Of the hundreds of decisions that your organization will make in planning, launching, and managing your private online customer or member community, it is important to understand that they are not all equal. All of the decisions do not have equal bearing on the success or failure of your private social network's ability to help you achieve your company's goals.
In a recent webinar entitled, 9 Secrets of Successful Private Online Communities, we discussed strategy, community management, and logistical tips used by the most successful online communities. Though the webinar was targeted toward membership organizations, these points apply to businesses that are planning online customer communities as well.
During the online community planning process, it is easy to get sidetracked by an enthusiastic social media professional or a less-informed executive. However, it is critical to stay focused on the areas that can make or break your online community. Here are three online community strategy decisions that can set your private customer or member community up for long-term success.
Decision #1) Will Your Organization Treat Your Private Community as a Tool or Part of Your Member Benefit or Product Strategy?
While private social networks are both a technology play and a communication tool, it is important to first treat your private community like an extension of product strategy or member benefit portfolio. The differences in approach are apparent from the outset. Technology and communication tools are more reactive. They are used as needed or when a customer or member interacts with them.
Creating an environment where your business or membership organization sees your private online community as a differentiator and benefit of doing business with you, keep constant pressure on increasing the value of the community for your customers or members. This way you never lose sight of the things that are going to get people to value, use, and return to your private online community.
Decision #2) Which Organizational Goals Will Your Private Online Community Address?
It is worth repeating that customer or member engagement is not a goal for your private online community. Member engagement is only the fuel that powers you toward reaching business-level goals, like increasing retention, boosting revenue, or creating more profitable products or services.
Organizations that insert usage metrics into their ultimate community goals end up with an online community that gets cut from the budget since it does not directly impact the results that everyone else in the organization is working to achieve. While granular metrics are important to test, measure, and adjust your community to get people to take specific actions (i.e. return to the community, register for an event, help one another), companies must identify which organizational goals their online community will help them meet. The good news is that the flexibility that comes with online community software enables it to drive toward a wide variety of outcomes.
Decisions #3) How Centrally Can You Position Your Online Community?
One of the biggest concerns that businesses and membership organizations have is 'what if no one uses our online community?' There are many horror stories floating around about online communities that are now ghost towns or communities that can gain sustainable traction with their members after several years. Many organizations are zapping their resources while still living those nightmares.
The best private online communities are not thriving due to luck. There are things that companies can to get customers or members to use their private online community. One of the upfront decisions you can make is to position your online community at the center of your customer or member communication universe.
Using a customer community platform that includes a broad range of engagement tools, such as content, email, events, and social networking, allows your organization to funnel all of your customer communication through your community.
Centrally positioning your online community builds awareness of the value you're providing, rather than your community being an afterthought hanging off the side of your website. As the exposure to your community grows, so will the comfort that customers have with the features and interface. It also makes all of your communication social so that customers, employees, and partners can discuss your messages as they consume them.
Private Online Community Takeaway
Regarding the upfront decisions that you can make to create a successful online community, the big takeaway is that you have control. There are things that you can do at the beginning of the process that will set your organization up for success and vice versa. Making the wrong decisions or ignoring important decisions at the beginning of the process can set your organization up for slow growth, reworks, or damage to your brand.
Treating your private customer or member community as part of your product strategy, aligning your online community's goals with organizational goals, and position your private social network at the center of your customer communication plan are vital steps in creating a valuable and sustainable private online community.