From 2003 to 2008, I ran an online forum on Ryze for small business owners. When I closed it down, it had grown to over 2000 members. People make a lot of mistakes in online forums. (I know I’ve made my share!) During a discussion with a small business owner who was trying to grow an online forum, I was asked how to make a network a success. I shared my views with her and thought they might be helpful to others. These tips are Ryze specific, but can be applied to anyone who is trying to grow an online small business forum.
I consider my Minding Your Own Business Network a success. Many members have told me what value the network adds to their business and how glad they are it exists. The online forum was created in August of 2003 and grew to just over 2000 members. It’s been slow and steady. I have very little “member attrition” on the network. People typically join and stay. As with any online network, most people lurk. We have very useful business discussions and the postings are steady but not overwhelming. I definitely recommend that you use tactics that will grow your network slow and steady too. Here are some of the tactics I’ve used.
Don’t just join other Ryze networks, participate.
Since most people just lurk, but are curious souls, you can generate interest in yourself and your network by simply adding value to other networks.
Use a signature file.
This is one of the most underused tactics I’ve seen on Ryze. If the network allows it, use an informative signature file on every post you make to a network. Don’t assume that people will click through to your Ryze profile and read through your page. Most won’t. Make it easy for them to find out more about you by using a signature file.
Remember the world is bigger than Ryze.
When you are networking online outside of Ryze, use opportunities to promote your network via a signature file or included in a posting (e.g., “Oh yes, on my strategy network at Ryze [your network link here] we were discussing this very same issue…blah, blah, blah”)
Use public relations.
Make sure you include promotion of your network in your public relations campaign. Issue news releases. Make sure your local press knows that you run such a network and can be an expert resource for them.
Cultivate non-Ryze members by making it easy.
Posts on my network are often referenced from other resources. Make sure you have your network settings to allow non-Ryze members to read (but not post) to your network. Many of my members have come from these outside sources.
Link to your network from your business.
Make sure you have links on your business website(s) to your Ryze network page.
Tell your members what’s happening.
People are busy and many turn off the email notification of posts, then forget to check the network. Every Friday I send my members the MYOB Network Nuggets which highlights key postings on the network and invites them to comment. It works every time. Plus I’ve received tons of “thank yous” from my network members about this weekly email. You’ll reach about three quarters of your members this way.
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