We know that online community management can sometimes be hard. With so many different ways to approach creating content, moderating member input, and keeping your members meaningfully engaged, the possibilities can seem endless and we know that your time is not. Since you will inevitably have to pick and choose what you want to focus on, we have compiled a list of Absolute Do’s.
First let’s take a look at common pitfalls that can spell doom for your online community if not addressed sooner rather than later.
Why online communities fail
Whilst there are many reasons an online community can fail to meet its objectives, or fail completely, here are the some of the most common.
1. Your community manager is perceived as an outsider
Whilst it’s not absolutely essential for your community manager to be an expert when it comes to the common focus that unites your members, it certainly helps to have someone with enough experience to be able to relate to members.
For example, if your community is for startup business owners than it’s a big advantage to have someone who has experience starting up a business to manage the community. Their experience will allow them to initiate and add to conversations that members are having.
This is why we often see the best community managers come from within the community itself. The key is for the community manager to know enough to be helpful.
2. Your community vision and mission are unclear
When an online community lacks a clear vision and mission that unites its members, that makes it difficult to attract new members and retain existing ones.
Members may have joined, but what’s the bigger mission and purpose that makes them feel part of something larger? What’s the common objective that they’re all working towards?
If you are not clearly able to express this, and have an online community simply because “everyone else has one” then you’ll be in real trouble.
So make sure you and your team take the time to clarify the vision, mission and purpose of your community and clearly share that with your members repeatedly. Survey your members periodically and ask for their feedback to better understand if their understanding is in alignment with what your team is communicating.
3. Your community members have weak relationships with each other
A powerful community is one where members of the community have developed relationships with each other and are engaging with each other, both inside and outside of your community platform.
A great way to facilitate community members to interact with each other is to hold regular community networking events. Local offline events are a proven way for members to bond, socialise and build deeper connections (even if you have a global community).
It’s for this very reason that online accommodation booking platform Airbnb hosts local meetups for their hosts and members to connect in person. As Airbnb put it: “… meetups are a great way to connect with our global community, swap tips, and share experiences. “
What if it’s not feasible to hold in-person networking events? No problem! You could always host regular virtual meetups for your community.
Online community management best practices
Now that we’re clear on 3 common reasons why online communities fail, let’s look at some best practices that you can apply to better manage your online community.
Tip #1 Create an online community management strategy
Surprisingly, many community managers don’t have a plan for their community. This poses a major risk for a business, especially if your community manager is constantly operating in reactive mode and not following a clear path to building a successful community.
“You must have a 3 – 6 month calendar of proactive actions to improve and develop the community. If you’re always in reactive mode, you’ll miss both the opportunities and the threats to your community.
We need people who can use data, theory and experiences to set objectives and clear actions for growth, moderation, content, events, relationships, business integration and technology. If you don’t, you’re in reactive mode – and that’s bad for a community.”
If you need some help, you can use Feverbee’s free online community strategy template to put together your strategy.
Tip #2 Create a content schedule
Do you know what you are going to ask your members before you start building your online community? If the answer to this question is ‘no’, then you might want to start thinking about this right now. These questions are what should guide the type of content that you create for your online community.
To create a content schedule, you want to start by having a look at how long your community will be running.If you have a community that will run for 3 months or less, you can probably plan ahead your complete content schedule all at once. Remember, this is just a plan and doesn’t need to be set in stone. Don’t feel like you’ll have to stick to every little detail in your schedule. It’s a good thing to make adjustments based on how your members are responding.If you have a community that runs for a longer period (a year or more), you might want to make a general schedule for months or quarters down the road. Then work on a more detailed schedule for only a few weeks at a time.
It’s a good idea to develop content based on the feedback you gather regularly from your community, and paying attention to what trending topics are being discussed in your community platform. Don’t forget to regularly share content that clarifies your community vision, mission and purpose with your community too!
Tip #3 Tailor the member experience by grouping members and content
Many community tools come with a great system for grouping your members. These systems will help you to manage your community members, assigning content to only certain groups so that you have control over which members will see which items. You can even dynamically create groups based on answers your members give to items within your community. This will help make your findings look less like “Big Data” and more like focused insights while simultaneously creating a better, more tailored experience for your community members.
Tip #4 Use incentives
Make sure your members feel special by rewarding them. Thank your members for participating at every step along the way and get in touch with them personally. A private message with a “Thank You” note, or even an actual letter in the post, can sometimes make all the difference.
There are many ways to deepen the relationship with your community members. Just take a look at some of the cool things the team at Buffer are doing. Also take note of their advice to allocate a monthly budget for “community love”.
You may also be able to make use of tools like our CMNTY gamification engine, which can be implemented into your platform. Set point and badge triggers to give your members the ability to earn points and badges through their participation. You can even reward people with real prizes, if you let them spend their points in the webshop.
Tip #5 Avoid forcing participation
For community managers, it is important to keep members active in their platform. As mentioned previously, providing valuable content that engages and challenges members is one of the most effective ways to encourage member participation. If your community platform allows it, you can also use gamification reward systems to keep members motivated and to guide their interactions so that when they participate, they are being maximally helpful to you.
We know that you will want all of your community members to be on your site at all times, but remember that it is okay when members step away. It is better to have fewer active members in your platform who give you genuine feedback, than 100% participation from members who aren’t invested in giving quality input to your community.
Ready to improve your online community management?
To ensure that your online community succeeds follow the 5 tips mentioned above, and then track and review your community’s performance regularly against your community objectives (this should be defined in your online community management strategy).
Want more information about other things we’ve learned along the way of community managing? This article is worth a read.
Further reading: How Ipsos Built an Insights Community For Market Research.