Like their association counterparts, user groups are looking to online communities to grow their organization, take some membership management tasks off the shoulders of volunteers, and give their members the online tools they need to engage with other members and the organization.
As your user group looks to implement an online community, here are some important points to consider.
This may seem a bit harsh, but an online community can be a lot of work to get up and running, nevermind getting your members to use it. If you add an online community to your website and do not seed it with content, have a content plan moving forward, and have a marketing plan to engage members, it will fail. It is better to wait until you are ready to devote the time to a successful online community than have one live a short life and a very visible death on your site.
Some of the biggest online communities we manage are run by completely volunteer organizations. The great thing about modern online community systems is you can disseminate maintenance of the site to many different people. You can have each forum run by a different volunteer, each file area moderated by different people, and each committee have their own management and security features. This enables a group of volunteers to have all the great functionality of an online community and have no single individual carry the bulk of the maintenance burden.
User groups are perfect examples of organizations that can take advantage of online vendor programs through their online community. You have a set of customers all focused around a specific product. A marketers dream! It is important to segment what a vendor can see and do on your site to give them the value they need to become a sponsor without giving away sensitive member information. Some of the users groups we work with are generating six-figure annual revenue streams through our vendor programs. Yours can too!
Sometimes an online community can be a scary proposition to your software product vendor because now your members are more connected and can be more vocal. This is not a bad thing. If your members are going to be vocal, good or bad, about your vendors’ products, wouldn’t they want a forum or listserv for that to take place where they can respond and know about it? The strength of your online community and collaboration capabilities can be a selling tool for your vendor. Think of all the support potential customers can see they can get daily through your online community if they buy your vendors’ products. Through your surveys, polls, and other feedback tools, your product vendor can get unique information on current products and future releases by having a large number of their clients in a single feedback system. The interesting thing, is even some of the largest companies in the world still rely on their user groups for feedback from customers for certain types of information.
With the world going mobile and everyone online, your organization needs to be as well. There is no more saying that your members are too old, they don’t use social media, you don’t “get it”. Your members are online and they want you to be too. Good online community software companies make the transition from conferences, magazines and enhancement forms to full web enablement a breeze. Take advantage of technology, efficiencies and benefits an online community can offer. If you don’t, the reality is someone else will.
(Photo credit: Mykl Roventine)