If you are in marketing, communication or sales, the term ‘online community’ will probably sound very familiar to you. Being a buzz word that got much attention over the last years, the effect on organizations is surely noticeable as online communities are popping up like mushrooms. In this article, we will explain how your organization can benefit from an online community and what steps to undertake when starting one.
An organization can have various reasons to choose to begin a virtual community, such as these external benefits:
- Customer service: dedicated customers are perfect to help other customers out on community forums.
- Branding: gather your biggest fans around you to stimulate more brand engagement.
- Knowledge archiving and management: sharing knowledge about the subject of interest, to enhance or evolve certain processes.
- Co-creation: working together to create something as a group.
- Product and service innovation: letting customers think along on what they would like to purchase from your organization. You will get a true understanding of the wants and needs of your target group.
- To unify different interests: in order to develop the perfect community solution to a problem.
Internal benefits can also play a role:
- Making an organization more productive and efficient: more and better collaborations, sharing knowledge and expertise.
- To make the organization more transparent: lets coworkers interact more with each other and see what is going on in all levels of the company.
It is important to take a moment to think about what kind of community you are starting. Communities are groups of people that share something. The more these people have in common with each other, the stronger the community will be. Have a look at these several types of communities and determine which one is applicable in your case.
Now you have got a better insight in what community you are creating: let’s start building!
Step 1: INSIGHT IN THE WHY
To get an understanding of why your target audience would want to participate in your online community, you will need to do some research. Conduct interviews or surveys to grasp what the public is wanting to get out of the online community and whatnot. Try to define a central community goal, based on the information you got from your target audience.
Step 2: POSITIONING
Define the objective that your organization is wanting to fulfill Does this match the one of your audience? If not: try to link them together.
Step 3: TOOLING
To finish the online community concept, now the time has arrived to decide on what tools are going to be used. There are countless options, like social media platforms as Facebook and LinkedIn or developing a custom-made platform. Depending on the outcome of the research in step 1, you will make your decision.
Step 4: DOUBLE CHECK WITH THE TARGET AUDIENCE
Now that you have got the concept ready, you are going to use potential community members as a sounding board. What is their honest opinion on the concept as developed and how can you cater to these remarks? Adapt your plan according to the feedback of your target audience.
Step 5: INVOLVE THE ORGANIZATION
Which people within your organization will have something to do with the community in the future? Make sure that they are well-informed on what is expected of them and even consider training this group of people. Furthermore, it is important to create an internal supporting base for the community: do so by presenting to the management, board of directors and other stakeholders within the organization.
Step 6: CONTENT IS KING
Moving along to step number six: do not forget about the content. Develop a content strategy and activation plan to reach the overall community goal; always with your target audience in mind. As part of your strategy, you will develop a content calendar, in which you gather everything that you are wanting to post. Add discussion topics, personal stories, engagement triggering questions and content types. Also consider how you are going to activate your audience.
Step 7: TIME TO GO LIVE
Last, but certainly not least: introduce your platform to the world. Having followed the previous steps, you will have developed a community that is established according to the wishes of potential members. And remember: starting small is the best way to build a powerful sense of community. Happy community building!