Selecting the Right Tools for Your Online Community

Building an online community is one of the best ways any business can grow and nurture a following that’s loyal to and interested in what you have to say. With so many tools available to make this possible, they’re easier than ever to create and they’re not just limited to large brands and companies.

Business leaders across the globe are regularly taking up this form of promotion and communication. The reason for this is because it’s simple, inexpensive and with the right tools, can make a massive impact.

Yet with so many tools to choose from, how do you go about selecting the ones that are right for you? In this article we’ll first look at the key factors involved in building your community, before suggesting some tools that might work for you.

What Approach Should You Take?

Before even thinking about your tool-set, you need to have a robust plan in place. It might be tempting to dive head-first into this brave new world of communication, but first you need to consider what you’re creating, who your audience is and how they choose to communicate.

It’s all well and good snapping up every tool on the market. If your audience isn’t there however, you’ll be conversing with tumbleweed.

Putting Your Audience’s Needs First

This is why you need to consider the preferences of your audience, before getting into the details of functionality. Without this crucial step, your community adoption is likely to not succeed.

In the Social Business Cookbook from 4 Roads, they reiterate this sentiment by suggesting that you:

“Think about what you need and focus on those priorities, not on the shiny new features that sound good but will not help you make the dish you want.”

Because at the end of the day, different audiences and their motivations, give rise to different communication needs.

So dig around and find out what they really want. Where do they spend most of their time online? Which social networks does your audience prefer? What style of communication can they most relate to?

Suggested Tools for Building Your Online Community

You now know that during your planning phase, you should be focusing on functionality that meets your audience’s needs first and foremost. Let’s face it, there’s no point trying to connect with people via Facebook if they’re more the Google+ type.

If however you find that you need additional tools after a while, there’s no reason why you can’t build upon your existing ones. With technology and online communications methods growing so quickly, there’s always new things to try.

With this in mind, here’s 5 tools that you can implement to form the foundations of your community.

     1.         A Site-wide Blog

A single author or a group of collaborators can write a site-wide blog. It can benefit any website by keeping it regularly updated with content that you know will be relevant to your audience. Another great benefit of having a blog for your business is that it can attract new community members via search engine traffic.

The downside of having a blog can be the fear of people leaving negative comments. Regularly monitoring your blog comments, and then settling any disputes via email or instant message easily overcome this.

     2.         Structured Groups

Structured groups can be an excellent melting pot of ideas and suggestions, where community members can exchange their thoughts. When setting up a group make sure that there are people assigned to moderate your group, as well as promoting it in order to source new members.

     3.         Social Monitoring

Monitoring any mentions of your brand or business on social media is an effective way to keep tabs on who’s talking about you online. This is especially useful in the early stages of building your community – since you’ll be looking for people who talk about your brand favourably. These people can then be engaged with on a more meaningful level, in an attempt to gain their trust and loyalty.

     4.         Analytics

Analytics are crucial to the success of building your online community. Sites like Google Analytics can give you a full overview of your audience; where they come from, which platforms they use and how frequently they visit your website.

Analytics can also help you to set goals and more importantly, track the effectiveness of say your blog content. With these statistics you can figure out what’s working well for your website and what your audience isn’t quite so keen on.

     5.         Hashtags

Lastly depending on which social media platforms you choose to use, implementing hashtags into your status updates can boost the reach of your content. Tweets with hashtags for example, reach twice as many people than those without.

This is because hashtags are searchable, clickable terms. Search for any hashtag on Twitter and your results will include every Tweet that includes that tag. Using them for your own community, will help your updates reach the right kind of people that you wish to build into your community.

Conclusion

Ultimately, how you build your online community, should be dictated by the people within it. Spend time researching your audience’s needs and motivations. Then choose only those tools, methods and resources, that will help meet those needs.

Only then will your community be able to grow under your careful care and attention.