I field a lot of questions in my day-to-day phone calls and emails with organizations researching online communities. I'm about to help a variety of different types of businesses and membership organizations, at all different stages of the research and planning processes.
The questions I answer most often center around the doubts and obstacles that come into play when considering launching an online community.
These are my favorite questions to answer because there is no simple, black and white answer. No two organizations are the same. Without careful analysis, there is no immediate clear-cut yes or no.
While every organization has its unique set of goals and challenges, the same doubts prevail across all organizations and associations. The number one, most asked question I hear is:
Hey, how do I know if an online community is actually right for me, for my organization?"
First off, does your company or industry already have a community? This could be as simple as a rogue Facebook or LinkedIn group. A community is simply a group of your customers or members that are having conversations around your product or industry.
Chances are you already have a community out there. You just haven't taken the steps to engage them. If you have customers, you have a community, but do you have a good mechanism to be able to facilitate conversation between customers or talk with your community members? If you don't have the ability to solicit feedback easily from them, and that's a goal of yours, then a community might be right for you.
A conversation around your brand and the problems you solve is happening. You just have to decide whether or not you will join the conversation.
"My members are competitors. They really hate each other. Do you think a community would be right for me?"
The answer to this one is in most every case a resounding, NO. But, like all online community professionals know, it does depend. You could still host an online community, just one that is a little outside the norm of your typical peer-to-peer private online networking site. You've got options.
Ask yourself and your organizations a few questions before giving up on the strategy completely.
- Do they have a reason to share something?
- Do you have a complex product where sharing should benefit customers?
- Do you have an organization that's focused around a particular topic or industry?
The whole reason behind launching a community bringing people together with common values, problems, or experiences. Friends or foes, if you think that your potential members can connect on some common theme, you've got yourself the foundation for an active online community.
This last question is one that I am often asking, rather than answering. I can't recall a conversation with an organization planning an online community strategy where I hung up the phone without asking:
Who is going to manage and take responsibility for this?
We talk about this A LOT because it is a big deal. The issue is all over our blog and other community management because it can make or break a new online community. You have to make the commitment to your community.
I'd love to tell you that, Just build an online community and it's going to be easy. No problem. Everyone's going to use it. That's simply not the case. You really do need to make a commitment to the process and the people. Promise them both that you're going to put into place community management processes that ultimately lead to a successful community.
As I mentioned, determining whether creating an online customer or member community is right for your company is not a simple question. You're not going to find resources that you can print out, take to your boss and slam on the desk with an enthusiastic, I told you so!
Use these questions as a guide to start talking about your organization's online community strategy. How does this information relate to your business goals and the value that you can provide to your customers or members.
As always, we are here to help! If you ever have questions, concerns or just want to chat give us a call!