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Community Building: pleasure, pain and lessons learned

One evening a group of publishing people got together to think through ways to keep in touch throughout their careers. The aim was to keep it casual and get lots of people involved. There were too many conferences, a lot of formality – and really, lots of people they knew who just wanted to meet for a pint and keep connected to each other.

And so BookMachine was born.

Nearly 6 years on, with 77 registered events, 13,500 Twitter followers and an online Water Cooler (ever been to one of those?) we are organising the very first BookMachine event about ‘How to build a community’ – with Will Rycroft (Vintage Books) and Sara Perkins (ex-Mills & Boon, now Disney) sharing their wealth of experience.

With BookMachine the goal was defined from the start. It was something that we needed for ourselves. It wasn’t hard to find others to join us. Most of our peers liked the idea and wanted to attend.

The most painful experience was the very first night. We wanted it to start big. In reality there were about 12 of us sat around a table. Everyone seemed to have a good time though, buy into the idea, and told their friends to come, and before we knew it we were meeting 100s of people from across the trade – from niche military publishers to large education publishing houses – it has been interesting and a lot of fun.

Here are some lessons we have learned about community building along the way. They are in no particular order, as every community is different:

  • Everyone has a story to tell. It’s true. Even if you are the brand and craft your story impeccably, your community have their own stories too. Listen to them, ask about them and understand them. It will help build up trust and loyalty.
  • Don’t try and do everything at once. New social networks launch every month. You can’t respond and focus your energies everywhere. Work out where your community are and focus on one or two networks to start. Read all the advice you can, follow similar accounts and learn from them and most importantly engage every single day. Twitter helped to launch BookMachine. From there we created a popular Facebook account and Linkedin Group. With this as a foundation we were able to experiment with our own niche sites such as BookMachine Connect and more recently the Water Cooler.
  • Work with others. There will always be other communities appealing to the same audience as you. It’s better to work together than compete. Your community, and particularly your superfans are likely to belong to both. You could even run an event or a campaign together and help each other out.
  • Fail fast. A familiar phrase, which is true. If you try something and it isn’t working then stop it quickly. We can normally tell within 24 hours whether an event or a campaign is going to work as there is a flood of interest. Yes, you can re-iterate or re-launch; but if you have an ordinarily keen community and they don’t respond to a campaign quickly, it’s normally because it just hasn’t been positioned properly or just isn’t right.
  • Get everyone using the software. Everyone running the community needs to know how this works. If you send emails on Friday’s for example and the one person who knows how to operate the mailing list is off sick, you need to make sure someone else can login and keep the routine going.

To learn more specifically about growing a community of book readers and fans, join us in London on 18th May for ‘BookMachine Nights: ‘How to build a community’. The event will also reveal what’s next for publishing’s first ever online Water Cooler, and how you can get involved.

 

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Laura Summers

Laura Summers

Co-founder of @bookmachine - the network for forward-thinking #publishing folks; and BookMachine Works - the fresh new creative agency for publishers

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