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How to create and
benefit from an
online community

If you are in marketing, communication or sales, the term ‘online community’ will probably sound 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 explain how your organization can benefit from an online community and what steps to follow when starting one.

An organization can have various reasons to start a virtual community. These can be external as well as internal benefits that businesses hope to gain.

Benefits
Key external benefits that are:

  • Customer service: in an online community, your dedicated customers can help other clients. So, it is not just you to shoulder the customer service task.
  • Branding: when your biggest fans are gathered around you in a community, they are brand ambassadors and can stimulate more brand engagement and brand loyalty.
  • Knowledge archiving and management: the active sharing of knowledge by your community members can provide valuable inputs for continuous performance improvement.
  • Product and service innovation: in a community, you can get a true understanding of the wants and needs of your target group that will help you perfecting your products and services
  • To unify different interests: for complex matters on public administration area, online communities can be beneficial as they are an ideal platform for mapping out different interest and getting the opinion of the public.
  • Customer drive co-creation: working together with your fanbase with the sole purpose of coming up with new products or services. Letting them submit their own ideas that become reality, will increase brand loyalty.

 Internal benefits can also play a role:

  • Making an organization more productive and efficient: more and better collaborations, sharing knowledge and expertise.
  • Stimulating transparency:  coworkers interact more with each other and see what is going on at all levels of the company.

Type of communities
It is important to take a moment to think about what kind of community you are going to start. 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 the following types of communities and determine which one is applicable in your case.

After this, you should have a better insight in what type of community you want to create. Now you are ready to start building!

Community building in 7 steps

Step 1: INSIGHT IN NEEDS AND MOTIVATIONS
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 which communities are popular among your target audience. What do they want to get out of an online community and what not? What motivates them to actively engage? Try to define a central community goal, based on the information you got from your respondents.

Step 2: AMBITION AND POSITIONING
Define the objective that your organization wants to achieve. Does this match the needs and motivation of your audience? If not: try to link them together. This should result in a draft community concept.

Step 3: TOOLING
To finish the online community concept, now the time has arrived to decide what tools to use. There are countless options, like social media platforms as Facebook and LinkedIn or custom-made platforms. Depending on the outcome of the research, your ambition and the resources you have available, you make a decision.

Step 4: TESTING WITH THE TARGET AUDIENCE
Now that you have the concept ready, you should invite potential community members as a sounding board. What is their honest opinion on the concept and how can you cater to these remarks? Adapt your concept, if necessary, according to the feedback of your target audience. 

Step 5: CODE OF CONDUCT AND TASKING IN YOUR ORGANIZATION
Which people within your organization will have a role to play within the community? Who are the moderators or managers? Develop a code of conduct for your community management including response time, tone of voice, do’s and don’ts. Provide training on the code of conduct for your community management team. Furthermore, it is important to create an internal support base for the community: do so by involving management, board of directors and other stakeholders within the organization. 

Step 6: CONTENT IS KING
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, develop a content calendar in which you gather everything that you want to post. Add discussion topics, personal stories, engagement triggering questions and content types. Also consider how you will activate your audience.

Step 7: TIME TO GO LIVE
Party time! Introduce your platform to the world and invite your target audience to participate. Consider incentives, offline events, contests and sponsored postings to grow your community and make it sufficiently relevant. Though, keep in mind: starting small is the best way to build a powerful sense of community. Happy community building!

Curious about what we can do for your organisation? Contact us or have a look at what Globally Cool has to offer in terms of Strategy development.

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