Patrick over at ManagingCommunities has written a piece today talking about how the practice of creating fake user accounts to seed a community, as famously done by Steve Huffman at Reddit, is bad news. His view is that doing so ruins any trust that can emerge between your users and the forum.
All of which is fair enough, I’m not here to judge folks either way for the practices they engage in when getting their communities moving, but it got me thinking on how you can grow your community in those early days without resorting to that.
Before I get into that though it’s important to understand why some community managers resort to fake users when starting out. It’s widely believed that when you’re trying to attract those first visitors to your community, and subsequently turn them from visitors into active members, it’s important to give them content to engage with. The belief is that it’s much easier to get people responding to what already exists than asking them to create new things themselves. Plus of course the visitors can see the kind of content they can expect from your community so it helps to sell it to them.
So far so good, but if creating some sock puppet accounts is ethically out of the question, how else can you get that job done? As Patrick states in his post, that first impression is very important as it helps set the expectation and culture for your community, so you want those first contributions to set the right tone for the place. They’re setting the standard you want future members to uphold and maintain.
3 tips for seeding your community the right way
- Find your founding members – The first thing to do is to create a team of advocates that can help you soft launch your community in private before it goes live to the public. These could be friends of yours, they could be contacts from your network, they could even be employees from your company. The one thing that binds them together is a shared appreciation for what you’re trying to do and how you’d like to do it.
In all likelyhood, many of these initial members will form your first moderating team, as in those early days the primary task of your moderators will be in setting the right example for other members to follow. As such however it is worth remembering that you need to choose people that are happy to contribute for a reasonable timeframe, so a certain time commitment will be required from them.
- Give them guidance – As with all of your moderators you need to give them guidance on what you expect from them. As your community is new however, most of this guidance will be on the style and tone of contributions to your community you expect from people. This is crucial as it will set the culture for the community. You will also need to tell them what you’d like in regard to welcoming new members so that the people that do join stick around and become strong community members. This could be as little as asking them to say hi, all the way through to member mentoring.
- Give them content – The role of community manager involves a lot of work behind the scenes. If you’re expecting your founding members to post a lot, don’t leave it to chance that they have lots of great content already in their minds ready to post. I’m not suggesting here that you micromanage things to the extent of telling people what to post, but do make available regular content suggestions and then leave it up to the team to post in their own style.
It won’t take many more than half a dozen to a dozen good quality members to form the basis for this seed group, providing you pick the right people who can contribute the right quality and quantity of content to get your community off the ground. Then when you open the doors to the public and start marketing it you will have both content for people to enjoy, and a welcoming team to integrate new members fully into the community.
If you can do this well then the need for fake users shouldn’t arise, and your community will be all the better for it.