Related Resource: The Online Community Playbook.
Many companies believe that starting an online community requires a lot of time, money, and effort when, in fact, it’s never been easier to create a community that can support your business objectives. A handful of dynamics are making it easier than ever to build an online community. These include the emergence of:
Established best practices
There are now some well-known best practices associated with designing, building, and managing online communities.
The technology that powers online communities has become feature rich and easy-to-use.
Conditioned social behavior
Finally, most people have now had a social experience online. It might be via a major social platform like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but people are conditioned to participate in social communities online.
Here are 10 specific tips that you can use to start your online community:
1) Develop a 90-day plan.
Specify the business objectives that your community will support. These objectives are typically related to sales, marketing, and customer service. Your plan should also identify what resources you’ll require to make your community a success. Most importantly, identify what you’ll do in the first 90 days to make the community a success.
2) Create a lean community team.
The community will need the support of an executive sponsor, Community Manager, and employees. The Community Manager will spend the most time managing the community, but assigning an executive sponsor and recruiting co-workers to participate are critical to its success. If your organization doesn't have a Community Manager on staff, consider recruiting from your social media managers (i.e. those who manage your Twitter or Facebook profiles).
3) Select a technology provider.
The technology you choose to power your community will define many of its attributes. Choose a community platform that provides members with a great user experience and Community Managers with easy setup and administration. Also, look for a technology provider that provides easy access to community analytics, so you can track the health of your community on an ongoing basis.
4) Build a community.
Once you’ve selected a technology, you can start to build out the community. Make sure you understand how people become members and the features that will drive real engagement in the community. You should also spend time ensuring that the community will incorporate your branding guidelines.
5) Recruit your initial members.
Identify and personally recruit approximately 20 members who you think will be active participants in the community. Some of these people can be employees, but most should be existing customers who are passionate about your business. Ask your colleagues in Sales to recommend customers who found success with your product. Make sure they (the customers) have a proclivity to use social media.
6) Seed community activity.
Even the most successful communities didn’t start from scratch. There’s almost always someone who is seeding activity in the community, driving participation and engagement. The Community Manager should seed the community with posts, questions, and other forms of content every day. But like any good gardener, you stick around to watch the seeds of activity grow and evolve into beautiful plants, fruits or vegetables.
7) Engage early members.
It’s also critical that you engage members in a one-to-one fashion, particularly in the early days. Use email and even the phone to make people aware of key interactions in the community so that they can join in the conversation. Email newsletters (or email digests) can work quite well, to help inform early members of recent activity and incent them to login to the community to join the conversation.
8) Collect feedback from members.
Collect qualitative feedback from some of the initial members. Make sure that you identify the specific areas that they are deriving value from. You should also make sure that you identify areas that you could improve. As you make changes based on this feedback, let the community know - and, thank the members who suggested the changes. This shows the community that you're not just listening, but also acting.
9) Review your results.
After 30, 60, and 90 days, review the results of your efforts. Has membership grown? Are you seeing real participation and engagement? Is there a lot of content being generated? If you like what you see, get ready to roll the community out to a larger audience. But first, brief your executive sponsors on these early results in order to generate sustained buy-in and support from them.
10) Promote the community.
Now it’s time to promote the community to a larger audience. As you reach out to a larger group of customers, prospects, employees, and partners, remember that you already have an engaged community in place.
These ten tips will help you get your community up and running in a matter of weeks, as opposed to months. They’ll also mitigate the risks sometimes associated with launching a community and maximize the benefits that the community can deliver to the business.
Download the playbook
TOPO and DNN collaborated on an Online Community Playbook. It provides a comprehensive plan for building and managing your online community. Register to download your copy today.
Recently, I presented a DNN webinar on this same topic. You can register to view the webinar replay. Alternatively, feel free to browse the slides below.