Getting Started with Online Communities
As Benjamin Franklin once said,
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Those of us who have been involved in the implementation of online communities for a while know how critical proper up-front planning is to their success. Many working in the online community category describe the current state of the business as something akin to the “Wild West,” and it reminds me of the early days of the “dot com” boom. Analyst would later characterize this period as the days of “irrational exuberance,” with companies rushing to build websites with little or no consideration of customer needs and preferences, minimal business and financial planning or objectives and unattainable, unrealistic expectations.
Fortunately we all learned a great deal from the “dot com” boom and bust experience and are able to use the lessons learned to make sure we do communities right and optimize the likelihood of community success with objective up-front planning. So, before even thinking about the technology aspects of community, the following five key steps have proven to be critical to increasing the chances of success.
- Above all, start by defining the goals, objectives, and success factors for your online community and how these goals and objectives will integrate with your overall marketing and business goals and objectives.
- Next, identify and understand the target audience(s)/community participants.
- Who are the targeted community users, what do you expect from them, and what expectations will they have from their participation in an online community with your organization?
- Develop user personas and user scenarios that will describe targeted community member types, as well as their likely uses and expectations.
- Based on this understanding, the next step is to put together a detailed online community plan with a set of well-defined deliverables supported by clear milestones and metrics.
- What online community platform, type of community (open or private), features and functionality would be most appropriate based on the needs and expectations of the target community members and community objectives?
- What will the “rules of engagement,” for members and community managers, be?
- How will community member privacy and institutional integrity and reputation be assured in what are essentially public places?
- How will online communities work together with and support other social media and marketing initiatives?
- Which metrics will be used to assess and measure online community success?
- What resources, both financial and human, will be required to implement and support online communities?
- Before launching the community, be sure to identify and seed the community with relevant and engaging content that will attract and resonate with the various audiences being targeted.
- What type of content will target audiences be interested in and value?
- How frequently should new content be added and/or existing content be refreshed?
- What type of content will be needed to keep audiences engaged over the long term and attract new audiences?.
- Determine when, how, and how frequently to monitor and measure the online community and the process to be used for improving/adjusting community initiatives post-launch.
If you are considering, or in the early planning stages of, an online community for your organization, please call or contact me by email for additional online community best practices from IntelliQ and/or our online community solutions partner, Get Satisfaction.