Developing a community around an association or nonprofit is a strategic way to build stronger relationships with the audiences you are trying to reach. A robust online community can serve as a definitive answer to the question, “Why should I choose your organization?”
While we can easily see the benefits a community provides its members such as access to valuable resources, powerful networking opportunities, and continuing education, the hard truth is many organizations have turned to creating online communities and have failed. Several avoidable factors can cause the community to fail. If you look at the list below of common reasons for failure, you see many could be avoided by involving a team of the very members you hope to recruit when you are designing and developing the community.
Top Reasons Online Communities Fail
- No clear goal or mission for the community
- Too broad of an audience – making it difficult to form a sense of community
- Poor design – too difficult to navigate and access the information
- Poor engagement – only small numbers are actively online, and no way for members to engage with each other
- Insufficient and inadequate content – missing the high value content members expect
- Self-serving – communities designed to benefit the organization instead of members
- Communication spam – members should be able to opt-in to communications that interest them on the front end and opt-out of communications at any time
An introductory video about the community and how to navigate all the resources is a good solution for most of the issues above. Video is an ideal marketing tool for explaining the complexity of the community in an easy-to-follow format. But videos aren’t the best solution and should only be used to improve the member experience. The most successful communities have the right people on the community management team.
Does your team include these key players?
The community manager is the lead position for an online community. Their role is generally a full-time job ensuring everything is operating exactly as it should. Community managers need a variety of skills to be successful in the role, including strong technical skills required to update and manage the platform, and communication skills blended with people skills to manage the internal team and support the community members. They should be highly organized and able to manage multiple projects with little direction. Community managers are highly adaptable, show empathy toward others and have the ability to problem solve.
Communities are a value-add for members and as such members expect very high quality content. The content specialist spends the majority of their time working with members to identify the content they need and want, then researching and developing the content with a development team, and ensuring that content is up to date. The content specialist also audits all material to ensure that content does not appear self-promotional about the business.
While the overall community experience is important for retaining members, the community welcome sets to the tone for the community. It’s during the welcome that members form their opinion about the community and decide whether it’s a good investment of their time.
So who is the best person to welcome new members?
At first thought, we might think the community manager or another staff person involved in the community would be the most qualified to welcome new members. After all, they know the most about the community, right?
In reality, staff members aren’t the most optimal people for the job. The best person to welcome a new member is actually an existing member. This kind of peer to peer welcome presents the opportunity for an unbiased overview of the community. Existing members are the best people to share about their real life experiences as a member of the community. They can share how they personally use the material and what resources have been most beneficial. Using a Member to Member welcome model sparks immediate engagement and helps new members feel a sense of community from day one.
Speaking of engagement! The biggest complaint from community managers is lack of engagement in the community.
There are two reasons people don’t engage: limited opportunity to engage and no one to engage with during the opportunity.
First, it’s extremely important to create several different opportunities for members to engage. Activities might include scheduled Q&As, webinars, blogs, and discussions. In smaller communities the community manager or content specialist may take the lead for this role, but for large communities this is a role by itself.
Second, members don’t want to be the only person attending the activity. Build a support team of volunteers and staff who will attend activities and who will be the first to start engaging.
Can you picture these key players at work in your online community?
If you are considering launching an online community or if you’re seeking ways to revive a dying online community, grab a copy of the free eBook A Guide to Creating a Successful Online Community. You’ll find 33-pages of proven tactics for creating the ideal online community.