The Most Important Step for Building a Successful Online Community

Online Peer CommunityWhether you run a non-profit, association, or a global business, you’ve seen the strategic shift from building an audience to building a community.  The social era in which we live, and where organization’s thrive, is much more than social media.  A recent Fast Company article explains it perfectly — it’s all about connections and collaboration.

The key difference between building an audience and the power of community is in the foundation of each.

An audience is one-way. There is no interaction or participation. It’s more of an instructional learning experience, and that’s not something we want to do often, especially on an ongoing basis.

A community on the other hand is two-way. It’s a highly interactive forum, with member participation and contribution. It follows a social strategy, which is instrumental for the growth and survival of the community. It is a mutually beneficial forum, offering benefits to the community as a whole and its individual members. A community is a place you enjoy going and where you feel valued and important.

A significant amount of research, planning and strategy development goes into launching a successful community. Most important, when creating the foundation for the community and developing the long-term plan, focus on member engagement.

Your strategy will answer the question, “What do you plan to do to engage members and keep them engaged?”

Here is the most important step for answering that question and building a successful community: start at the beginning and pay attention to the details.

In any given situation you are placed, you form a first impression. And once you form that impression, it’s very difficult to change it. First impressions are just as important for community building too. This is why it is exceptionally important to start at the beginning.

Start With A Warm Welcome

Community members begin a journey and just as with a buyer’s journey, there are opportunities to make a great impression and connection at many interactions. The first is the welcome.

How are you welcoming your community members? Do you offer a personal greeting? Do you introduce them to other members? Have they received a personalized “welcome package” that details what they should expect?

Many successful communities begin the welcome offline with a phone call. Because there is so much to learn, some community strategists use a welcome video.  What’s your strategy?

Acclimation and Assistance

The welcome sets the tone for the community.  It defines the community culture, which directly influences new members and their perceptions. Immediately following the welcome is the process of acclimating the new member to the community.  Just as new members are learning and getting to know the community, so too are active community members eager to learn about new members.

If the community culture has been defined as an engaging and supportive culture, your active members will be seeking ways they can help the new members.  Make it easy for them by assisting new members with creating the most robust and informative profiles possible.  The more everyone can learn about each other, the more supportive and interactive the community can be.

Follow up and Interaction

A community creates a sense of value for its members, and regular member interaction and follow up will drive success.  Frequent interaction helps members value their participation and happy members will share about the experience with others, which is critical to community growth and long-term success.

Want to learn more about building a successful virtual community? Learn strategies for building a peer community, technical assistance community, or member, chapter and board portals, in this free on-demand webinar.

Building a Virtual Community

Click to play webinar.

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