The World Wide Web is not a network of computers, it is a network of human beings.
Online communities have been around since the very inception of the Web. In fact, you could say that the Web itself is one huge online community, composed of humans interacting for various purposes. Some are searching for entertainment, some profit, and some the betterment of society.
Regardless of your particular purpose on the Web, at some point someone in your organization is bound to suggest having a “community.” Usually the next step is to start evaluating software, but if you want your online community to be an asset to the bottom line, the steps in this white paper will help you achieve that goal. In other words, don’t start with the technology, start with a plan!
It’s been demonstrated time and again that individuals who set written goals are much more likely to achieve them. Try an experiment today---write down one thing you wish to accomplish by the end of the day. This evening, see whether you have achieved it or not (you did, didn’t you?). This same premise works with any goal, business or otherwise. Your online community won’t be successful unless you know what you’re trying to achieve with it!
Here are some examples (be as detailed as possible when you write yours):
The purpose for your community should be defined before you do anything else, even before you select a technology, because your purpose may drive the technology selection. For example, if your purpose is engineering group collaboration, ensure that your community application can support file attachments. If your purpose is consumer feedback, you need technology that can support polls and ratings.
Your online community’s purpose should be tightly integrated with the rest of the organization’s Web strategy. For example, if you are a corporation whose primary reason for being online is e-commerce, ensure that your online community provides opportunities to discuss and purchase your products. If you are a high-end design firm whose primary purpose online is to showcase the company portfolio and designers, you may want to showcase your design skills by customizing the online community.
Something to think about when choosing a community technology is whether it will easily integrate with the rest of the elements on your existing Web site. Find out whether you can share membership login information, pull chunks of information from the community onto other Web pages, or completely customize the interface. Each of these things adds to the seamless experience your visitors deserve.
Simply put, your online community should not be “just another goodie” on your Web site.
Most successful organizations have financial goals and a clearly defined business mission. Your investment in online community should be a contributor to that bottom line. However, you’ll never know whether it is or not if you aren’t setting up expectations from the very outset. Arm yourself with knowledge of how the corporate financial goals are set, as well as the Web strategy financial goals, and create financial goals for your online community.
Your community technology should also assist you in evaluating its financial return. Look for an application that will allow you to track vital statistics, such as member activity and growth in member registrations. If you plan to charge a fee for membership in your online community, you’ll need technology that will allow you to differentiate between paid and unpaid members (for example, you could have public forums accessible to all and private forums accessible only to paid members). If your typical revenue online is derived from advertising, start thinking of creative ways to integrate ads within the online community. Some community technology will allow you to go far beyond the generic banner ad, allowing you to feed smaller, more targeted ad information directly within the community interface.
The bottom line is that if your online community is going to be either a revenue-generating or cost-savings asset, you need to configure it that way from the very beginning. Every step you take in setting up the community should reflect your financial goals.
Once the financial goals in place, you’ll need to determine whether you’re achieving them. Whether it’s on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis, you need to know about the health of your community investment. If you plan to measure ROI, your technology selection should reflect that desire.
So you’ve planned for success, you’ve integrated the financial goals of your community with those of the company, you’ve got a fantastic community manager, your membership is growing, and you’re meeting those lofty revenue goals. Now you will need an application that provides reports and analytical tools to help you communicate with others in your organization. It is important to let everyone in your organization know that the investment in community is a key part of the company’s strategic mission.
Choose a community technology that will allow you to track the growth in membership, highlight the most active members and forums, and export the data in a usable format for integration with other reports. Ideally, your community technology vendor will also provide you with some pre-configured reports and statistics, to make this job even easier.
A community is a living, growing entity that must be nurtured and tended like a vegetable garden. Without a gardener (i.e., community manager), the harvest will be slim. Communities that thrive are ones in which the administrator and moderators are knowledgeable, not only in the technology, but also in the establishment of human connections. This entails “pulling the weeds,” i.e., banning disruptive visitors; and adding fertilizer, i.e., maintaining an active presence in the community.
For a large-scale, active community, you will need both a community manager (or administrator) and moderators for the forums. The good news is that you can often recruit excellent volunteer moderators from within the community (in fact, that is one of the best ways to foster loyalty).
Duties of the community manager include setting the physical structure of the community, performing the initial configuration of the community, developing the rules/terms of service, determining the overall tone and purpose of the group, and supervising the moderators.
Duties of the forum moderators include initiating conversation, providing responsiveness within the forums, banning disruptive visitors, keeping forums “on-topic” by moving or editing posts as necessary, offering advice to newcomers, and generally providing leadership within the community.
A final note on staffing your community---be sure that your staff is very clear on the goals you have set. For example, if the purpose of the community is customer support, and your financial goal is to reduce technical support staff costs internally, then you need to be sure that the community manager and moderators are highly responsive, that volunteer “experts” are valued and retained to serve as peer advisors, and that customers can easily find the information they seek (with fast search engines and clear forum names).
A common mistake in some organizations is to launch a community simply by providing a technology on the Web site that allows visitors to interact. This, by itself, is not enough. The most successful communities are those that grow and thrive and have activity throughout the day. If Web site visitors are not providing the level of activity you desire, internal resources should be enlisted to post messages and participate. Nothing kills a community faster than month-old messages with no replies.
The following are some tips for injecting excitement into your community:
What’s the easiest, most important way you can attract traffic to your community? Make it easy to find!
Here are some practical tips on making your community easy to find:
Use your online community as a means of establishing one-on-one relationships with your customers. Whether the community is provided for direct customer support or for marketing and traffic generation, it is crucial that you get to know the people who are participating. For example, what segment of your audience is female, over 35, and enjoys parasailing?
The registration information provided by community members can be invaluable in analyzing the audience, particularly if your technology allows you to collect customized information (for example, you could ask what type of computer hardware the member is using). Getting to know your community members will enhance your ability to serve their needs, and maximize your opportunities to serve targeted information to them.
Online communities can also allow you to move beyond the standard banner ad. If your technology permits, you can serve targeted ads and information within the actual community itself. No marketing is stronger than word-of-mouth and personal recommendations, and online communities are a fantastic mechanism for in-context recommendation and purchasing.
To learn more about how Groupee can help you increase site traffic, acquire customers virally, extend your brand and enhance customer relations, please contact sales online: http://www.infopop.com/q/q.php?action=pool_query&num=22
We’d be happy to help you get started!