Higher Logic Blog

10 Questions to Ask Members Before Launching an Online Community

Written by Paul Schneider | March 29, 2011 at 2:41 PM

What Can Your Online Member Engagement Strategy Learn from a Jury Trial?

I was recently selected for jury duty. It was for a civil case where a man went into a bar, drank too much, and hit a lady after leaving in his car. No one was killed, but the lady was hurt in the car. I was not chosen to sit on the jury, but I did make it all the way through the jury selection process.

The prosecution and defense asks all potential jurors a series of questions about themselves. Are you married? Do you have kids? They asked for medical information that would prejudice you one way or another on the case. Do you know anyone related to the case?

By the end of the questions, even though I was one of 25 potential jurors, I felt like they had a pretty good idea of who I was and how I might lean in this case. I wasn’t chosen, but this whole process got me thinking that if associations knew their members this well when starting a private online community - what a difference it would make.

Getting to Know Your Members Before Launching an Online Community

If you have looked into starting an online community on your website, many people will tell you “know your audience!” You can take this at a cursory level and just say, “well, my audience is my members.”

However, for a successful online community, it goes much deeper than that. Much like the questions that the attorneys were asking jurors helped them to know what my likes, dislikes, and prejudices for this case may be, your questions need to reach a deeper level of understanding about your members.

If you were an attorney holding a case for an online community, here are 10 questions you might ask:

  1. Are you a man or woman?
    Women are more likely to participate in an online member community than men, so knowing the mix of your members would be helpful.

  2. Why did you join our association?
    Knowing why they joined can help you tailor the content and features of your online community to the benefits your members are looking for.

  3. Do you use social media now?
    You won’t get 100% of members using your community from the start, but knowing who already uses the tools you are looking to implement may help you get a feel for how it will be adopted by members.

  4. If you do use social media, what do you use?
    Do your members already blog, use wikis, or network online? This information can help you determine what your members will find valuable in your community.

  5. How often do you use social media?
    Just using social media is great, but how much it is a part of your members’ daily lives can tell you what usage to expect from your members.

  6. If you don’t use social media, why not?
    Age is not the overarching reason people do not use social media. Find out why, so your site can help bridge that gap.

  7. What would you like to be able to do in our private online community?
    Don’t ask, would you like to blog, tweet, etc? Ask this question in non-technical terms. You can then translate your members' goals into technology features.

  8. Do you contribute currently to any online communities or online industry sites?
    Engaging members for content can be a huge benefit to your site. By knowing upfront who is already doing that will enable you to engage them to participate in your site as well.

  9. How do you access the internet?
    With mobile becoming a predominant means to accessing the internet, you need to know how your members get their information, so you can know the best way to deliver it.

  10. Does your employer block access to social media sites and usage?
    There are some companies and even some industries where social media is still look at as ‘goofing around on company time’. Make sure your members can not only access your site on their lunch breaks but all day long. If access is a problem, there are other issues you need to address for adoption and use of your site.

So as you can see, knowing your audience is much more than just knowing who will access your online member community. By treating your understanding of your members and users like a trial attorney might, you will receive a greater understanding of your membership and their online behavior that will directly impact the adoption of your site by your members. Court is now in recess.