This post delivers advice, references and best practices for the major steps of online community management: Objective setting, branding, workload, user-types, engagement strategy and measuring success.
For the purposes of this post, the definition of “online community” is “a virtual community that allows members to communicate and share in various ways via an online platform.” If that’s what you are interested in, read on…
Define the objective/s of your online community
Before you start working on your own community, consider:
- What is the general sense of your community? What is it designed to achieve? Define a general purpose. For example: “Sharing best practices around project management” or “a one-stop shop for all managers to get references and support for their activities”.
- According to the Socious post “How to Set Online Community Goals“, online metrics are business metrics. Your online community goals should reflect the greater purpose of what you are trying to achieve with your business. Generic community goals include “learning”, “sharing”, “creating involvement”, “brand loyalty”…
- What are the specific goals for your community? How will you know you are being successful? Create SMART goals.
- There are plenty of free-to-download resources like this one that will help you to well define your goals.
How you are going to brand and “sell” your online community?
A brand is defined as “an idea or image of a specific product or service that consumers connect with”. To create a connection between the goals of your online community and the people who are using it, you have to “think brand”.
- Why would users come to your online community? Can you answer the only 3 questions that count?
- Answer these 12 questions to define your brand
- Consider a creative brainstorming session with the owners or sponsors of the community
- Think about the different brand elements outlined here
Don’t underestimate the work of the community manager
According to experienced community managers @rhappe and @jimstorer, simply building an online community will not ensure success. There are “8 habits of highly effective community managers” and these must be continually accounted for in order to get results:
- Get obsessed with knowing your audience
- Create a sharing culture
- Constantly maintain relationships (with the right people)
- Dedicate resources to the community
- Talk about and integrate your community elsewhere
- Leave room for members to participate how they want to
- Seek out balance between “value” and “engagement”
- Constantly measure, evaluate and re-position
Understand different user types and build relationships with the right people
It is important to know some things about how people interact on communities and define well the different roles of your own community. Not everyone uses online communities in the same way.
- According to @charleneli there are different levels of user engagement in an online community. If you have 400 people subscribed on your community, you can expect to see nothing more than “watching” from about 300 of them.
- Engage the other 100 with the golden triangle (read lower), conversation, reward, gamification and lots of love. They are providing the meal for the other 300!
8 things to do when starting your online community
If you are starting up with a community, consider the following actions:
- Do a SWOT analysis of the current “pre-community” situation. This will help you to identify priorities for your start-up. Use my favourite SWOT questions and consider my “10 ideas to do SWOT well“.
- Have a look for LinkedIn groups on “Online Community Management” like this one: “Online Community Management Best Practices”
- Follow a training course like the ones from FeverBee
- Speak with potential users and find out what they need and expect from the community
- Look at the different functional possibilities of your tool and map them to the needs of your audience
- Identify potential early adopters and encourage them to get involved. In any change process, there are different types of people you might meet: Idea-creators, early-adopters, followers and settlers. Identify the people who like to try new things and start with them.
- Create a pitch to show the benefits of your community
- Communicate the existence of your online community via other platforms (cross-fertilisation)
Actively encourage participation in your community
If your community is already active, use the following strategies to encourage participation:
- Remember the golden triangle of networking: Ask, give and thank. (The following 4 points give more detail…)
- Ask questions to solicit information. Good context-driven open questions are likely to work best and if you give an opinion in your questionm this already gives people something to “reply” to.
- Make requests from the community. Ask for support and resources? (“Who has an idea on…?” and “Can anyone help with ….?”)
- Share things yourself. (Do as you would be done by!)
- “Like” and “rate” things that people add. One study on “The Role of Status Seeking in Online Communities” says that informational gift giving is strongly driven by status and status-seeking. When people share and give advice, they look for recognition. They like to know that what they have added has been seen. A little bit of “like” goes a long long way..
- Plan time in to your work week for community management activities. Remember that online community and social media management takes time. Failure to invest time= failure to achieve.
- As @ifdyperez says in the “7 Point Community Manager’s Checklist” you must keep up with the trends. Make sure you know what is going on in and around your community. Perhaps its not relevant today, but it may be relevant tomorrow…
- Continually cross-fertilise across other platforms and communications. Blog-posts, new updates, FAQs and other community content are great for those who are already looking at your online community. But those who are not yet present on your platform must be encouraged to go there. Find them where they are now and push traffic to your online community. Tweet. Share on Facebook. Send an email. Sow the seeds…
- Remember that the information flow keeps flowing. If the half-life of a tweet is only 4 minutes, it is because there are so many twitterers and so many tweets. When I visit a successful community page on Yammer, I find the latest news or flow of updates. If people are regularly adding things, then whatever was posted a day ago has already disappeared down the list. So remember this: If it is worth sharing once, it is worth sharing again.
- Contextualise information. Your members are present because they see added-value with regard to their own situation. Whatever you share must make sense to their situation. Think before you post. Remember the “only 3 questions that count” and add user-relevant context to your post so that people can immediately see how it relates to their own situation, needs and goals. Get more information on this idea in this post from Harold Jarche on “Sense-making with PKM”.
- Moderate conversations actively. If people are going off topic, tell them. If people don’t reference an article well, ask them where they got their information from.
- Don’t over-control activity, but don’t be afraid to tell people when things are going wrong. Leave people freedom, but don’t forget that its your job as community manager to keep things working well.
Measure the success of your online community
According to the Blue Kiwi Software Company, everyone knows what a successful community looks like: Active members share things that encourage other members to come back and get more active and there is a shared sense of purpose and longevity of activity.
If you want to keep your community relevant, useful and motivating, you must regularly measure how things are going… ..and adapt accordingly:
- Don’t forget your goals (see above)
- In a previous post of mine, I talked about the importance of traffic, relevance and continuity in social media activity
- Blue Kiwi says measuring online community success is done in 5 ways: Views, new contributions, reactions, sharing and “value”
- If you need help to measure these things, ask the community developer (or your IT department) – they can surely help
If you are already managing an online community, take a moment to review how you feel about all the above topics. Are you comfortable? What works? What doesn’t work? Where do you need help?
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