You launch an online community for customers, partners, or employees, then two things happen.
These two scenarios create a spiral of fear that prevents many organizations from launching their social business strategy, even though all indications point to customer communities playing a central role in the future of customer relationship management.
On recent episode of Socious' social business web show, ProCommunity, we discussed straightforward ways that organizations can squash these fears and set up processes to overcome these challenges using customer engagement techniques employed in the offline world.
Paul Resnick, Professor at the University of Michigan's School of Information and co-author of the new book, Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design, offered tangible tips for engaging new members in your community and encouraging contribution.
The following three tips stood out as especially useful for social business professionals and online community managers:
Think about college orientation programs. Colleges and universities don't let students trickle in and get oriented individually. They bring in groups of students together to go from "I know nothing about college" to "I see myself making it here."
By bringing people into your online community in "cohorts," your organization increases new member engagement by starting with smaller mini-communities where customers or members can build connections on a more comfortable scale.
Companies maximize the effectiveness of their online community training program by training new members in groups rather than individually. They also augment the support system for newcomers because new members can lean on each other.
Not all online communities can wait to gather a group of 10 or 20 before orienting them to the community. Whether your online community can bring new members on in groups depends on the community's missions, structure, and membership makeup. If the process is clear and organized, both internal employee social networks and external customer communities can use this approach to improve their new member engagement and onboarding processes.
Think about the military. They have used this technique for generations to build community among new members and commitment to the organization with their boot camp programs.
Online communities have an even better opportunity to use initial activity to drive engagement. Not only would new members feel more comfortable contributing and using the platform, but their contribution would benefit the rest of the community.
New members could be required (or encouraged) to find a question to answer or a discussion topic to respond to. Community managers play an important role helping connect new members with a forum, blog post, video, or document where they can engage based on their expertise.
It's a dual win for the community. The action allows new members to see the path to becoming a fully engaged member of the community and the community benefits from the content that the new member has added.
In Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence-Based Social Design, the "uniqueness principle" refers to asking people to do something by conveying that the specific individual is the only one who can do it. There are two parts to making this work:
In your online community, you'll get more contribution from members if you target specific members to address specific tasks, rather than blasting out group emails asking for someone to respond.
It takes more time from the community management team to make one-to-one asks, but the ultimate results will be much higher contributions in the community. The right online community software platform also makes it easier to find new or veteran members to fit a specific contribution.
Look around you. Communities are everywhere. Many of the successful offline engagement models that you participate in everyday have real implications in your online community.
Many of the fears that your management team has about using online communities to engage customers, partners, or employees are rooted in a lack of information. Anyone would see their social business investment as risky if it was based on hoping they people would be engaged.
Take a deep breath and know that there are proven steps that your organization can take to engage your target audience and grow your online community over time.
Focus on testing, measuring, and adjusting those processes and the fear will disappear.