How To Grow Your Online Community with the ACT Model

by Matt on April 27, 2010

in Online Communities

Last week I attended a presentation by Shama Kabani as part of a lecture series put on by the Dallas chapter of Social Media Club (and also featuring a fantastic talk by the inimitable Eric Swayne). Shama is the president of the Dallas-based online marketing firm Marketing Zen Group and author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing.

Shama’s presentation was loaded with wisdom for exciting a social media following. The most important takeaway: people use social media to show off their identity. Keeping up with friends is nice. Sharing photos is cool. But showing yourself is what it’s all about. Any brand trying to build a community must first figure out how people will incorporate that brand into their online identities. (Social game developers know it’s also the secret to selling virtual goods.)

To accomplish this, Shama coined the ACT model for social media marketing — Attract, Convert, Transform. And it’s a great way to look at online community building.

Shama details the ACT model over at the Marketing Message Blog:

A is for Attract. To attract means to get attention or stand out. Practically, this means attracting traffic to your website—your main online marketing tool. Nowhere is social media marketing more successful and useful than in the “attracting” phase of online marketing. During the attraction phase, you are trying to drive traffic to your site and stand out from the masses.

C is for Convert. Conversion happens when you turn a stranger into a consumer or customer. And there is a difference between the two! A consumer may take in your information or even sample your product, but he or she may not always buy. That’s okay! Over time, that consumer may become a customer. The more expensive a purchase, the longer it may take. This means that you constantly have to work to convert people into consumers and customers.

T is for Transform. You transform when you turn past and present successes into magnetic forces of attraction.

Looking at this strictly from an online community management perspective, the ACT model matches both the lifecycle of a successful community and the lifecycle of your members themselves. When you’re first launching, your goal is to attract new members (but not too many). As your community matures, your membership coalesces into a more active group. Maybe they start referring to themselves as “Goons” or “Redditors”. Maybe they start holding offline events. Finally, once it hits critical mass, your community (hopefully) becomes a self-sustaining force that uses a rich history to draw in new members.

The ACT model also dovetails with the Membership Lifecycle for Online Communities, first put forth by Amy Jo Kim. According to Dr. Kim, online community members go through five stages:

  1. Lurkers – newly exposed members who consume content without creating any. Many won’t even have registered. You’ve attracted them, but haven’t yet converted them into a real member.
  2. Novices – Something triggers the lurker to contribute. For instance: a heated debate, an interesting topic, a new game release, a need for technical support, or a witty comment. The lurker has built enough comfort and trust to be willing to join up, but is still low on the reputation totem pole.
  3. Regulars – After a period of sustained contribution, the novice becomes a regular both in terms of proficiency and in reputation. They are fully converted and participating in your community, rather than just consuming it.
  4. Leaders – Your most valuable regulars will eventually take ownership of different aspects of your community. They have earned so much respect that, even if you haven’t endowed them with moderation-type powers, they still wield a great deal of influence. These are your movers and shakers. They create the memes, in-jokes and conversations that constitute your community’s engine.
  5. Elders – Inevitably, users move on. This is another part of your community’s transformation. It must have an ability to adapt to a new environment. An elder still has great influence in an online community, but is probably no longer actively contributing.

Your goal as online community manager is to guide both your community and your members through each of these steps. Attract the right people. Convert them into useful, content-producing, experience-improving members. And then build on those successes to transform the community as a whole.

Major thanks to Shama for the fresh perspective.

Image credit: Steve Snodgrass

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