educational

Corralling a Community

Stephen Yagielowicz

Many adult website operators are wondering where all the traffic went and coming up with a range of answers, from tube sites to Facebook — but the simple truth is that these Internet users have gravitated to wherever they feel the most at home, to where they find a sense of community — whether that is a social network or a favorite porn portal, where they are so comfortable and satisfied that they have no desire to go elsewhere.

These folks have chosen their favorites and home pages and settled into communities.

While having a good brand can help to build a community, developing a vibrant user community can help launch a brand — both goals are the result of participants / customers feeling good about a shared interest or product line and wish to feel a sense of ownership or “belonging” to it.

The opposite of churn-and-burn marketing where “wash, rinse and repeat” is the name of the game, community building forms the basis of long term profits today and requires a substantial investment in time and other resources to develop. After all, you are trying to get folks that don’t know you to join your club — but why should they, when there are so many other better known (and more popular) clubs around?

Among the several definitions listed by Dictionary.com for the term “community” is “A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the ): i.e. the business community [or] the community of scholars.”

One such user group that may be familiar to many readers is the XBIZ.net adult business network, whose exclusive members are informally referred to as “XBIZers” — forming a community within the larger community of adult entertainment professionals.

While having a good brand can help to build a community, developing a vibrant user community can help launch a brand — both goals are the result of participants/customers feeling good about a shared interest or product line and wish to feel a sense of ownership or “belonging” to it.

By personally engaging members, offering something of value and providing a sense of safety, it is possible to build and sustain a viable — and profitable — user community, whether it is in the business-to-business or business-to-consumer space.

FeverBee founder Richard Millington says the first step is to decide who your community is intended for.

“Be specific. Identify real people you want in it. Then try to figure out what they really care about,” Millington explains. “Your community doesn’t have to be about your brand. It’s usually easier if it isn’t. Look at what your potential members do in their spare time, what do they spend their money on? What image do they try to portray to others? What do they talk about online?”

This expanded understanding of your target audience will help guide your efforts — as will having an understanding of other relevant offers that are targeting your audience.

Millington advises prospective operators to identify their rival communities and to spend time at those services and to identify areas that will make your community unique, as well as identifying your competitor’s weaknesses. Use this information, along with any feedback from members, to help refine the focus of your community.

Ask your community members what they find most and least of value regarding site content and features. Comments, polling, posts, surveys and even personal appeals, will all help you to better identify and serve the needs of your members.

Do your best to recruit a core group consisting of at least 10-15 engaged members.

“This might take a week, it might take a month,” Millington cautions. “But you need these stable members right now to catch the traffic later.”

This core base of users will help develop and seed your community with members that are able to initiate conversations and to keep them going. Of course this is a classic “chicken and egg” problem where folks won’t participate without content that keeps them coming back for more — while it is hard to have a conversation with just your self — although that approach has been the foundation of many successful online communities.

Once you have your foundation in place, it’s time to add more members to the group, initially by encouraging core members to reach out to their social or professional network to personally invite new users into the fold. Then build participation levels by working on turning your online community’s visitors, lurkers and more casual users into productive, long term members that are willing to take that ownership stake — perhaps serving as moderators or as forum conversation starters and frequent posters of “valuable content” that will attract other viewers and new members.

That last point is vital, as without valuable content of one form or another, there may be little reason for your intended audience to visit or participate in your community — after all, communities are based around “something,” so make sure members find plenty of that something there — whatever that is.

There are four benefits of community that members seek, according to Millington; including a sense of belonging, mutual support, greater influence and ability to explore.

“The real irony of communities is they don’t change members. They’re simply places where members can finally be themselves — more individualistic. They have security and the feeling of being included as a member of a group,” Millington explains, adding that communities “allow members to explore things with each other they previously wouldn’t have been able to. New ideas, resources, experiences are shared and discussed leading to crowd accelerated innovation.”

These are valuable benefits, even when that “crowd accelerated innovation” is just a better way to consume some porn.

Finally, safety is also a concern. Not just physical safety, but emotional safety as well. While there may be legal issues surrounding the privacy of member data, profiles and other factors, the tone of a community is something that is set through policy and practice — do you want a predictably hostile “anything goes” environment where users are forced to have thick skins or move on elsewhere — or do you want a more curated environment, where participants feel safe from unwarranted attacks by other members, where spam is suppressed, and productive, genial conversations and other participation is encouraged?

Moderation and power users that are all on the same philosophical page can help steer the community in the right direction, but it comes down to the will of the community and what it finds to be acceptable and desirable behavior — or it comes down to the relative heavy-handedness of the administrator or owner’s tolerance — either way, a choice must be made if the community is to survive and thrive.

As the online adult entertainment industry shakeout continues, better sites are starting to emerge from the clutter of churn and burn sites, including those veteran properties that have focused on community building all along — and which are still going strong today. The bottom line is that if you want to make sales, then you will need customers that have an interest in what you are doing — and building a community will keep the ball rolling.

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