Lessons in Starting Small

The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose. My first foray into online community management was aided by eGroups in 2000, a free email list service that became Yahoo! Groups. A few of us at my employer decided to test the waters and invite our clients to a Yahoo! Group. We didn't ask for permission - it just happened. Within weeks, it was apparent that we had struck a chord with the customers who jumped in with both feet - and it didn't cost the company a dime. This small success allowed me to build support for what became the Solucient online community program (.pdf) over the next three years.

I'm reminded of David Churbuck's words at Community 2.0 (paraphrased) "Be bold. Get started. Be prepared to ask for forgiveness instead of permission."

My point is that small wins and low risk bets can be the best way to get started with community initiatives. Instead of asking for $50,000 and 2 FTEs, look for opportunities to get started for free or at a low cost. Being under the radar can be a perfect situation while you work out the kinks.

My friend Ryan Turner has some sage advice in this area: First Try at Web 2.0? Three Ways to Go Small and Win Big. His points (and a made up word) are focused on relieving some of the fear that some organizations face in considering online communities projects.

  • Sociablize Your Content
  • Build a Walled Garden
  • Run an Event (My Favorite)

Jake takes the idea in another direction with Disposable Camera Model for Community Growth

Engaging with your consumers and their communities is about letting go, releasing control, listening to the people who matter. Small projects help keep the walls between outside and inside low and permeable. Experimentation and communication are vastly more important than security and stability.

Yes, small is the new big.