Want to fast track your efforts to build a successful online community platform? Here’s what we’ve learned in over 11 years of online community building.
1. Building a successful community requires a ⅓ tool, ⅓ audience, and ⅓ team
Skip any of these key components and your community will struggle to succeed. Let’s take a look at each one of these elements separately.
The right online community building tool
Building a community without a proper tool (aka. Community platform) is like trying to hammer a nail in a concrete wall with a fork – it’s much more painful and the end result is far from desirable! So, here are some tips about choosing the right community software:
What to avoid
- Feeling bulky and lacking flexibility
- Limited in functionality and features
- Poorly integrates with other popular software
- Being unable to grow as the business grows
- Having illogical design and user interface – not intuitive enough for community members to feel comfortable using it (which means they will struggle to continue using it)
- Does not allow for a mix of quantitative and qualitative market research methodologies
What to look for:
- Saves you time – it needs to be quick to set up and get going in a flash
- Simple to use
- Gives a return on your investment
- Enough functionality and space to expand as your company expands
- Makes growing an engaged customer community easy
- Comes with an effective and responsive customer support team
Always check the reviews of others when looking for community software. You can find some independent online reviews of CMNTY platform here.
The right audience
A powerful community is one where members of the community have developed relationships with each other both inside and outside of your community platform. So it’s essential that you invite the right people into your community from the get-go. It’s equally important to have your community management team follow best practices to increase the value that members get once they have joined the community. That way they’ll not only participate and stick around longer, but they’ll also become advocates for what you’re co-creating. So you’ve got the tool, and you’ve got the audience covered. Good.
There’s just one more thing you’ll need to make it all work… a strong team of community managers.
The right team
Community managers must fulfill 5 management roles in order to maximize efficiency.
First of all, The Host makes sure people feel welcome in the event and serves to foster the ambiance of hospitality. From the tone of voice to the projected feeling of good intentions, they create and maintain a welcoming space. It is vital that your people know that they are still on the right track. That’s why the Announcer is responsible for updating people on everything from progress to major and minor updates and tweaks in the community. The Shepherd is present to guide people in the right direction whenever they stumble upon an issue and have questions. The Researcher‘s role is to figure out potential concerns so that counter-measures can be fed back into the business and kickstarted into action if the need be. Finally, the Agent makes sure people are not spamming, promoting their own services or whatever you find inappropriate in your communities.
Tying all 3 elements together is a clear online community building strategy. So make sure you’ve got one of those too!
This begins with understanding the Why, How, and What of your community.
- Why – why did you decide to decide to build an online community?
- How – how can you build the type of community you envision and produce your desired results?
- What – what resources do you need to gain success?
2. 10% Participation = Success!
Worried about your participation levels? You’re certainly not alone as many of our clients are concerned with that too. However what we’ve come to learn over the years is that if 10% of your users are engaging with your community through responding to posts and sharing their experiences with others on a regular basis, then you’ve done really well. After you make the first step and actually start building your community, you should bear in mind that, not disregarding the rest of the community, you should focus your efforts on the core 10% of your community’s membership. The statistics show – the most successful brands have 10% of their community engaged as a core group. What do we mean by this, the core group? The core group is comprised of users who are responding and engaging in content and activities on a daily basis. If you rack up the number of such users to 10% of the whole community – bingo. You’ve achieved a massive success!
Here’s what this might look like:
Say you invite your entire customer base or a subset to your new community initiative.
- You can expect approx. 1 out of 20 people to sign up. That’s 5%.
- Of that 5%, most people will probably not return after their initial sign-up.
- 30% will check in once a week.
- 10% will check in daily. This 10% is called the “core group”. This group is most concerned about and engaged with the subject of your community.
This communities of practice visualization by Wegner-Trayner displays this trend rather well.
People will naturally participate in groups in different ways. This is normal for a healthy community. Other independent research supports this notion of the 10% core users.
“In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.” (Nielson Norman Group)
In 2008, Gartner published research on the topic of “Generation Virtual” (Generation V) where they shared the following:
“Gartner has identified four levels of engagement within Generation V, addressing both the extent to which customers will engage with other customers, as well as the level of engagement needed from businesses to enable the community. The four levels of engagement include: creators, contributors, opportunists, and lurkers.”
(Image credit: Hugues Rey)
Of course, there are businesses out there who have much more active core users (and hopefully you’re one of them!). We just wanted to share this interesting insight in case you were already sitting around 10% and feeling worried that you’re doing something gravely wrong.
3. Having a “hot” topic helps – but being helpful is even better for online community building
If we were to ask you to name a “sexy subject” that people would talk about all day long what might you say? Food, TV shows, families, holiday destinations, or dating perhaps? Certainly, you’d be right if you thought of any of those topics. One of the first co-creation platforms we built was for Pickwick – a Dutch tea brand that was looking for new ways of making and drinking tea. The fact that the community was built around a food product helped make it successful. Who doesn’t have some suggestion about how to improve their eating and drinking experience, right? We had far less success with engaging people in online communities projects that were about less “sexy” topics such as financial services, like insurance, loans, and pension plans. Having said that, there are online communities that have proven that it is indeed possible to build a thriving community around traditionally “boring” subjects.
It all comes down to execution and focusing on providing exceptional value for your customers (members).
Here are a few examples of successful online communities:
Oracle Community allows millions of users globally to join the platform, asks questions on dedicated forums and solve problems collaboratively. Members are encouraged to share personal stories, create their own groups and organize meetings with each other.
You wouldn’t think accounting would be an exciting topic, right? Xero, a cloud accounting software tool, has proven many of us wrong. It provides a community for its users and experts to ask advice, share experiences and learn from others.
4. Money isn’t the best motivator for member participation
Career analyst Dan Pink shared in his TED talk something fascinating when it comes to solving the motivation puzzle: Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think.
In Pink’s words:
“The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive– the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter.”
Watch what Pink has to say here.
So how do we apply this to online communities?
Well, here are some tips:
- Create and implement a well-defined gamification strategy.
- Reconsider what you’re offering to incentivize members to participate in your community. Focus on intrinsic drivers. In a recent study, nearly 80% of online community members expressed that what really gets them engaged is the ability to help out others in the community and receiving recognition.
- People will keep coming back if they believe you really care about their opinion. Simply acknowledging their participation by responding to them within 24 hours (or quicker), or sending them a private message to say “hey, thanks for participating. Here’s a suggestion to solve your problem…” can go a long way to building loyalty. And this is not something you can fake.
5. Add value by making it exclusive
Over the past decade, we’ve seen Private Social Networks and Paid Membership Communities really gain traction. We’ve also seen our clients monetize their platforms by providing a couple of great benefits to their members – exclusive content and time savings. If someone offered to save you a whole bunch of time by gathering valuable content that helps you solve your challenges quicker, and they offered it to you through exclusive member access – wouldn’t you feel it’s fair to pay for it? It’s not all about paid memberships either. Many community managers use our user grouping system to create “VIP” sections that allow them to curate community content to target specific segments of users and personalize what is being shared, thereby creating a unique and engaging experience for select members.
6. It’s all about the integrations
Many community managers dream of having one tool that can do everything when it comes to online community building. How great would that be? Actually, such a tool is more of a disadvantage rather than an advantage and here’s why… Back in 2007, the RedesignMe platform (the predecessor to CMNTY Platform) was only one out of 3 tools worldwide for creating customer communities. Now there are multiple community platforms available and 1,000+ support tools that can be used to extend a community platform capability. For years, our approach has been on building a community platform that is as flexible and user-friendly as possible. We also wanted to make sure that our platform is ready for integration with tools from other vendors, rather than trying to be a mammoth platform that does everything. It’s all about doing what’s best for community managers and creating something that can combine with different tools to offer our clients the best available solution imaginable. With a recent rewrite, improvement of the CMNTY API and integration with Zapier, CMNTY Platform is well equipped to help our clients navigate the evolving landscape that is online community-building.
For more insight into trends and best practices for building engaged online communities, we recommend you read Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, and More Active Online Communities.
7. Embrace Online Communities as the Current Reality
When CMNTY started in 2007 it was one of the first idea crowdsourcing platforms in the world. At the time, online communities were still an experiment for most businesses and they were serving a small subset of people that were seen as “innovators” and “lead users”. Fast forward to now and we’re already in the golden age of online communities. We’ve certainly played a part in helping 15,000+ communities being built online.
It is forecasted that by 2020, there will be 3.6 billion smartphone users, close to half of the world’s population.
(Image source: newzoo.com)
The rise of social media and mobile technology has only served to increase the popularity of online communities. Just think about it… How many online communities are you a member of right now? A social network? A Facebook or Linkedin group? A dedicated support forum for your company or volunteer organization perhaps? Furthermore, how are you accessing those communities? On your smartphone or desktop? Today we do everything through communities, from life to work to leisure. So why not grab a tool and build a community of your own to help your brand become known and respected?
8. Architect strategic analytics around people, not content or transactions
“Everyone wants engagement, but few know how to measure it.” – Rachel Happe, So Much Community Data, So Little Insight. Most community platforms and social networking tools have reporting capability that can reveal usage data and other numbers. There’s only one major issue… running reports and presenting findings at team meetings has its place, but let’s not forget the key element of any community – the people in it! The role of the community manager should be to focus on facilitating a positive member experience. Reporting functionality is often designed to focus on content or transactions, rather than people. That means community managers and their organizations are often caught up in measuring the wrong things. Center everything around people. It produces the best results for everyone involved, including a much better ROI.
9. Connect community programs to business ROI
Communities are showing an ROI on average of over 2,000%, despite imperfect business practices. So imagine what’s possible when a company has well-developed online community building strategies and programs in place! The following infographic breaks down the opportunity available for organizations to realize transformational value from building online communities:
Are you investing in effective online community building programs that are tied to your business goals? If not, now is the time to do so.
10. Invest in a world-class community management team
We discussed the importance of having a community management team in place earlier on, so now let’s look at the key challenges of building a team that’s effective. One of the main issues of today’s community management is the lack of training and overall improvement of community managers. The result is that most often people just get handed the list of the most important customers, some basic guidelines, and voila, do your job magnificently! Of course, the results are sloppy work at best and disastrous, pointless ghost-towns at worst. What you should do is benchmark your managers to determine capability and skills for the crucially important operations that they are to conduct. Focus on strategy skills, engagement skills, content creation, tech-savviness, and sense of business.
Need some help on how to do that? Read more on benchmarking your community managers here.
The (not so) final word
It is clear by now that online communities aren’t going anywhere soon. Communities can bring many benefits to any business that invests in the right strategies, tools, team, and audience. Let’s also remember that it takes time and patience to build a powerful community. CMNTY has always believed in the power of online communities and the importance of building one. We continue to empower our clients and community managers around the world by providing a world-class tool, and the ongoing sharing of best practice, tips and insights around online community building. We intend to do this for a long time to come.
Now it’s over to you. The power is in your hands.