With the increased focus on the importance of online communities in helping businesses reach a variety of strategic objectives, many organizations might be tempted to jump into creating an online community with their eyes closed.
However, starting a community because your competitors have one, or adopting a community model that doesn’t align with your strategic vision, is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, businesses and community managers need to take a step back and consider whether or not they are ready to allocate the resources necessary for building and maintaining a successful online community.
Your Guide to Online Community Readiness
Here is a list of questions you should ask when considering whether or not to take the plunge into an online community.
1. Which objectives would your online community fulfill?
There are two sets of objectives you’ll need to consider here: your business objectives, and the objectives of the community.
So, your business objective might be to increase customer retention, build brand loyalty, or reduce costs. On the other hand, your community objectives might be to provide a safe space for members to solve their problems, or to help members build up their personal brands.
The trick is to find out where those objectives overlap so that you don’t end up focusing on one at the expense of the other.
2. How will your community help solve members’ needs?
This is where you get into more detail about how members will interact with each other, your employees and the content in your online community, while at the same time, mapping out the need for your community.
For example, if you envision your community members trading professional advice through online discussions, you’ll need to determine the best way to foster that sharing. Once you understand how your community can help fulfill member needs, find out what’s already out there and how your community can fit into that existing structure.
3. How will you manage and govern your community?
In addition to establishing basic governance such as membership and privacy policies, as well as guidelines for community participation, you’ll need to have a plan to mitigate risks, and for ongoing management of your community.
Think about how you’ll recruit and welcome new members, ensure that member questions get answered in a timely manner, or get people engaged in the community. Don’t forget that members – especially your advocates – will likely be more than happy to help out with some of these tasks if asked to do so.
4. How will you measure success?
Your success measures should always tie back to your business and community objectives. Keep in mind that, at the heart of successful communities are relationships that take time to build.
Your target should be sustainable growth. Don’t make the mistake of calling your community a failure if you don’t have huge membership numbers right out of the gate.
5. Do you know what you’re getting into?
This question is a bit of a catchall, but it’s an important one to ask to be sure that your company is culturally ready for an online community.
Scott Moore, Community Consultant of The Communal Group, explained during his Community Manager Appreciation Day 2015 session, that organizations need to consider the following before making the leap into online communities:
- Are you open to the kind of feedback that a community can provide?
If your team isn’t willing to accept new ideas from community members, and act on them, trust in your company will quickly deteriorate, and so will your community.
- Are you open to change?
Whether it’s having to learn about new technologies, or changing the way people work, with any new initiative, you’re going to encounter resistance. That’s why it’s so important to recruit executives in your company to champion and support your new online community to help ease the process.
- Are you open to people having conversations in your backyard that are not always positive?
When launching an online community, brands need to put their egos aside and always remember why the community exists. Be open to feedback – both positive and negative – so you can determine where you need to improve.
And this is just the beginning
Planning for the launch of an online community certainly requires more than just answering the questions on this short list. However, armed with this knowledge, you can confidently move into more advanced strategic planning stages in order to transform your fledgling online community vision into a flourishing reality.
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