Before you proceed to create an online community for your product or service, ensure that you have given it much thought and deliberation. Communities that are created without a plan and purpose often fall by the wayside, becoming deserted islands that live on the Internet to fade away into insignificance.
While the topics discussed below are mainly for profit driven organizations, some of them hold good for altruistic communities as well.
Identify how the creation of an online community maps to your company’s or team’s business goals. Ensure that your plan speaks to either minimizing costs or maximizing profits. Create a vision statement that reflects the purpose of your project.
Metrics that you put in place to track the progress and success of your plan should be specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time-based.
The quality of discussions in a community are driven by the kind of people that will stay involved with what’s happening in that space. You will have to think upfront about how you will drive members with similar interests to your space and keep them invested.
For audience to stay involved and committed, they need a shared purpose and goal. The community should add value to their lives much as their discussions add value to your organization. Content seeding may sometimes be necessary, especially during the initial stages, to keep the community alive.
Manpower and resources
While an online community is mostly made of people from outside of your organization, you will need people from within to manage, monitor, and report from online channels. They will need a training plan to ensure that they are able representatives of the company and are well versed with policies governing online communication.
People that you are wanting to hire will need a career roadmap, well-defined job responsibilities, and an organization structure before they accept. You will be competing with teams that are more well-established and are considered “safer” options.
Online community managers
Online community managers are responsible for ensuring smooth interactions among members of a community while reporting about the state of affairs to senior management. Depending on the size of the organization, they may have a team responding to regular queries leaving them with time to formulate policies and replies around more complicated questions.
Related teams in your company
You will be needing buy ins from other teams that you will be working with such as legal, human resources, finance, public relations, customer support, IT, and product teams before you get started. Consider the concerns that they are likely to come up with, and have a plan.
You will probably not be prepared for everything that comes your way, and that is OK. Ensure that you stay true to your answers with a promise of more information if you don’t have it at hand.
If your company is investing in social media for the first time, you will have to identify members within your organization that will buy into your mission. You can start with one-to-one discussions and identify their concerns before you proceed to pitch your plan to a bigger audience for approval.
Companies often resist changes to the way they operate, and your plan will have to anticipate all reasons for refusal, and address them upfront. Online communities are challenging and open up the company to all sorts of legal hurdles they have not imagined. Consider your battle half won even if they walk away with the promise of considering your idea.