By Richard Brasser, CEO, The Targeted Group
1. Differentiation – What is your niche? You are probably well aware of this but it helps to clearly understand it in the context of an online community. What skills, perspectives, knowledge or interests do your members share with each other that differentiate them from other people?
2. Competition – What other communities online offer a place for people like your members to interact? Do the research! You might be surprised that someone already owns your audience. Here is a quick example – a luxury German car company dragged their feet (for two years) while trying to decide whether or not to build their own online community. In the meantime, a community emerged that offered almost everything that these passionate car enthusiasts wanted. When the company finally decided to launch their own community, their audience yawned and found no need to leave the already thriving world they had come to love. If the company would have known about the other community, they could have taken a totally different approach and participated in that community instead of building their own.
3. Value Proposition – What are the top 3 things that a member of your community could gain from joining? Is it unique knowledge that your internal team can provide? Is it access to the other members in a much more efficient way? Is it the ability to participate and help without having to be in person? Whatever it is, you have to clearly understand WHY people will want to join your community and what will keep them coming back.
4. Business Objectives – What are you hoping to accomplish? Imagine that you have already created a community with lots of members…what value does YOUR organization get out of it? Is it the “living” database? Is it the ability to sell sponsorships or advertising around the discussions? Is it a “value-add” for the membership fees that you charge? It is CRITICAL that you answer these questions because the technologies might not cost a lot, but this will take money, time and resources. You have to know why you are doing it and what value you wish to gain from it.
5. Resource Planning – Don’t underestimate the work effort this will take! If you answered number four, you will already know the value and what resources are available based on the expected results. Make sure to challenge your assumptions, test market ideas with members and make sure to overestimate how much time and effort it will take. Bad things start to happen when this kind of initiative is tossed in the lap of an administrator who is already maxed out or an intern that is helping for the summer. Make sure you have enough time and people to manage the community, analyze the data and metrics and constantly refine the strategy.
*Quick story about #5 – I recently worked with a very large association and met the person in charge of social media. She explained that she didn’t track any posts, use hashtags or any analytics because she didn’t have any time. She was communicating constantly but gaining NO value as a result. My suggestion? Pretty simple, post 50% less and spend that time on reporting, analytics and metrics. Don’t fall into the time trap and lose out on the biggest value.
What is the gist? At the end of the day, there is a huge opportunity brewing for you to expand your audience, increase revenue and create a long lasting connection with your members through the use of a well-designed online community. Take the necessary steps to design it right, leverage people and resources that know how to put these together and you could create a legacy of value for your organization.
The storm is brewing…are you going to be ready to take advantage or is someone else going to own your audience?