Regardless of how talented your community managers are, it takes more than community professionals to create a sustainable community that provides consistent engagement and value.
According to research from The Community Roundtable, "investing sufficiently in community teams so that the community is integrated across functional areas of the organization increases both visibility with, and value to, the organization."
So, who should you invite to the table when it comes to planning and managing your association's private online community? Community managers expect that volunteer recruiting is part of their job, but often overlooked is the amount of recruiting that's necessary in-house for your community to be a success. It's not just members and volunteer leaders that help create a robust peer-to-peer environment. It's also the people you work with every day.
The more the merrier. One of the top reasons that people join an associations is to build more connections and get closer to their organization. Each person that you can add to your community team is another opportunity to provide members with unique value and spread the burden of day-to-day community management tasks.
Involving other association staff will accomplish three things:
Spreading responsibility throughout your association is extremely important because often an online community is inaccurately seen as solely the domain of the membership or marketing department. Other departments take a hands-off approach and are not sure what, if at all their role is.
By involving a diverse group of stakeholders, defining their roles, and inviting them to participate, you are giving team members both accountability and a stake in the results. This personal ownership leads to a deeper investment in your online community strategy and makes them more likely to champion and contribute in a meaningful way.
An online community is more than just content. It's a functioning ecosystem of ongoing engagement for your association. Ecosystems, by definition benefit everyone involved. They also need everyone's contribution to thrive. The online community and the people in your organization are interdependent - making it critical to get different departments involved from the start.
First, make a list of those valuable staff resources you need for the online community. You'll find a list of common community management team roles below to get you started.
Every association is structured differently with varying personnel available. When it comes to picking your dream team, lofty goals are great, but stay realistic. Your association may not have every position listed below. If that is the case, tap the person that most closely aligns with the job duties described or recruit someone that has those skills.
The following list is by no means set in stone. If you have someone you want to involve, whose job duties are not on this list, please do! This is just a starting point as you start thinking about how different departments can enrich your online community.
Images draw people in and a talented graphic design captivates an audience. Often, if your association employs a designer who is not involved in the online community, it very quickly becomes something they are hesitant to embrace. Projects become one-off designs without a full understanding of your member engagement strategy.
Making your designer part of the online community management team ensures they're invested in the process and your community's visual style. When your designer plays a more integrated role, the member experience becomes tighter and more coherent. You may also be able to use this person's help in video components. Designers are often creative and, if given a seat at the table, may participate in a very valuable way.
Pro Tip: This is one of those roles that is often harder to find. There are a lot of awesome, inexpensive online tools out there, like Canva for Work. It lets you set theme colors and easily take one design from one forma to another, like creating a Facebook ad from a blog banner.
In most cases, the strategy behind your private online member community flows through one of these departments. However, in rare cases where the request came from the executive director or the board, these departments must be involved.
Your association's online community can be one of your most powerful recruiting and retention tools. Since private online communities are known to keep members engaged at much higher rates than other channels, your vice president of membership will have a keen interest in how the community helps her group achieve their goals.
At the end of the day, your private member community is one of your association's most valuable member benefits. Your marketing department will want to promote the platform alongside the rest of your member benefit portfolio. Your marketing pros can also help drive members to your community on a regular basis.
Due to the close alignment with their goals, your marketing and membership departments probably won't need too much coaxing when it comes to involvement.
Sometimes you want to make tweaks to your online community platform or integrate with other systems. In most organizations, someone in IT can help you do this. They can also help answer some of the more technical questions that may come up from some of your members.
Getting them involved on a regular bases makes it easier when you have to request bigger changes since they will be up to speed on the entire process and strategy.
Communities and live events go hand in hand. Engaged communities register for events and conferences at a higher rate and you can carry to momentum of awesome events in your online community after the tradeshow floor lights go down.
If your events coordinator is someone outside of your marketing department, involve them in the online community management team if for no other reason than the community will be an important tool for them.
From communicating information about events and crowdsourcing session topics to event feedback and content creation, the engagement in your online member community will play a pivotal role in event management. Along with the built-in event management features offered by most association community platforms, your community has a nice tie-in to communication efforts and understanding what members want most.
A successful event must keep your members in mind and an online community is the perfect way to stay in touch. After all, your online community is the "event after the in-person event."
This may be shooting for the stars, but there are two reasons to involve your association's CEO. Online communities that have support from leadership tend to be more successful and more perceived as being tied into the association's mission.
Additionally, by involving leadership, they will have a firm grasp of the work that is being put into engaging members. This makes proving the community's value to the board and exec team a lot easier.
When talking about online community involvement with your leadership, discuss the opportunities for deeper member insight and highlight your community's role in retention and engagement.
It's critical that leadership understands your association's online community is not just another Facebook for your industry. It is a place to encourage professional development, provide value to members, and keep people engaged. It's also a rich source of member data, a top retention tool, and one of the easiest, least invasive ways to reach your members on a frequent basis.
Few successful communities sits on the shoulders of one or two people. Before you get too far down the path of your community planning process, find the right internal team members.
Involving the major stakeholders in your association will help you create a dynamic environment that continually provides value to both your members and your organization. Getting multiple departments involved also guarantees that your association's other decision makers are as fully invested in your community strategy as you are.