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7 Ways to Use Email to Improve Virtual Communities

Written by Joshua Paul | on June 14, 2012 at 7:50 AM

How to Use Email to Improve Virtual CommunitiesIn the past few years, we've seen social networks dominate marketing conversations and the business media across the world. All evidence shows that social business a strategic imperative to acquire, nurture, and retain customers.

So called "old technologies" like email are often cast aside as relics of past decades. What you don't hear about is how today's booming public and private social networks rely on email to keep customers and members engaged.

Email is the Backbone of Online Community Engagement

Though not often included in the social technology conversation, social networks have always used email to alert community members of news related to their account or actions that need to be taken online.

Most recently, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter have all launched weekly email digests with information about what is going on in each individual's network to drive users back to their social networks online.

How to Use Email to Build Community

Combining email with online community features is a practice that Higher Logichas been advising our customers on for over a decade. It is one of the reasons that Higher Logic customers see so much higher levels of engagement and usage than industry averages.

With a large portion of your target audience increasingly checking email on mobile devices, incorporating email communication into your community engagement strategy has become essential.Here are some of the techniques we've seen used successfully by our corporate, association, and user group customers.

Online Community Email Tip #1) Segmentation

Segment your email communication based on both on demographics data (what you know about your customers or members) and behavioral data (what they download, discuss, or access in the community).

Online Community Email Tip #2) Weekly Round-Ups

Send weekly emails summarizing the hot topics, new files, or relevant discussions for each customer segment or member type in your online community.

Online Community Email Tip #3) Content Alerts

Keep customers coming back to you online community by helping them subscribe to email alerts that notify them when new content is added to a section of the community or a specific discussion thread. Your members or customers can even set up 'Google Alert' type content notifications, so that they get an email when information that includes a specific keyword or phrase is added to a discussion forum, document, blog post, or more.

Online Community Email Tip #4) Activate Listservs

Business-class online community software combines tried and true listserv functionality with social features like online discussion forums. By turning on your listservs, community members can follow discussions and participate directly from their email inboxes.

Online Community Email Tip #5) Play Matchmaker

Listen to your community, follow discussions, and identify specific customer needs. Then, use your reach as the community manager to connect people with questions with those community members who might be able to assist them or helpful resources in the community.

Online Community Email Tip #6) User-Generated Newsletters

Take frequently ask questions, popular discussion topic, or other content driven your online community, then create email newsletter out of the most helpful information.

Online Community Email Tip #7) Monthly Discussion Questions

Start discussions on topics that are relevant and helpful to a large segment of your customer base or membership. Then, send a monthly email to your customers encouraging them to add their ideas to the discussions. To maintain good social density, keep the number of monthly discussion threads low (2-3 questions per month).

Virtual Community Takeaway

Building thriving online communities for customers, members, or employees is not a 'set it and forget it' endeavor. Nor are private social networks strictly an online platform. Email is often the unsung hero of successful customer and member engagement strategies. The concept is simple:

  1. Create emails that call your customers' attention to relevant and useful information in your online community.
  2. Link directly back to the full information or discussion in the community.
  3. Encourage customers to leave a comment or participate in the forum discussion.

To keep customers or members engaged, it is important to select online community software platform that has a build into email engine that supports both automatic subscription-based content alerts as well as manual email campaigns.

Tips for developing a great online customer community strategy.

Topics: Online Community Software, Online Community

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