Monday, December 2, 2013

6 Questions to Ask Before Starting an Online Community

Thinking of diving into the world of online communities, but not sure where to begin?
Here are some key considerations to think about when starting your own bespoke online community, be it a customer community or an internal social network.
1. What do you want to achieve?
online communityConsider your existing business goals. These are goals you probably already have in your marketing strategy, so the question is: how can you achieve the goals you are already working towards by adding your online community to the mix? For you to be able to measure the success of your online community, these goals should also be specific, measurable and achievable.
You should only start an online community if you have clear business goals that you can achieve through your online community.
2. Who is your target market?
Knowing the answer to this will mean you can understand whom the online community will be built for, and tailor the community primarily for them.
An online community is only as good as the people participating in it.
In 2012, Gartner predicted that by 2014, 70% of proprietary communities would fail. One of the main reasons for this is because there was no clear plan as to whom the community is for and who will benefit from it. When someone visits your community they should feel welcome and as if they are a good fit in that community. If they are left wondering whether or not they are a right fit, or unsure of their place in that community, they will leave and the community will not grow.
3. What will members want from the online community?
To keep your members coming back, they need to be engaged, and your community needs to serve a purpose that fulfils its member’s needs. Your community should be about creating a space for your members, not primarily about promoting your own message. When it comes to content, by developing content that is specifically targeted to your main, loyal following, you’re more likely to secure both engaged and loyal customers for your business.
4. Do you have buy-in across the business?
The driving force behind the success of any corporate community is employee buy-in. Social should spread through the veins of the business, meaning the people at the top must fully understand the goals of the online community and the benefits it will bring the business. If buy-in doesn’t come from the top down, any effort you make won’t be seen as a priority, you possibly won’t be supported in these efforts and ultimately, the community will not be a success.
5. How much time can I dedicate?
Community management can easily become a full-time job, so ensuring you have the time and resource to devote to the community is a must. If you personally can’t do this because of other work commitments, or you don’t know how, you should think about a community manager. This leads me on to the next question.
6. Should I hire a community manager?
There are a lot of aspects to being a community manager and it isn’t an easy, or a junior job. Hiring an experienced and knowledgeable community manager should be an important consideration - It may be that if you are a larger organisation, you will need multiple community managers.
The community manager is a pivotal role for running your social space, and could well evolve into a pivotal role in the entire organisation. It’s vital to appoint the right person or people early on and have them involved in the planning process – to ensure the online community is a success.
If cost is an issue, you could work with a volunteer member of the community, to help you manage your community and ensure that the community serves the audience, and not the business.
In summary, to realise the benefits of an online community, you must truly understands your audience, allocate adequate staff resources, have dedicated buy-in from key decision makers and have a solid strategy in place. Starting an online community project takes a lot of planning, devotion and hard work and should not be taken lightly - however, implemented correctly, it can build your brand to new heights and bring tremendous benefits across the business.
There are many more questions to be considered, none which come with an easy answer. What do you think has been the most important aspect for consideration, when building your online community?

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