Creating an Online Community

Article written by Jerry Buchko, MA, AFC, a Counselor, Coach, & Tutor of Personal Finance who is building a private practice serving clients using online social networking and real-time voice & video collaboration spaces. Prior to entering private practice, he worked for almost 14 years in the employee assistance field, providing financial counseling over the phone to clients from a diverse range of life circumstances and experiences.

Social network As I mentioned during our Friday 15 session, many of the ways in which we might develop relationships and community with others offline are essentially the same ways we can develop them online. Sure, there’s an aspect of learning how to use these social tools and spaces that’s involved. But at a more essential level, it also takes a willingness to get in there, and to learn and engage with other people.

You have talked about networking. We are all familiar with that term but how are you doing it online? And how do you maintain your connections?

Well I suppose it would be important to say that I don’t think of networking in the same way that people seem to commonly think of networking events, or at least in the way networking events are commonly portrayed, i.e. as experiences that seem to mainly involve making introductions, shaking hands, exchanging two minute elevator speeches and trading business cards.

I network online in many of the same ways that I might do offline. Through getting to know people over a period of time, for example, I’ve come to be an active member and collaborator within several professional communities of practice, all of which are related in one way or another to my interests and the work I’m doing as a private practitioner.

I have ongoing conversations and interactions with the people I’ve come to know in these communities. And these conversations and interactions can happen in a variety of ways, for example, discussions in social media and social networking spaces, like Twitter and Google+, as face-to-face conversations over real-time voice & video, exchanges over the telephone and email, and even opportunities to share discussions and “talk shop” while spending some leisure time together. Circumstances can also allow us to meet in-person in the more traditional way from time-to-time, like at conferences and project meetings we might attend together.

So these online spaces offer new ways to meet and connect, and I maintain my connections with these folks I’ve come to know online in essentially the same ways that I do with the people I’ve come to know offline, which is by being an active community member, relating and interacting with the other folks that participate in these communities we share together.

How do you build rapport online to get people to open up?

I think building rapport is fundamentally about nurturing and building familiar and trusting relationships, so on a very important level, I can’t “get” anyone to do anything. I think people naturally and reasonably have a difficult time opening up and trusting someone who isn’t willing to be open and trustworthy in return. Online or offline, I think it takes being willing to get to know people, and being willing to allow them to get to know you, so you can both decide whether working together would be a good thing.

How does this approach to building community work with your marketing efforts as a small business?

Actually, the marketing is an important challenge that I’m wrestling with right now. I’m trying to figure out a balanced approach to marketing and advertising my practice that’s both effective and properly reflects who I am as a professional, as well as the nature of the service and experience I’m offering clients.

On the one hand, I definitely don’t want to become “that guy” who seems like he’s always about marketing or pitching his service. And at the same time, I do need people, especially those who maybe don’t already know me well, to recognize that I’m working as a private practitioner for my livelihood, and that I welcome being approached by and engaging with prospective clients as well.

So I’ve taken some basic steps more recently towards “hanging out my shingle”. For example, I’ve rewritten the ‘Introduction’ to my Google+ social profile into something more approaching ad copy or content you might expect to see in a brochure (in contrast to something that’s either informally personal, or something that’s impersonally formal, like what you might expect in a resume). I’ve also added my business contact info to my banner image, along with a favorite quote that resonates with who I am personally and expresses something of the nature of my work with clients professionally as well.

Additional resources.

As I mentioned during the session, many of the people I’ve been fortunate to have gotten to know online have been educators interested in exploring and studying how this technology can be used for education and learning. These initial resources I’m sharing are put together and presented with educators in mind, but the information and tools can be readily adapted and applied to developing online community, as well as towards personal and professional learning, from the perspective of being a private practitioner or other small businessperson as well:

Edudemic – Why (And How) You Should Create A Personal Learning Network: http://www.edudemic.com/build-personal-learning-network/

TeachThought – 8 Ideas, 10 Guides, And 17 Tools For A Better Professional Learning Network: http://www.teachthought.com/social-media/8-ideas-10-guides-and-17-tools-for-a-better-professional-learning-network/

Here are a few resources that provide some perspective of the development of the World Wide Web and the online technological environment, including trends in social media, social networking, and in the use of video meeting and mobile technologies.

Pew Research Internet Project – World Wide Web Timeline (Mar. 2014): http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/03/11/world-wide-web-timeline/

Pew Research Internet Project – Social Networking Fact Sheet (Highlights of the Pew Internet Project’s research related to social networking.): http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/

Pew Research Internet Project – Social Media Update 2013: http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/12/30/social-media-update-2013/

Pew Research Internet Project – Video Calling and Video Chat (Oct. 2010): http://www.pewinternet.org/2010/10/13/video-calling-and-video-chat/

Pew Research Internet Project – Cell Phone Activities (Sept. 2013): http://www.pewinternet.org/data-trend/mobile/cell-phone-activities/

Here are a couple of resources on the topic of entrepreneurship that I’ve found offered some useful perspective as well:

Kauffman Foundation – Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity: http://www.kauffman.org/what-we-do/research/kauffman-index-of-entrepreneurial-activity

U.S. Small Business Administration – 6 Tips for Avoiding the Common Financial Pitfalls of Being a Young Entrepreneur: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/community-blogs/small-business-cents/6-tips-avoiding-common-financial-pitfalls-being

(I think these are good tips for entrepreneurs to consider regardless of age.)

And finally, there was a question from one of our audience members, John Blue, that we promised to respond to in this blog post. John wanted to know what tool I was using for my lower third banner during the Friday 15 session.

Yes, the tool I was using was a Google+ Hangout app called Hangout Toolbox. I was using its Custom Overlay feature to display the custom lower third banner I’d created for the session.

And I created the custom banner using an image creation program called GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). There are several useful guides out there about how to create a custom banner overlay, and I’ll share one that I personally found very helpful.

Hangout Toolbox: http://hangouttoolbox.com/

GIMP: http://www.gimp.org/

How to create custom overlays for Google Hangouts by Ayoub Habchi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5nHTxJ660k#t=16

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