In order for an online community to succeed, it must be a benefit of being a customer of your company or a member of your organization. I have written before about how you cannot create a thriving online community by just putting it out there and letting people use it if they want to. At an association, your online community is one of the central pillars of your member benefit package. If you run sales or marketing at a for-profit company, your online community of customers, employees, and partners is a strong differentiator and a major feature of how you help your customers become more successful.
Your online community can only be a benefit to your members or customers if a large percentage of your audience uses, participates in, and contributes to your community. This is the very circular "Chicken or the Egg" Model for Online Community Success:
|Members need to use your community in order for others to see it as a benefit of membership. And people need to see it as a benefit of membership so that they use it.|
If one of these elements is broken or not present, your private online community will most likely crash and burn. If you members or customers don't see your online community as a benefit that can help them in their daily lives, they will not participate and return to your community. Then, visitors who login and see that no one is sharing and contributing in your community will not see it as a benefit of being a member or customer. Where do you start? Which comes first, member engagement (the chicken) or the benefit of an online community (the egg)? Sounds daunting, doesn't it?
You and your team must have a solid understanding of why you are launching an online community. Why will your members return to your community daily or every other day? How would you like your relationship with your customers or members to change as a result of creating an online community?
Follow a proven methodology for launching and growing your online community. It starts with positioning. To ensure your online community succeeds, position your online community at the center of your customer-facing universe so that all of your customer communication and documentation are run through the community. Successful methodologies include the process of planning your community so that it contains features that your specific audience will use, as well as the plans to fill your community with valuable resources, promote your community to your constituents, and grow your online community so that it thrives, but is manageable, over time.
Be sure that the online community software you have selected is built around the "Chicken or the Egg" Model for Online Community Success. Start by ask about your vendor's engagement methodology and make sure that it does not leave holes in this model. Since it is critical to position your private online community at the center of your customer communication or member communication channel, be sure that your online community platform is broad enough to handle functions from document management to collaboration to mobile engagement.
The "Chicken or the Egg" Model for Online Community Success is very relevant and takes down many online communities at companies and associations who are not familiar with it. Knowing that this model applies to every industry, the above high-level look at the steps for creating a successful online community is very real as well.
While we have seen the model sink promising online communities like the storm that took the Spanish Armada, we have also seen our approach to planning and launching online community software succeed dozens and dozens of times with our customers.