Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with us, Imad!
You’ve been running BCDG since 1995; what’s your secret to longevity with your community? Are you doing anything special to attract and retain such a vibrant group?
I always had a passion for knowledge and exploring tools to access information faster and efficiently. I jumped on the band wagon of the internet early on, realizing it was the future. I was developing online software by then for my specialty, the building codes. During the course of doing my work, there were always questions and interpretations regarding the codes. I thought it would be a great way to bring everyone together to share expertise and pool our technical resources.
The idea of having an online community was conceived. Back then it was still a novelty for the engineers and architects I worked with. I wanted to host using the best platform available and checked many. I'm very happy our home was with what is now EVE. It had to be robust and loaded with reporting, customization and analysis features. Personally attending to the Building Code Discussions Group (BCDG), http://bcodes.infopop.cc/eve, forum helped give us a presence that was hard to follow. We worked hard on making sure quality discussions were added, the experts in the field joined, contributed and kept improving.
Professionals in our business, architects, engineers, designers, code officials and builders are always looking for technical assistance and second opinions, the BCDG filled the gap almost immediately. The building codes are updated every three years. The need for interpretations and second opinions never cease.
Keeping content fresh, adding current and up-to-date code discussions, attracting the sharpest professionals in our field to contribute and the personal attention assured that the BCDG community was different and unique. Experts wanted to help be a part of the BCDG since it afforded them a place to interact with their colleagues from all over the US. They felt a sense of belonging and camaraderie with each other.
How did you initially attract members to your forums?
Initially the BCDG was a forum for our company and employees. As a depository of Q&A on codes that we added. Soon enough, architects and engineers we work with heard about the forum and wanted in. They wanted a place where they can ask technical building code related questions and have experts in the field assist them with second opinions. Since the building codes are complex, and at times hard to interpret, selling the concept of the BCDG as a must-have resource for the design and code enforcement communities was not that hard.
Have you seen any synergy between your massive Twitter following and your forum members? Do you have any tips for folks who want to supplement their forums with a twitter account?
My involvement with social media is only about 26 months now. The BCDG has a track record of 15 years! For the most part, it was word of mouth that got people to visit the BCDG along with our discussions with architects and engineers working with our office and seeking additional technical resource for building code interpretations.
As I discovered the power of social media, I realized the perfect fit that was available to us with the BCDG. In time (it takes time to establish presence and following on social media) social media became a conduit to direct some of the traffic from Twitter to the BCDG. Having a large following helps. Many are architects and engineer and people with construction related needs. Letting them know what the BCDG offered and highlighting (by posting on Twitter) some of the intriguing and current code discussions taking place, provided additional avenue for traffic to the BCDG that was not available before. Some15% to 20% of the traffic in the last year was directed to the BCDG through social media, primarily Twitter.
If you have a product or service, social media (a very reasonable and inexpensive conduit) can greatly enhance exposure and eventually monetization for the service or product. We proved it in the synergy that became clear between Twitter and the BCDG. You have to establish presence in your field (takes time to have people trust you and follow). But once you do, people that trust you will follow your suggestions and the work you produce or services that you recommend.
How have your premium memberships enhanced your community? Are they paying the bills, or is just supplemental income?
For the longest time, the BCDG was a free community. We only switched to a premium (paid) model about two years ago. We still offer read-only free membership. For full access to the BCDG features, premium membership would be required. We also extend complimentary premium membership to our current clients and their staff.
The premium membership has enhanced the BCDG. When people pay for a service they tend to use it more and partake in the discussions more effectively. For me, it finally provided an additional stream of income that covers the expenses related to maintaining such an active and large forum, plus some profit. Our company does not rely on income generated by the BCDG. The idea was always to cover the expenses of the forum itself. It’s doing that and much more at this point.
Having a premier building code community known throughout our industry is also an added advantage that is hard to quantify but very important. The BCDG has directly contributed to adding new clients to our consulting business by the fact that clients wanted to work with the people that were behind the BCDG. They trusted the BCDG since it has been delivering for 15 years and that made it easy for them to decide on extending the consulting plan review to our company. So in a way, the BCDG became one of our best marketing tools.
Do you run BCDG by yourself, or do you have a paid community manager or moderators? Do you make use of volunteer moderators?
I have been running the BCDG all this time. The hard work of establishing the layout, reporting, customization and procedures has been done and now takes minimum maintenance and periodic upgrades. I am very fortunate to have a core group of experts (code officials, architects, engineering and construction practitioners) that help field the numerous code questions posted on the BCDG. They are the soul of this forum and makes it the valuable tool it is today.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing community managers right now?
For me, a community manager has to know the ins and outs of the community they maintain. No question about it. From the technical needs of maintaining a robust community to the reporting and upgrades that have to be done. It’s becoming a full time position for many operations and critical at that.
You’ve been featured on local TV and spoken at TEDX in China; did you seek out those opportunities, or did they find you? Any tips for others who want to get publicity for their communities?
It’s amazing what social media can provide you with; Opportunities and bridges of friendship. As you spend time establishing presence and providing quality information and resources, people seeking such information will gravitate to you and would want to work with you and seek your input.
The China TedxCanton, http://imadnaffa.blogspot.com/...ceans-engineers.html, was a result of friendship established with professionals that were working in China and curated the TedxCanton. After a year of discussions and knowing each other, they extended the invitation to speak at TedxCanton in the City of Guangzhou. I spoke on social media and its global effect of connecting people across oceans, countries and cultures. It was an amazing conference!
Local media in Fresno, http://imadnaffa.blogspot.com/...report-tweeting.html, and on the Web approached me to talk about social media and how I was using it to reach a global audience on six continents. They realize that small business need to contribute and be involved if they are to be relevant, competitive and needed now and in the future. As someone extensively using social media, I find myself talking more and more about it to media outlets and anyone that is interested.
In April I will be attending TedxDeadSea in Jordan (www.Tedxdeadsea.com). This would be the first Tedx conference Jordan hosts and promises to be an awesome event.
follow Imad on Twitter at: http:/www.twitter.com/imadnaffa