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Want a Thriving Online Community? Create a Village

Written by Sarah Robinson | on March 11, 2015 at 4:22 PM

The world we live in is becoming a place where isolation and lack of human connections is the norm. We don't know our next-door neighbors. Technology means we don't actually have to talk to or interact with anyone. Our jobs take us far away from friends and family. As I watch these realities day in and day out, I'm struck by the contrast of the rapidly rising trend in the demand for communities. The more our complex world isolates us, the more we seek out human connection and a place to belong.

I listen to conversations about this all the time, whether I'm working with a client, speaking at an event or just sitting in a coffee shop or airport. And here's what I've decided: in many ways we long to live and do business the way our grandparents did. We want to know the butcher. We want to talk to the mailman. We want a relationship with the truck farmer at the farmer's market. We want to be recognized at our favorite Saturday breakfast place.

These longings and wants create an incredible opportunity for online communities. You are perfectly poised to fill these needs and create a lasting bond for you and your community members that increases engagement, loyalty and revenue. We can take the initiative to bridge together older community values with the advent and growth of online platforms for our communities. Some great examples of this kind of "village" approach includes GoProFanatics and the Florida Public Relations Association.

GoProFanatics is, as its name implies, a forum for people who are obsessed with their GoPro cameras. While GoPro doesn't own or operate this forum, they are very much aware that it exists. All of the content is user generated. Members help each other with everything from trouble shooting to accessory recommendations. More experienced GoPro users take time to help new users.

The Florida Public Relations Association is a thriving independent association for all public relations professionals in the state of Florida. What I love most about this organization is how closely the individual city chapters work with each other. While resources and directories are listed and shared on the FPRA website, the real magic happens at the very active, statewide committee level. Conference calls, face-to-face meetings, and web conferences are happening all the time. And these committees determine exactly how the organization is run. Also, I happen to know first hand they have a ton of fun while they are doing it!

So how do you make this happen? Create a village. Before you start singing "YMCA" (a great community building song by the way), I have a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Make sure your members know their neighbors. Take the lead in making introductions rather than hosting an online chat and hoping people will show up.
  2. If it is practical, set up face-to-face events for members who are in the same town.
  3. Have a Welcome Wagon system set up for new people, comprised of other community members rather than just staff.
  4. Give members the opportunity to help and support each other, such as making recommendations for vendors that would be useful to them.
  5. Give your members a way to hold leadership positions in the community and allow them to have a say in how the community is run.

Pick one or two of these ideas and come up with a few simple actions you can take to make them happen in the next week. If you get stuck, stop and ask yourself, "If this were a real village, what would need to happen?"

And of course I'm always curious about your thoughts. I learn so much from you, the readers! Please share your tips and ideas below and let's talk about them.

Topics: Online Community Management, Engagement

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