Higher Logic Blog

10 Things About Building an Online Community That May Surprise You

Written by Joshua Paul | August 16, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Linking a private social network to your website is straightforward. However, creating a successful online customer community or member community can be difficult. It takes an abundance of customers, an understanding of your audience, staff resources, a solid strategy, and the right social technology. As with any enterprise business challenge, this complexity leads to various levels of understanding and expertise in the marketplace.

To help corporations and membership organizations dig beyond surface level guidance and gain an understanding how to create a thriving private online community for your customer or members, I have laid out 10 rarely talked about tips that executives should internalize as they develop their customer or member engagement strategies:

#1) Online Communities Are Not About Social Networking

Your audience has places to "friend" people, keep in touch, and stay up-to-date on each other's lives. They are known as Facebook and LinkedIn. Successful private customer communities and member communities should focus on providing the content, tools, and discussions that help your audience find more success in their businesses and jobs.

#2) Online Communities Must Be Centrally Positioned

The fundamental reason that online communities succeed is that people use it. The #1 driver behind people using your online customer or member community is centrally positioning it in your communication strategy. It is likely that your online community will fail if you undermine its value by giving your customers or members other ways to get the same information from your organizations. Position your online community so that your audience has to participate in order to get the information they seek from your organization.

#3) There Must Be a Reason ‘Why'

Many organizations think that this guidance refers to identifying a reason why their organization wants to launch an online community... sales... retention... engagement...etc. However, this pillar actually refers to having a solid reason for why your customers or members will come to your community and return often.

#4) Successful Online Communities Takes Effort & Dedicated Resources

Organizations cannot create a successful online community with an "if you build it, they will come" approach. It takes content plans and growth strategies, as well as someone whose job it is to wake up each morning and make sure the online community succeeds.

#5) Online Communities Do Not Have to be an Expense

Aside from traditional online advertising opportunities, vendor or partner programs built into your online community platform enable your customer community or member community to generate significant revenue that often covers 2-5 times the annual enterprise online community software and personnel costs needed to plan, implement, and manage your community.

#6) Many Online Communities Fail

A majority of private online communities fail to deliver meaningful results to the sponsoring organization. The reasons range from a weak strategy to inexperienced execution to technology that is not designed to keep customers engaged. However, it does not have to be this way. Developing the right plans, working with the right community strategy consultant, and selecting the right online community software provider play a significant role in your private online community's success.

#7) Using the Right Technology is Only Half of What Makes an Online Community Successful

Selecting the right online community platform for your business or nonprofit organization is only 50% of the equation. Developing the right online community strategy and community management plan is equally as important, if not more important, to your community building initiative.

#8) Your Online Community is Part of Your Product Strategy Before Its Part of Your Social Media Strategy

Your online community is first and foremost a benefit of having a relationship with your organization. An online customer community is a benefit doing business with your company that can differentiate your product from competitors and alternatives. If you are an association or nonprofit membership organization, a thriving online member community is a member benefit where members can find answers, information, and experts that they don't have access to outside your organization.

#9) Training Both Staff and Online Community Members is Important

Online communities do not just belong in the domain of the community management team. Spread the wealth of customer interactions and the workload by making sure your entire customer-facing team feels comfortable using your online community to engage customers or members. Along those same lines, provide live and recorded training for your target audience to help them get the most out of your online community. After all, your online community exists to make your customers or members more successful. The more they get out of your online community, the more successful you both will be.

#10) You Must Measure ROI of Your Online Community

Don't let anyone tell you that the benefits of keeping customers or members engaged in a private online community can't be measured or translated to meet tangible business objectives. That is how people with unsuccessful online communities talk about their communities. When you are planning your online customer community or online member community identify how you are going to measure the online community's impact on your organizational goals and be sure to record those metrics consistently. Knowing what is working and what is not working allows you to make positive adjustments faster.

The deep-dive advice in this article is compiles from a decade of building active online communities for corporations, associations, and user groups. What lessons have you learn from bringing customers, employees, and partners together in an online community? Add your experience in the comments below.