On the surface, an active, well-managed online community may seem like an easy strategy to implement at your organization.
Pick a platform. Start some discussions. Tell your customers or members about it. And you now have an online community. Right?
You may have even participated in strong online communities and thought to yourself, "Hey, we can do that." And while, yes, you certainly can, it's important to recognize the upfront planning work that goes into launching a successful community.
Creating a social space that is valuable to community members, beneficial to your organization, and not overwhelming to manage isn't something that happens overnight. It requires significant work behind-the-scenes in the planning and strategy processes to make sure your final product doesn't turn into a nightmare. In this case, failing to plan is truly planning to fail.
Imagine this scenario:
Ultimately, nothing is working and it's impossible to tie your online community back to your core organization goals. Your online community has officially become a nightmare.
Luckily, all of the factors leading up to this situation are avoidable with more strategic upfront planning. Here are six common issues new online communities face and how you can avoid them.
You convinced your stakeholders to buy into your plans and purchased software to launch your online community. Unfortunately, you get too excited about actually managing your community and forget to do the necessary front-end research to understand your members and what would motivate them to participate in a social community regularly. Your community never even gets off the ground and you can't regain your initial momentum to address the problems.
The solution to this problem is simply a matter of allocating the time to conduct proper market research to develop a compelling value proposition. When you have a clearer idea of what your members look for and want in a community, you can better create a space where they will want to engage. Intentionally block out time to research your target community members and make a practical plan for ongoing management.
You never took the time to set up the community management processes necessary for getting busy people to your community on an ongoing basis. You don't have a plan to turn new members into active members and you haven't invested enough into the value of your community to make it worth your members' time.
By investing in community management, you'll know that a designated person or team is asking the hard questions, such as:
Whether you bring in a community manager, hire an outside service, or dedicate someone within your organization, it's important to begin identifying key community management processes during the planning stage.
Your online community software was really easy to set up. It was a great perk at the time, but you quickly realize it doesn't have enough features to keep your members engaged. Even though you thought you were getting a bargain, you outgrow your current platform almost immediately.
Selecting the right online community platform is a crucial step in the planning process. While you don't want to make the mistake of getting a bargain platform that doesn't suit your needs, you also don't need a giant platform that requires an entire development team to set up and manage. Understand that all platforms are not created equal and take the time to research your options to determine the best fit for your company, strategy, and community members.
The analytics in your online community platform play a major role in steering your online community. When you aren't prepared for the onslaught of engagement data that your online community can provide, you end up wasting time not knowing what you're looking for.
In this scenario, you might invest in the wrong type of content and spend too much time on the wrong type of members. Before you know it, you've taken your online community in a direction that doesn't reflect what your members want.
When you know the online community activity data you're interested in from the very first day your online community launches, you'll be in a good position to make adjustments and grow your engagement. While you won't have the actual data to analyze in the planning process, you can determine what specific metrics you'll be focusing on and what they mean to your online community management processes.
Even though you took the time to educate your stakeholders on the purpose of your community, they never fully grasp why you're doing what you're doing. When they don't see immediate results, they decide to pull the plug on your community in the middle of the planning process or shortly after launch.
Spend as much time as necessary educating and re-educating your executives on the importance of your online community to continuously get their buy-in. Make sure you clearly express how the community ties back to their priorities and set realistic expectations for when they can expect to see results.
Rather than building an online community that is designed to serve the needs and interests of your customers or members, you focus more on how the existence of your community can serve your business. Your audience loses trust in your brand and no longer believes you have their best interests in mind. Now, every step you take is scrutinized for being self-serving.
Since your community members aren't likely to engage in your online community if they can't determine how it benefits them, it's important to blatantly make it all about them. Clearly show how your online community is designed to first and foremost be a resource for them.
Implementing an online community for your business or member-based organization doesn't have to be a nightmare for your brand or career. With the right upfront planning, you can avoid making the types of mistakes that lead to these common unfortunate scenarios. By recognizing the problems that can occur early on, you'll be prepared to handle whatever challenges arise.