In the past couple of years a lot of companies have tried to create an ‘online community’ of and for its customers. A lot of these efforts are really bad, and a most of the time they are scrapped within a few months, if not sooner.
If your company is wanting to launch a community site for your customers, here’s some pitfalls to avoid:
1 – You can create a site, but you can’t create a community. The ‘community’ half of ‘community site’ has to form organically, and from your efforts. Those efforts have to resonate with the people you want to connect with. Otherwise, all you’ll ever have is a lonely site, waiting for its community.
2 – Focus first on building a community, not on monetizing a community. There are few absolutes in the world of online marketing and social media, but this is pretty ironclad: Communities do not form around the idea of being monetized. There is no group of your customers that are biding their time and waiting for the day that you will create a community site that they can group and give you money. If you want to monetize a community site, then the monetization has to be a byproduct of the experience you create for the community members. Give the community an incentive to form, then the money will come.
3 – Value creation must be baked into the site from the get-go. Why are people going to come to your community site? What value are you creating for them? That will play a huge role in whether or not your community forms, and it will also play a huge role in your ability to monetize that community site.
4 – You need to give your members the ability to connect and have fun with each other. Also known as ‘Where do we account for the ability to throw sheep in this plan?‘ If you want a community to form on your site, you need to think about ways to give members to connect with each other. To learn more about each other, to have fun with each other. You want your members to instantly recognize other members when they see their names each time they return to your site. So much of the success of your community site won’t have anything to do with the functionality you offer members, but rather the connections that members make with each other. You want to think about adding ways to make the connection process easier for members.
5 – If your community starts to form, you MUST spotlight your advocates. As your community begins to form, some of your members will take on a leadership role, and will try to accelerate that growth. They will be the ones that are explaining to newbies what the site is for, what the rules are. They will be the ones trying to make sure that everyone finds the right information. They are the ones that have ‘bought into’ the community here, and want to see it succeed. These are your rockstars, and you should treat them with the respect they deserve (all your members deserve respect, but you must spotlight your advocates).
This is all about rewarding the type of behavior that you want to encourage. You want to see your members take on an active role in growing your community, and you want to communicate to the entire community that you appreciate the efforts of your advocates in doing this.
6 – Building a community is HARD work. Were you expecting a turn-key solution to your online community-building efforts? Bless your heart. You’re going to have to love the people in the community, and the ones you want in the community. You’re going to have to love the idea of creating something valuable for these special people. Because it really will be a labor of love, and that’s what will give you the incentive to stick with it.
So those are some pitfalls to avoid if you want your Online Community efforts to be a success. It won’t be easy, but then again you didn’t really believe that social media was all rainbows and unicorns, did you? 😉