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What I learned in the first 90 days of the social community space that I’m stupid enough to share

This story begins like any other. Girl reads the book. The girl is deeply inspired by the book. The girl and the boy jump headfirst into the super competitive social community space. Well I am that girl. Now fast forward to 10 months since I first picked up that book and my partner and I are now 90 days since launching our first social community.

I have for you what I learned in the first 90 days of the social community space that I must be stupid enough to share. These lessons are not meant to represent the lessons of everyone in this space. They are certainly personal to my experience and in some cases can be completely unique. Regardless, these are the lessons I’ve learned and the observations I’ve made 90 days after this trip. Where some may consider it stupid to divulge such lessons (and so soon), I am sharing this with everyone who has a desire to follow their dreams in the social community space or is already immersed in it.

Your theme song and mantra will change drastically… Just like any other team of entrepreneurs, my partner and I had a theme song that represented our mantra. Before the release (which was delayed exactly 13 days due to a million other lessons I could write a book about) and a few weeks after the release, we heard Rage Against The Machine’s “Renegades of Funk”… No It doesn’t matter. How hard you try, you can’t stop us now! Well, the days go by and the struggle to find the audience takes its toll on the psyche. A household mantra, “Move before you fail,” keeps us going these days.

The guy who wrote the book will just try to sell you something… The book I read (which will remain unnamed) preached all about the emerging social community space. It taught, inspired, encouraged, and even invited the reader to contact the author (who happened to be an angel investor) with ideas. Well, we did exactly that and were quickly given an offer (one could easily turn it down) that was more like a consulting deal with ridiculous fees to bring our idea to investors. This lesson was indeed the most discouraging of all.

Operations is the most important thing you’ll never have time to always be doing… My partner and I chose a high-maintenance concept that requires a tedious amount of daily operational activities to continually create and manage custom games and contests. If we are not present, the world of will not work and members will get nervous. We found out very early on that operations will always come long before strategy and growth. It’s an unfortunate but true reality for a self-funded company like we are.

MySpace is a viral wasteland of marketing opportunities… Although tedious and primitive, MySpace marketing is a strategy of ours and many others. We created a MySpace (and Facebook and Twitter) page for at the suggestion of some of our knowledgeable members. Little did we know that browsing through millions of MySpace pages and groups to find new members is actually a marketing ploy and not a bad one. You can spend hour after hour reviewing MySpace users based on their interests, demographics, and any other personal information they reveal, and it will cost you nothing but time. This is a tedious but addictive activity that produces an occasional new member which eventually leads to more and more new members through word of mouth. Not a bad marketing strategy if you have a zero dollar budget and a good stomach for bad web pages.

The devil is in the minutiae, and by that we mean customer service… Aside from day-to-day operations, we have managed to distinguish ourselves through our customer service. It was probably born out of the new entrepreneur syndrome (similar to the new mother syndrome in that you just can’t put down your new baby), but it has evolved into a kind of customer service oriented customer. Over the past 90 days, we’ve gotten to know several of our members on a personal level, their dogs, their children, their accomplishments, their struggles, and more. We listen well and respond even better. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see us in the chat room for most of the day responding in real time to members’ requests for this and that special feature. Keeping our existing members satisfied and engaged comes first and foremost. No matter how cool your gadgets are or how sophisticated your widgets are, your social community is only as good as its least satisfied member. All things considered, it’s one thing to know your demographics, and quite another to know your members.

When the going gets tough, friends and family are nowhere to be found… My partner and I don’t have a huge network of friends or large families, but we do have enough to potentially offer a great deal of support for. . Unfortunately, that has not been the case in our case. We have members from Seattle to Australia who will speak the WISEOZ talk and walk the WISEOZ walk completely without our asking, but we don’t have a single family member or friend who would take the time to join our community and show their support. This might be a more personal experience, and I might be struck by lightning as I walk out the front door this morning, but it is true nonetheless and may be true for others in a similar position. It’s a strange phenomenon that the people closest to you can sometimes be your worst supporters.

Signs happen, but you’ll never understand what they really mean… My partner and I were ecstatic when FairyGodMom, our first paying member, arrived just 2 weeks after launch. She didn’t bring her dancing mice with her or a pumpkin car, but she came anyway. Then, just over 2 months after launch, lightning struck my house (where else do you put your data center when you’re self-funded?) and severed our connection to the world. The site was down for about 20 hours, members were in a panic, and we were trying to read the signals. We’re still trying to read the signs.

Not all clicks are created equal… In the first weeks of launch, we tested Google AdWords as a beginner. In some cases, we pay more than $10 for a single click. With a daily budget of $10, it’s disappointing when one click produces nothing more than a bruise on your bounce rate. Soon after, we stopped Google AdWords and found that our bounce rate dropped from 60% to a respectable 15%. With paid advertising out of the question, we have resorted to a heavy reliance on word of mouth and homegrown viral marketing techniques. It is a slow climb but progress is made every day.

This business of social communities is not that social at all… Call us naive but from the beginning we set out to find a mentor. It seemed the right thing to do at the time. We learned about other sites our members frequented and sought out relationships with them. We saw synergies all around us (maybe those were stars in our eyes) and we know that the market is big and broad enough to allow for such synergies. Unfortunately, we quickly found that those with investors run farther and farther, faster. We have yet to find a competitor who is confident enough to consider a mutually beneficial or mentoring relationship. This is the part of the social community space that is not so social at all. In the end, the site’s statistics will tell you that you are small, but it is your competitors that will make you feel much smaller and insignificant.

My partner and I carry these lessons into our next 90 days in the social community space with heavy hearts, thicker skin, and bloodshot eyes. For those of you who are dealing with similar circumstances, we hope we have given you some insights that can help your business or maybe you are doing a lot better by comparison and my article finally made you realize that.


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