started off with the Goodfibres community and how we’re looking to progress with the perpetual production of our ethical t shirts model that serves to benefit charities, the designer and of course the wearer. We’d love to hear your feedback, and hope to write another guest post soon.

*Photo courtesy by Grzegorz Lobinski

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