When I ventured out into Tech entrepreneurship 3 years ago, I was excited about the possibilities that our business presented. My partner and I always talked about how big we would get, how much money we would make and most importantly how much impact we would have on the entire Tech Eco System. In all the excitement, nothing prepared me for the lessons I was about to learn.
At that time we were still Techpost (Now Dignited) and we were the latest Technology Blog and website covering all things Technology in Uganda and Africa whether it was news, insights and analysis or reviews. With a remarkable team of awesome bloggers, we started with a lot of enthusiasm and passion and would spend countless hours researching debating and crunching very thoughtful and insightful posts on African Technology. We are succeeding but the costs of success are more expensive than we thought it would be.
The success of a Tech Blog did not depend on hard work as I earlier thought. It depended on how much traffic the website garnered and this was an issue of hard work as much as it is strategy. I later realised that consistent and growing traffic was about first and foremost good content, then good distribution channels. We already had the good and consistent content (which was getting better and better as we moved on) but our distribution was weak. It was like winking at a beautiful girl in the dark or may be digging around an abundant Gold mine without getting to the Gold. Our Social Media metrics were low (and even though they were to be high, they did not guarantee conversion) Our SEO (Search Engine Optimization) was also weak, We had no emailing lists, no Offline presence – No Community.
However, a Community (both offline and online) in online publishing is the one that consumes and shares your content, sparks engagement and dialogue, buys your products/Services, recommends your Product/Service to others among others. Without Community, it’s hard for an online business to flourish let alone thrive. A community is also the hardest thing to build and most importantly grow.
We knew we needed a community and we set out to find out how we can build one and what it would take us to build one. We would look at the Global Online publishing brands and how they executed their content strategies and built their communities. Below I share some of the things we found out in our research.
WordPress & Blogger have content, but Facebook & Twitter have Community
We have had numerous arguments about the essence of blogging and how Facebook and Twitter which initially complimented or killed it depending on how you look at it. Before Facebook, WordPress garnered a lot of growth in subscriber base and in the number of bloggers opening blogs and consistently blogging. When Facebook came, we saw a consistent decline in blogging on native blogging platforms like WordPress and Blogger to Micro Blogging platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The mass exodus to micro blogging platforms is mainly attributed to the existence of huge and vibrant communities on these platforms that drove engagement and in turn mass adoption. For example, It was easier to build a following on Facebook and Twitter that one could interact with daily than on WordPress. On Facebook and Twitter, One didn’t have to go through a lot to write. A few words, a paragraph or two would consist a post while blogs required much more thinking about what you are writing and trying to communicate. Imagine sending me a link to a one paragraph quote or photo? Before Facebook it was okay but after that, it looked tedious.
This wouldn’t have been much of the problem except that unlike WordPress, your following on Facebook and Twitter built overtime seem to be ready and on standby to consume what you have posted faster than if it were a blog on WordPress or Blogger. They will quickly reward you with Likes, shares and comments growing your Social Klout.
Likes shares and Comments seem to drive more engagement and Mainstream blogs were late to this party because even though they embedded the social aspect (one can like or reblog for instance), it doesn’t “charm” like it does on the main stream Social Media.
Now lets look at organizations that have (not) utilized community and how it has affected the outcome of their operations.
While doing my research about online communities, I fell on this global community of mothers and parents that is independent of mainstream social Media but is as vibrant and may be even stronger than many Social Media platforms. BabyCentre that started in 1997 has built a community providing valuable information to mothers and parents globally such that as we speak now its ranks #797 globally on Alexa Rankings.
16 years later, BabyCentre reaches 1 out of 5 moms globally and has helped deliver 7/10 babies in the US. It is also the most recommended and most trusted pregnancy and parenting website among moms. BabyCentre makes money through Ads among others but this is only because of the relationships built and the knowledge gained making it an ideal platform for marketers looking to reach and engage parents. Brands targeting baby products and moms gain invaluable insights to that inform their business, marketing, and product strategies they could gain elsewhere because of a vibrant community.
Road Connexion was an idea hatched at the Tech for Governance Hackathon. Amongst the Ideas we’ve seen come out of hackathons, this was one of the best I saw. The Idea was to crowd source traffic information so that people can get to know about accidents, road repairs on a particular road in realtime. They could also advocate for better roads as Taxpayers among others.
Unfortunately Road Connexion closed Shop hardly 3 months from Launch “Our reason for closure is we didn’t obtain the expected response from our customers”.
The mistake here is that they had an amazing product and thought that everybody(community of road users with smartphones) would just get it and jump on board and it would grow automatically. They focused on the technology first without building a coherent community of road users that would later help crowd source traffic information. This is a classic case of undermining the essence of community especially in Crowd Sourced Initiatives like this one.
ICTAU (ICT Association of Uganda)
The ICT Association of Uganda is an Umbrella organisation that brings together all ICT professionals and practitioners from all over the country. The Association recently started an offline meetup called the #ICTAUgLAN which is an evening of networking with the ICT practitioners.
What’s important to note is that before this Offline meet up, the ICT association seemed divorced from the members who were supposed to make and constitute the association and just one meet up which is now a monthly event began to change that. The association is now focusing on growing its Community first — which they are — and its working considering a large number of people turned up for the first meetup.
In conclusion, I recap my lessons
Before communities, (If you are an online publishing company) you must have really good and consistent content that would keep people coming back for more.
There is no engagement without community – All our activities as an online business should be geared towards building online communities which require a lot of patience strategy and resources.
Communities only congregate where needs are being solved – Whats App, Twitter, Facebook etc all solve a need to keep in touch and share ideas. Build a product with Community in mind.