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Community 101: How to Grow an Online Community Paperback – October 7, 2010
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The book is clearly targeted at small business owners, and its central theme is how to support your business with an online community. In this respect, the title "How to grow an online community" is a bit misleading. Strictly speaking, there is only one chapter that addresses directly the "how" question - Chapter 5, "The Golden Rule". Even this chapter might disappoint people who are looking for very specific or technical instructions. Concrete concerns, such as "what type of community should I build?", "what platform do I need to use?", "exactly what features do I need to implement to achieve my goals?", are not addressed in this book. Instead, the focus is on broader strategies of interaction with the members of the community: "Bribes", "Speedy Response", "Accountability", etc. The advice is supported with real-world examples. While these examples are a good illustration of the points made and, occasionally, quite memorable (the story of Digg's founder admission that the company screwed up by burying the posts that contained the Unix DVD key in particular comes to my mind) , I wished there were more of them. Because the strategies suggested remain at the level of general advice, without further evidence they can seem a bit superficial - maybe it is, in general, the fate of the hard-won wisdom of experience to sound a bit trite and obvious when it's served straight-up.
Where the book truly shines, in my opinion, is in its attempt to educate people about what an online community can and cannot do for their businesses. The first chapter, "What it means to build community", introduces themes that are then elaborated in the rest of the book: businesses need to be aware that an on-line community represents them and can affect their reputation; it takes effort to build a community; returns from a community are not easily quantifiable; trying too hard to use a community (your own or a social media network community) for marketing and self-promotion can backfire. These are good lessons to learn from others rather than from one's own experience, and I think the book does a great job of encouraging people to reflect on their goals and adjust their expectations before diving in the enterprise of building an online community. Fortunately, the message is not didactic, despite the fact that the overly casual tone of the book and the relentless second-person pronoun mode of address made a couple of remarks appear condescending.
To sum up: would I recommend reading this book? Yes, if you are a small business owner who wants a big-picture view of what's involved in building an on-line community and what benefits might be derived from it. The book is a quick read and it will help you gauge your commitment to the project. The book could also be helpful if you already have a community and you're wondering how you should use or manage it more effectively. However, if you want to know how to design a community, or have very specific questions about how to do X, Y or Z with your community, this book is not for you.
The Tippins and Marquit are very helpful in sharing a few pointers that range from community norms to strategy. The book covers a lot of material in short 80 or so pages; this is also its downfall in terms of depth and specificity. For those who are looking to go beyond general concepts and basic strategy this book may not be for you, but as a quick reference this book for those who have no idea what online communities is this meets the mark. I purchased the book for my iPad using the kindle edition which the formatting was a bit off and left some to be desired. I give 4 stars because it is good starting to a more in-depth conversation, hence the 101. Though it meets the beginners version very well there seems to be some information lacking in terms discussing retention and growth strategies that are more specific then a business 101 course.
Most looking at this book will recognize that some of the suggestions need more explanation and reasoning then recommending one to hire an expert. There are several examples that the authors' reference as case studies but the specifics are dumbed down and are more based on the authors' interpretation of the case then pointing out points of critical concepts that might intrigue a community site builder. Generally the book is useful in deploying a good rule of thumb when working on online communities and fails to break the barrier of actually getting into the core concepts of community engagements and growth. If the authors planned a more in depth series of books to follow up to this book than I would say you have bought a book with a lot of potential. If you are wanting to gain insight and focus on the in-depth science of community development this book will not be your best hope.
No one who operates a modern website should be without this book.