Think about the role that you want your online community to play in the lives of your customers, members, or partners.
Do you want it to be nice-to-have that they check in on every so often while they are waiting for a flight?
Or would you like your online community to be something that your target audiences depend on daily to do their jobs, grow their businesses, and advance their careers?
If you would like your customers or members to view your organization and community as an integral part of their success, then your online community can't rely solely on private social networks and discussion forums. Long form content, such as blog posts and exclusive articles, play an important role in growing the number of repeat visitors and contributors to your community.
Built-in blogs are one of the elements that sets your private online community apart from public social networks, like LinkedIn and Facebook, where interactions can be high, but the sense of community can be low.
According to Unisphere's 2013 Survey of Content Marketing Trends, marketers responsible for growing relationships with existing and prospective customers indicate that engaging these audiences is the top goal and benefit of blog content.
Since blogs are so ubiquitous across all of our online experiences, they are often overshadowed in the online community planning process by more novel social features. However, blogs are one of the foundational components of launching and growing a sustainable online customer or member community.
Let's look at why that is.
The social nature of blogs with comment threads gives online community members a clear path to participation around a specific question, experience, or opinion.
Blogs are easy to set up and run without an abundance of technical skills. Most blog software built into online community platforms is designed so that, if you know how to use a word processor, you can run a blog.
Online community software enables you to segment blogs so that certain community members have access to specific blogs depending on membership type, customer segment, or any other profile data.
Your members, customers, or employees are increasingly comfortable with reading content in a blog-format. The "consumerization" of blogs, in the form of sites like The Huffington Post, gives your community's target audience a growing familiarity with blogs.
Consistently pumping insightful and original content into your community helps develop habits among your members to visit and return to your community often.
Especially in the early phases of your online community, you will see a mix of high and low value discussions in your community. Relying on these user-driven discussions alone can stifle your community's value to your target audiences. Take more control of your community's importance in your members' lives by adding high-value blog content to smooth out the value curve.
Online communities are becoming the central communication hub for companies and membership organizations. Blogs are a critical piece of managing the information-flow and relationships with customers, members, and partners.
To reinforce the habit of going to your online community for the latest updates, insights, and discussions, use blogs in your email communication to customers or members. Rather than sending bloated emails with everything that you want to say in them, send short emails with links to the information in your community's blog posts.
Along with seeing higher click through rates from shorter emails, blogs give you more options to improve comprehension and calls-to-action conversion through the use of images, audio, and video.
In part two of this series on the importance of blogs in your online community, we'll discuss how to get started blogging in your online community and common types of blog content in customer or member communities.