6 Ways to Optimize Your Online Community
To get the most from your online community, you need to make it a great experience for members so they’ll keep coming back and participating. But there's another side to this story: You'll also need to think through how to help community stakeholders in your organization get value from it so it becomes a strategic asset. Here are six ways to optimize your online community.
1. Listen to your members. The more you demonstrate you're listening, the more open and honest members will be. Research by my firm, Communispace, shows that over time, members will feel more comfortable and trusting if community facilitators demonstrate they're listening. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything they say; it does mean that you need to show that you’ve heard them and are willing to close the loop with them.
2. Find ways to encourage members to talk to each other. How members talk to each other about how an issue or product “fits” into their lives can be incredibly revealing, as is how members influence one another. Within 24 hours of launching an investment community for one of our clients, for example, there were 11 different discussion topics underway, seven of them created by members around issues they care about.
3. Give community members ways to tell you how they feel and what they think. Engage members through a variety of functions: conduct live chats with executives, create visual member profiles, upload ads for them to critique, ask members to review products, keep diaries and so on. It’s more fun for members, and surfaces more interesting information. Similarly, keep experimenting with new ways to interact with your members to create a richer community experience.
4. Have a plan. You can get more from your community if you have a well thought out plan. Also, ensure you have an effective community leader who's passionate about it and connected to the most important priorities in the company. This person should be someone who knows a lot of people, what the key issues are right now and how to communicate effectively with different stakeholders in the organization.
5. Involve external partners. Make sure to involve agencies, key suppliers and distributors in your community. They can be really helpful in bringing fresh perspective, new questions and creative ideas for making the community even more engaging.
6. Tie the community to your most important strategic initiatives. Ensure your community is tasked with working on your toughest problems. A customer community can help drive new conversations and changes internally if people know it’s the place to look for inspiration and a “reality connection” to customers.
A community isn't about just asking questions and getting feedback — although plenty of that goes on in communities. Nor is it about responding to and trying to fix negative issues that customers raise. It's about creating a sense of community among people with common interests, and then tapping into the community in multiple ways to get into the hearts and minds of customers.
Debi Kleiman is vice president of product marketing for Communispace, a provider of private online communities. Reach Debi on Twitter at @drkleiman.