One year ago today (July 4th, 2009), thousands mourned the death of Eric De La Cruz after he was unable to get a heart transplant in time. Eric’s sister, television journalist Veronica De La Cruz (@VeronicaDLCruz), had reached out to her Twitter network and started an historic campaign that would connect thousands, raise over one million dollars in three weeks, and play a significant role in the U.S. health care debate.
There are hundreds of stories like this on Twitter and each one revolves around a strong community. After being a part of the Eric De La Cruz campaign (#ERIC) and many other efforts, I have identified four key tips for building strong and lasting Twitter communities.
A Quick Note
Please note, Twitter is one large community, so when I write “community” in this post I’m really talking about niche communities.
1) Follow community leaders
The best way to learn about amazing Twitter communities is to follow Twitter leaders and innovators. Following leaders helps understand the way they engage their communities and the larger dynamics of that particular community.
There are thousands of leaders who have had a significant impact on Twitter, in industries, and in society in general. Here are three community leaders:
Sarah Evans(@prsarahevans) – Founder of #Journchat, a Twitter chat organized to connect journalists, PR people, and bloggers. #Journchat has had tens of thousands of participants [my guesstimate] and has been in existence for almost two years. Journchat is even crossing over into mainstream media as it will be broadcast from NBC next month.
Mack Collier (@mackcollier) – Blogger and founder of #blogchat. #Blogchat has activated a large community of bloggers, with over 400 active participants per week and is growing.
Leslie Carothers (@tkpleslie) has been connecting members of the struggling furniture and interior design for the past two years.
2) Care and have a mission
Amazing Twitter communities start when the founders are passionate about a topic or cause. The topic may be promoting the furniture industry, sharing ideas between journalists, or helping to raise awareness for a cause. Chances are, the community will flounder without a strong reason for its existence.
Here are some examples of Twitter users who create community by caring:
Stacey Monk -(@staceymonk) has help created some of the most innovative and heartfelt fundraising efforts including Tweetsgiving.
Danny Brown – (@dannybrown) set up a network of tweeters that helped charities contribute via his #12for12 campaign.
Beth Kanter – (@kanter) has built a massive community of non-profit organizations that are promoting social change.
3) Reach Out
Community building on Twitter is a proactive behavior. Once you have a network of trusted friends, you can reach out to them and encourage them to reach out as well. The more powerful the intent of the community, the broader the reach.
The number of community members is not as important as the strength of the network. In the diagram above, the blue areas represent the “density” and connectedness of the trust network. The largest circle is the larger Twitter community, which may be listening but not necessarily engaged in the community.
Magic happens when different communities meet and support each other. At some point, the #ERIC group connected with a large number of Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails supporters and Trent (@trent_reznor) ended up joining and helping the cause in an amazing way.
4) Stay Connected
Twitter is a big place and it’s easy to get lost. The top three ways to stay connected are to use a hashtag when tweeting community-specific information, to set up a chat, and to use an avatar banner.
A hashtag is a combination of a “#” symbol in front of a short keyword or keyword phrase like #ERIC, #journchat, #tweetsgiving, #blogchat, or #12for12.
The hashtag is something Twitter users created and has since been adopted by Twitter. Twitter clients like Twitter Web and TweetDeck allow users to click on a hashtag then be linked to a search over other tweets using that hashtag. For example, if a tweet contains the “#blogchat” hashtag, clicking on it will take you to the #blogchat search results.
Hashtags become extremely powerful when community members start to monitor the hashtag content on a consistent basis. I monitor the #blogchat, #ERIC, #vlogchat, and the #WordPress hashtags and have them set up as different search columns in TweetDeck. This process allows even people who follow thousands of others to see the single conversation stream related to the hashtag.
Twitter chats are conversations held at regular times that use the related community’s hashtag. This Google Document lists over 150 Twitter chats and includes the names of the chat founders and the chat schedule. Chats help sustain long term community relationships.
Avatar banners are the little graphics that are added to avatars to represent a cause or community. During the Iran election, thousands of people changed their avatars to have a greenish tint. During World Cup, I noticed a lot of country flags on avatars. For the #ERIC campaign, I created an avatar banner that also included the #ERIC hashtag. Once I started using the #ERIC banner on my avatar, others in the group created ways to easily distribute the banner and in a couple of weeks hundreds of people were wearing them.
So if you are interested in starting your own strong Twitter community, you may want to follow Twitter leaders and learn, make sure you have a compelling reason to start a community in the first place, reach out and build your forces, and stay connected using things like hashtags, avatar banners, and scheduled chats.
Do you have any other tips for building an effective and strong Twitter community? Do you have any amazing stories that you would like to share about an existing community? I’d be honored if you left a Comment and shared with this blog’s community of readers.