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Launching an Online Community: How to Determine if Your Target Audience Will Engage

Written by Katie Bapple | on January 29, 2015 at 8:49 AM


Once you decide on the perfect topic for your new online customer or member community, it can be tempting to hit the ground running with your launch plans.

However, before you get too far along, it's important to figure out your total feasible market size. By taking the time to assess your target audience's level of interest, you can determine whether an online community is the type of engagement platform your target audience is likely to participate in.

The Importance of Assessing Interest in Your Online Community

One of the earliest and most costly mistakes an online community manager can make in the planning stages is to assume people will be interested in what the online community has to offer. Even if you've taken the time to establish a well-defined topic and checked out any potential competing communities, it's impossible to know how your target audience will react to your online community without conducting marketing research.

Now, if the prospect of doing marketing research fills you with dread, don't worry – you aren't alone. Gathering data from your target community members and validating your ideas can be difficult to do, but the information you'll discover can be invaluable to the design and value proposition of your online customer or member community.

There are a lot of unknowns to launching an online community. This is the reason that online community strategies often stall before they get the green light from senior management. Basic market research can help answer some of the more daunting questions to better set you up for success.

Most importantly, proper research can give you the confidence that you have a target audience with a vested interest in your community platform from the very beginning.

In order to assess the interest level of your target audience before you launch your online community, follow these five steps.

5 Steps to Determine if Your Target Audience Will Engage With Your Online Community

Step #1: Figure Out Who You're Looking For

Before you begin surveying the market, you need to know exactly who your target audience is and where you can find them. Theoretically, you can probably sum up your target audience in one or two sentences, but finding them in the real world can be a bit trickier.

If you're a company creating a customer community, you have the added advantage of knowing your consumer base and can likely rely on brand affinity to get the feedback you need. Or, if you're an association creating a private member community, you can use your distribution list and existing member database to gauge interest.

Since these groups of people have already bought-in to your solutions or shown interest in your organization, seeking them out for feedback shouldn't be too much of a challenge.

However, surveying your target audience becomes a little more challenging when you're reaching out to people blindly. That's where step two comes into play.

Step #2: Use Other Social Spaces to Connect

Whether online or offline, you can generally find your target audience congregating in other social spaces if you know where to look.

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn has numerous very targeted and topically specific groups that would be a great place to start.
  • Twitter: You can find people on Twitter using hashtags or keywords.
  • In-Person Networking: There might be local groups in your area that are meeting offline and could be a good source.

By making it a goal to connect with five new people each week, you'll build up a strong contact-base in no time.

Step #3: Communicate the Benefits

Your target community members are busy and have an array of online destinations competing for their attention. As you begin your research, make sure you take the time to tell your participants how your new online community benefits them.

They need to have a full understanding of what your purpose and value are in order to give you the type of honest feedback you need to make the best decisions for your online community strategy.

Take the time to explain why your online community would be worth their time and how they would participate so they can give you a clear and accurate assessment of their interest.

Step #4: Ask the Right Questions

Think carefully about what types of questions will help you assess the engagement potential of your member-base. Aim to cover three types of questions: 1) interest level, 2) specific interests, and 3) specific activities.

For example:

  1. As someone interested in _________, would you join an online community where you could connect and interact with other individuals interested in __________?
  2. What specific ____________-related topics interest you the most?
  3. In which activities would you be most likely to participate? Then list:
    1. Connecting to other people interested in _____________
    2. Participating in conversations on ________________
    3. Writing or reading a blog
    4. Online events such as webinars
    5. Contributing to a wiki

These basic questions can help you zero in on both the exact interest level of your target audience and the specific topics and formats your online customer or member community should focus on.

Step #5: Be Personable

Reaching out to people you don't know to give you feedback on an idea they may not be familiar with isn't easy. Maintaining an open and personable rapport is essential to not only completing the research, but also hopefully convincing these members of your target audience to become members of your new online community.

Remember, a very small number of members can drive an overwhelming volume of community activity, so never discount the value of relationship building in these early stages.

Launching an Online Community Takeaway

Your online customer or member community deserves every chance to succeed. Set your platform up for success by pumping the breaks on your launch momentum and taking the time to assess your target market's interest level.

By conducting proper and detailed market research, you can get the scoop directly from your target audience without falling victim to the dangers (and resulting re-work) of faulty assumptions.

Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Communications, Online Community Management, Engagement, Social Media, Online Community

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