The reason why this series focuses on failure, rather than how to create a successful private online community like I usually do, is to help marketers, membership managers, and social business professionals learn how to create a productive online customer or member communities by looking at the issue from all angles, including the ugly underbelly. After all, we learn more about a product on Amazon from the negative reviews than we do the positive ones.
This pitfall pertains to an organization's expectation that their online community will grow like Facebook once the technology is in place. You see this both with corporations and nonprofit membership organizations, like associations. It has been proven time and again that hands-off community management in the early stages (often the first year) of a private online community's existence leads to failure.
Avoid this public embarrassment by investing in an online community manager (or team of managers), cross training others in the organization on the vision and day-to-day community management activities, and developing systems, like a content plan, to keep your community active and your members engaged.
Like any online technology, there are many more articles, consultants, and software companies that focus on social business strategy, than there are resources to help you plan and execute the tactics necessary to maintain a thriving private online community. Frankly, the big picture is more exciting. You would rather talk about the score to the big game and the broad themes of your team's play than how your running back was seemingly able to find holes in the defense each play.
However, it is the purposeful stringing together of the mundane daily activity that drives the long term success of your private customer or member community - from facilitating discussions to connecting members with questions to members who might be able to help to sending weekly round-ups of new content and discussions of interest to each member segment. This is what your customers and members really care about. This is what will keep them engaged, returning to your online community, and looking to your organization as a valuable resource.
In the same way content keeps you coming back to CNN.com or MSNBC.com daily, content will keep your customers or members returning to your private online community. Though discussions and being able to reach out to others for answers to questions about your job, business, or industry is important in your private online community, insightful and helpful content is the glue that keeps community members coming back.
Adding exclusive content to your online community will keep enough members coming back to your community so that there are people in your community to see and participate in discussions forums. Here is a great resource for creating an online community content plan that allocated content topics across multiple areas of interest to your audience and spreads the burden of content creation across your organization.
Since all of the roles and responsibilities of managing a professional network have been rolled into the nice neat title of community manager, it is easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to manage a successful private online community. Not only is it the amount of time that matters, but it is the type of time.
Managing a community takes more than responding to email and browsing discussions for inappropriate content. It takes strategic planning, analysis, precision execution and content creation, and working across your organization to make sure your online community is as valuable to your target audience as possible.
Tip: If you don't have the resources to hire or appoint a dedicated community manager, be sure that someone in your organization owns your online customer or member community. Assign someone already in your organization whose job it is to wake up each morning and make sure that your private online community is successful. Check out The Online Community Launch Guide for tips on setting up your community manager for success.
Note from Josh: I apologize to those of you who have been following this series for the need to split this post into two. Online community management is such an important topic that I didn't want leave out any helpful insight.
Read the second half of part 3 in this series on why private social networks fail and how to avoid it.