I am fortunate enough to be a part of Kelli Matthews, Strategic Social Media class, in which we discuss new technologies and study how to utilize web 2.0. We often have visitors and we were lucky enough to listen to Matt Neznanski, Hannah Smith and Katie Pontius-Stansberry. The three speakers discussed how to build online communities, as well as the future of journalism in the web 2.0 world in which we live.
Many companies have succeeded in building and maintaining an online community, take Dell for example. On the other hand, there are thousands of companies that have failed. Ed Moran, a Deloitte consultant who just completed a study of more than 100 businesses with online communities, believes the problem is that
“Businesses are focusing on the value an online community can provide to themselves, not the community.”
There are some important questions to ask before deciding to create an online community. Will people want to join? Why should anyone care? What do users get from participating? Adding value to participants is one of the main goals for creating a community. If you add no value it is likely that the community will fail. It is also important to fill a need for the people who are going to use the product. This means, before you start the community, research topics of discussion around your product to figure out what drives people’s interests. Once you decide that a community would add value to members, it is important to provide an area where members can create and share content that is visible to everyone.
Starting a Community:
When you create a community, members work together to create content. The ownership is then transferred from the individual to the group, and it is important to acknowledge and reach out to opinion leaders, creators and influencers.
Stansberry presented the process in a simple format:
- Determine and reach out to your opinion leaders (creators and influencers).
- Start with a few features and then expand outward as the community grows.
- Integrate with other marketing, advertising and public relations activities.
- Reward contributors with recognition (link-backs).
Maintaining a Community:
- Stay engaged with your community. Monitor and quickly respond to comments.
- Integrate your community with real-world events.
- Cross-pollinate with existing social networks.
Growing a Community:
- Update regularly.
- Use social marketing tools to promote brand.
- Give your members something of unique value.
- Create ambassadors.
The most important thing to remember when building and maintaining an online community: Give power to the hands of the community. Embracing two-way communication is vital to the success of a company’s online presence. People don’t respond well to contrived responses and advertising campaigns; if you open up a discussion and allow members to voice their opinions, most likely, the community will be successful.
There are many opinions and tips on best practices for creating an online community. I encourage you to check out
Jeremiah Owyang’s diagram on The Life Process of a Successful Community
Ryan Buchanan’s, Chief Marketer’s, article on Building Your Brand by Creating Community
Kami Huyse’s, Communication Overtones, article Start Small to Make Big Waves in Social Media
Mark Collier’s, The Viral Garden, article Six Reasons No One Likes You Online