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Lessons from Years of Creating and Managing Online Communities [Interview]

Written by Joshua Paul | on September 9, 2014 at 8:28 AM
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Higher Logic recently launched a new professional services group to help businesses and nonprofit membership organizations increase engagement and the return on investment of their online communities.

Today, we're going to meet a member of the Higher Logic team. Katie Bapple is an experienced online community specialist who previously planned, launched, and grew many online communities as an online community manager for Toolbox.com and Ziff Davis.

Katie brings her expertise to Higher Logic customers to help them through all phases of the online community strategy and management processes, including defining your community's value proposition, creating content and engagement processes, and reporting on key online community management metrics.

Meet Katie Bapple!

What do you like best about helping people plan, grow, and manage their online communities?

I love watching people grow into confident community managers who feel comfortable taking charge and advocating on behalf of the end user.

Community managers are often the few people in a company that understand what a customer wants the most, but are also the most underutilized when it comes time to establishing the business plan.

Giving validation to new community managers trying to illustrate the power and importance of their role is the best part of my job.

What is the hardest part about growing an online customer or member community?

Getting everyone on the same page!

In some organizations, this will just mean getting executive buy-in, which will certainly dictate the success of the community indefinitely. However, there are also instances where you have to get the product team, technology team, marketing team, and sales teams all on the same page as well.

The community can be an area of the business where there are a lot of competing interests and, therefore, many competing priorities on what the business plan should look like. Oftentimes, this can stunt the growth of an online community due to a lack of focus. This situation can be a real roadblock for a community manager who needs more resources or a platform issue resolved immediately.

Ultimately, maintaining a direct relationship with an invested C-level stakeholder, listening to the members, and using data to make a case will help rationalize the direction the community truly needs to take.

What are the common misconceptions about the role of communities in managing customer or member relationships?

Many people look at private online communities as simply a marketing channel. That's not untrue - it can be a marketing channel - but private social communities aren't just another social media outlet or a way to build spam-slammed distribution lists.

When done correctly, online communities can provide a significant ROI by driving brand loyalty to boost retention, influencing purchasing decisions, and creating repeat business.

Communities build relationships with an audience in ways that traditional marketing tactics never could.

Do you have a favorite phase of the online community planning and management process?

Focusing on growth strategies is a really engaging part of this job because it merges both the art and science of community building. Combining both quantitative and qualitative factors of a specific online community challenges me to constantly think of new ways to be effective at this job.

There are countless ways to move the dial when it comes to activity because the way a member wants to interact, or the topics they find most engaging, is constantly evolving.

Additionally, there are so many factors that influence growth "“ platform mechanics, communications psychology, taxonomy, social density, content planning, member acquisition, etc "“ figuring out how to juggle all of those factors and see positive results is really fun and exciting.

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Topics: Online Community Management, Online Community

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