Building a successful community requires a strategic social strategy. The ingredients are simple, yet are often overlooked. Your strategy needs to answer some important questions which will ultimately determine the success of your community:
- Who are your audience members?
- What’s in this website that is important to them that cannot be found elsewhere?
- Is this the place where they _______?
- What’s in it for them (members, volunteers, public, etc.)?
- What’s in it for your org?
The interesting thing about a member community is you have the ability to ensure it’s a success.
Simply providing users with a URL and some social features will fail as a community.
Your strategy should include a methodology for success. Follow this methodology to ensure a thriving, successful, and sustainable member community.
Choreograph the launch of your new community. Socialize the idea with your supporters and staff prior to launch. Your users should be excited about the launch date. Send out teaser emails leading up to the launch. Send out announcements such as “4 Days till Launch!” or “See you soon online!”
Within the community site itself, things need to be happening! Content must be created daily. Your community website needs to be the place for panel discussions and where new presentations are first posted. It should not just be a place to get data.
Assess the assets available to you. Determine what data and content you have to offer like videos, presentations, papers, audio, podcasts, industry news, membership directory, reports, etc. Utilize staff talent at your org by identifying what they’re passionate about and encouraging them to express this passion in the community.
Perhaps a fellow employee is always talking about current legislation. Ask this person to write a blog in the community. Give them a few hours a week for new posts. Give them time to contribute to the community.
Empower as many passionate people as you can within your community. Passion is the difference between another boring website and an exciting and provocative experience!
Your org’s active participation is vital to the success of the community. You wouldn’t invite people to your home for a party and not show up yourself, would you? A good host is always present. The active involvement of your org staff needs to initially be higher, but can taper down as active community leaders step to the forefront. This too should be planned, encouraged, and accounted for in your strategic social strategy.
Within your community website, it is extremely important to ensure questions get answered quickly. This is particularly critical when you first launch your community. For many people, asking a question is a risk. They are taking a risk and putting themselves out there.
It is absolutely necessary they get a response within a timely fashion. The quality of the actual response is not as important as the act of responding. This reassures them. This reassures everyone who sees the post. It lets them know the community is habitable, friendly, and not a desolate wasteland. Responding to posts is very important.
Managing the community will require time and effort. It takes time to answer questions. It takes time to find, create, and publish fresh content on the site. Successful communities do not happen by mistake. Your strategy should account for the time involved with community management. The schedule planning portion of your strategy may resemble the following:
- 20-30 minutes each morning, afternoon and evening (daily)
- One hour each week uploading new content (videos, articles, podcasts, blog posts, news, etc.)
- Four hours each month for online events
- Four hours per month for a formal Community Newsletter
Time should also be scheduled for the tasks leading up to launch, such as socializing the idea of the new community. Plan well in advance for the launch and ongoing success of your community:
- The first month of your community is the babysitting stage and will require the most effort.
- 6-month action plan. What new and exciting experiences can people look forward to?
- 12-month action plan. Similar to 6-month but even better! This is a good time to show appreciation to your community ambassadors, and to the members who actively participate in discussions, blogs, comments, and answer questions. Your ambassadors should be formally acknowledged.
- Measure success. Plan regular analytic review sessions to identify needed improvements.
- Improvements. Plan time to make improvements on a regular basis.
Many orgs experience paralysis by analysis with a bad case of the “What-Ifs”. “What if someone says something bad about us?” or “What if someone says something mean to someone else?” This list goes on.
The “What-Ifs” is a sad condition which has a cure. Planning is the cure. Your strategy should account for “Detractors.” Detractors are how we address all those “What-Ifs” in a thoughtful manner. Simply create and populate a table containing the following column headings:
What type of detractor?
Example: Legitimate complainer.
Why they make trouble?
Example: Needs help with something or warning others.
How do you recognize?
Example: Raises legitimate issue. May use strong language but seems open to reason.
What you should do?
Example: Solve problems or explain policies; explain publicly or add to FAQ if possible.
Fill this table with every possible “What-If” you can imagine. You will be surprised how quickly fears related to the “What-Ifs” go away when they are written down and accounted for!
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