How to build a winning online community

Once an organisation has taken the decision to implement an online community as part of its customer engagement strategy, it’s likely to have a ‘what next’ moment – how on earth will it get people to use this new resource?

The first thing to say is: don’t worry. There’s a well-trodden path to get this community performing. In this article, we’ll examine the nine key elements needed for an organisation to turn its new online community into a roaring success.

#1 Offer exclusive content

A principal aim of a community is offering people specific and insightful content they can’t get elsewhere, but this won’t happen overnight. In the early days, the host business will need to create much of the content itself.

It’s important to get this right as work done in the first weeks will help establish trust amongst a nascent audience. Content isn’t an opportunity for marketing. This can be off-putting. It should seek to answer audience questions. It should seek to understand what the audience wants and deal with the pain points of its members.

Content plays a huge role in the health and vitality of every community, but first it needs to establish credibility. Which brings us nicely to…

#2 Understand motivation

Participation needs to feel authentic. For a business to deal honestly and openly with its audience, it needs to understand the motivation of its membership. What can you help them achieve?

Motivation can be anything from completing a task, fulfilling a passion, or wanting to share an insight or useful piece of information. However, it’s vital everyone is treated as an individual. This means talking to them in a language they’ll understand and appreciate.

#3 Provide usual tools

We’ve talked about satisfying the audience with content, but it isn’t enough to just make information available. Equally important is enabling quick and easy access with high-quality design and a gratifying user experience.

It’s no use providing helpful posts if the audience grows frustrated with set-up of the community. Ultimately, the community will only thrive if it talks to itself more than it talks to the host. It needs to be able to do this with minimum fuss and maximum effect.

The experience can be enriched further through use of rewards for active users and through smart integrations, like Nordic Semiconductor’s introduction of its customer service ticketing system into its community to allow customers to source all the solutions they need from a single destination.

#4 Align your values

So far, we’ve examined mainly practical steps but before an organisation can put these measures into place, it needs to think about the strategic aims of the project.

One of the biggest strategic considerations is whether executives understand how the community could contribute to the success of the business. They must understand that making the organisation social in this way will help drive it forward.

#5 Further buy-in

If an organisation is going to deliver on strategic aims of becoming a social business, then cross-company buy-in is fundamental.

Each department needs to recognise the value a community can bring and executives need to ensure each maximises the opportunity.

Of course, the community will act as a vital customer service channel but beyond that development teams will find it’s an ideal place to gather feedback, answer customer queries, and to find out what to develop next.

For sales people, the benefits are equally strong. They can look for leads in the community, develop relationships with prospects, and start the process of cross- and upselling.

#6 Offer guidelines

For some organisations, the prospect of launching a community means worries about misuse, but they risk missing a great opportunity if they let those concerns drive them away.

A community offers a way to capture feedback and interact directly with people that are passionate about a product or service. The way to promote a safe, happy, and harmonious environment is to set clear guidelines around tone, audience expectation, and acceptable behaviour.

Once the rules are clear, the community can thrive.

#7 Measure success

A business might want to use its community to help it meet an ambitious mixture of lead generation, product feedback, and customer service targets.

But how is it going to measure success? What are the KPIs? What does ROI look like?

Until these markers are set, an organisation will find it hard to judge the effectiveness of its community or create a plan for it to deliver even greater results.

#8 Gather audience data

As part of the drive to measure success, a forward-thinking business should be keen to get hold usage data and use it to understand audience behaviours.

Not only will analysis provide evidence on what’s popular, it will act as a powerful tool to help aid the development of future content, features, and functionality.

#9 And lastly, promote

The final stage is to actively promote both the overall benefits of the community and individual pieces of content. Email, social updates, and search engine optimisation will be critical in helping to pull new people into the community where they can become engaged and enlightened.

Once this piece of the jigsaw is in place, the community will be on the way to cementing an active and growing membership that can start to deliver real benefits for each other and the host organisation.

 

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