Investing money in the cost of an online community should be done with careful planning and strategy. There are several things that every business or membership organization can do to ensure the success of its online community. You may be planning some of these already and you may find yourself playing catch up on others.
Successful online user communities don't pop-up by chance. There are things you can put in place during your community's infancy that will determine success down the road. When you create and implement the right plan for your user community, it stands a greater chance at thriving.
Here are five signs that your online user community will be a success in its first year:
Many businesses and user groups with a private online customer community fail to fill one key role that will help the online community thrive: a dedicated community manager (or team of community managers). Companies that dig into what a community managers actually does on a daily basis clearly see the hole that is created when community management is a part time job for someone who is mainly evaluated on their other full time duties.
In addition to managing the community's content plan, coordinating email, online, and in-person communication to engage specific customer groups, and analyzing the data coming out of the community to make community-wide adjustments to processes, community managers should have a seat at the strategy table to both ensure that the community is meeting the organization's business-level goals and pipe feedback from the user base back to the senior management team.
You cannot moonlight as your company's online community manager and expect to see positive results. Choose a single person who will be responsible for the success of the community.
Content drive people to your community. It is the logs that fuel your online community's engagement campfire. Information is what draws people to an online community initially and inspires discussions once they are there.
With content playing such a critical role in your online user community's success, it is important to have a content plan. Customers and members want to know that, when they join your community, they will find the help and information they need.
Developing an online community content plan begins with researching the type of content that community members want and the format that they want to consumer the information, whether its articles, blog posts, email, videos, slide shows, or forum discussions.
While a documented content plan helps the community management team get a big picture view of the value being pumped into the community, it also ensures that the content is being created by people across your company, partner network, and customer base so that the content production burden does not fall on one individual or group.
Staying current with the content you offer and consistently providing educational, insightful information is an important part of keeping members of your online user community engaged.
The most successful private online communities provide exclusive information and access that customers or members can't get anywhere else. Members of your user community most often look to you for:
Just like you would with any product management exercise, ask questions via surveys and interviews to find out your customers' or members' most pressing problems. This will help you align your online community with what it is that they really need and what will make participation in the community an important part of their busy days.
Keep in mind that if you uncover your customers' most pervasive and urgent problems, then stream solutions to those problems across your public social networking channels, you will dilute the social density of your private online community and wash away the reason for users to visit your online community.
Give your customers or members the exclusive value they are looking for and you will see them return time and again to participate in your community.
You could have the most exclusive and helpful content in the world in your online community and it will fail if your users don't know about it. This is a common mistake when organizations select online community software. They see the active conversations, slick interface, and user-generated content, then walk away thinking that this level of social engagement happens in every community based on the existence of a super-cool private social network with unique content.
Don't make this same mistake. Ask about the features that keep members engaged over time. These are things like a built-in email engine to target specific members based on demographic, transactional, and social data.
Make sure that your online community tools have a strong balance of both features that provide value and features that will drive members back to the community based on each member's specific profile and interests.
If you don't know your online community data, then how can you know if it's thriving? Take time to understand your online user community's conversion funnel and relentlessly work to unearth your weak spots. Look at ratios such as your visit-to-login ratio and login-to-post and comment ratios in order to keep track of which actions are being taken by new visitors and active community members.
As your online user community grows, always keep one eye on your metrics. You will find areas that need improvements and catch leaks in your engagement plan much faster.
A private online user community is an increasingly valuable tool for a business or membership organization to have. Aside from keeping your finger on the pulse of your target audience, it is an exceptional way to increase the value of doing business with your organization and differentiating your organization in the market.
However, the first 12 months are a critical time for any new online member or customer community. Take time during the online community planning process to do what it takes to help your community thrive by having a dedicated community manager, creating content, and providing exclusive value to members. Use the right tools to keep people interacting in the community and measure the right things to keep track of your success, as well as areas that need help.