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Why An Engaging Online Community Starts with Company Wide Participation

Written by Katie Bapple | on March 19, 2015 at 8:20 AM

An Engaged Online Community Starts with Company Wide Participation

By now, we all know executive buy-in is important when creating an online customer or member community. Without it, community would hardly even be a discussion. However, getting your senior management on board is just a starting point. Writing a check, committing to a community platform and getting marketing to send an email doesn't even scratch the surface. To build a successful community, a foundation of unfaltering and abundant internal support is essential.

Having interdepartmental support within your organization provides the opportunity to create many wins, not only for the community team, but also many different business functions, as well as the audience itself. An "all hands on deck" attitude creates an unparalleled advocacy network for the community business case, and creates an internal paradigm that the community is as important of a fixture as marketing, sales or product.

Spend time championing your community to executives and colleagues; tie their participation back to goals in which they are personally accountable so they'll be excited about participating. Not only does their participation help create a more authentic community experience, but it allows them to step into the role of a community expert. They'll be able to field questions from members in a timely manner and aid in content creation. Your online community will be more likely to thrive as a result.

Not sure where to start the conversation? Here are 3 benefits of having an integrated community business strategy.

Establishing a group of internal participants scales community building efforts.

Successful communities tend to grow much quicker when content creation is scaled across as many resources as possible. In most cases, your colleagues will be the subject matter experts of your online community's topical point of focus, making the responses and opinions they can offer invaluable. They are the gatekeepers of the information your audience needs. A simple request of each colleague (usually in a product role) for 2-3 responses to audience questions per day can take less than 15 minutes, but create a huge impact.

To keep the barrier to participate even lower, provide a daily list of questions needing answers in a collaborative location, such as Google Spreadsheets. Most online community platforms provide reporting that makes finding the appropriate content a breeze.

Quick, easy, reliable solutions makes for happy people that will continue to support and evangelize your organization's brand.

The presence of organizational involvement in online communities builds audience trust.

Clear employee involvement can help establish your organization's investment in the community – it shows that you aren't just trying to convince members to use the community; you're also using it yourselves. Furthermore, a public commitment to sharing knowledge illustrates that the experience people have with your brand is important, valued and front of mind.

According to The Community Roundtable's 2014 State of the Community report, community's with internal executive-level participants saw 42% of members actively participating, versus 37% of members in communities without a clear executive presence. Online community members are extremely perceptive and will take note of a company's commitments towards audience satisfaction.

Creating opportunities for direct communication between audience and staff helps both parties achieves their goals faster and with greater purpose.

Depending on each colleague's position in your organization, you can explain how participating in the online community helps achieve personal objectives.

For instance, if you want product managers to get in on the conversation, illustrate the opportunities for crowdsourcing ideation. Letting real users tell them what items should be on the roadmap and what will likely make the biggest impact can highly improve overall user satisfaction. This not only makes your audience happy, but brings product managers closer to their personal goals in less time.

If you want members of the marketing team to help increase community awareness, show how member behaviors, dialogue, feedback and data empowers you to better understand the value propositions that make the audience you share tick. Guide marketers towards understanding how the information you have because of the community can increase their effectiveness to reach market segments, yielding greater reach through higher open and click through rates.  

If you want to encourage the CEO to publish a weekly blog post, speak to the corresponding benefits that someone in their position would find most encouraging, such as increased brand loyalty or higher renewal rates. End users appreciate transparency and opportunities to have their voice heard. By having the face of the company regularly address brand followers in way that communicates "we're in this together," the people that matter most to your organization will be more likely to see you through the tough times and rally by your side during the good.

Online Community Management Takeaway

Getting colleagues to take time out of their traditional roles to entertain new tasks is a huge challenge. It takes time, patience, dedication and a whole lot of ingenuity to make community a fully integrated business strategy. The key is to find ways that illustrate how the community can make jobs easier and goals more easily attainable.

Start with executive buy-in and ask for support. Prioritize departments with the most obvious gains for community participation by winning over team leaders. Follow-up by co-leading training sessions with the entire department.

Internal participation is one strategy in the overall community roadmap that is important to integrate starting from day one. However, it has a definitive place in all stages of the community lifecycle. The long-term success and needs of your online community will depend on it!

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Topics: Online Community Management, Engagement, Online Community

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