#1 Know first your objective and LISTEN before you jump in with both feet.
True, a growing number of organizations have an online community presence. But building one just because your competitors have one isn't necessarily good business logic. Focus first on your audience and core objectives. Be sure to understand the why behind building an online consumer or constituent network before you jump in with both feet. In this case (as in many others), the "Build it; they will come" methodology doesn't quite work. Set yourself up to win by putting a social strategy in place. It is by far one of the most important elements of your success.
#2 Seek to understand before being understood.
Many organizations neglect to research other social media sites that their target audiences are already using. Become an active participant in these forums to learn what's top-of-mind for members. Engage users, gather customer ideas, and respond. Then use what you learn to create content in your online community that is compelling, interesting, and useful. To help get you started, here is a list of listening tools:
- Google Alerts - http://www.google.com/alerts
- Google Blog Search - http://blogsearch.google.com
- Twitter Search - http://search.twitter.com
- Site Volume - http://www.sitevolume.com
- Social Mention - http://www.socialmention.com
- Once your online community is up and running, be sure to listen to what your members are saying and participate in their blogs and content.
Always think about user benefits first.
#3 Dedicate the necessary resources - both people and money-to ensure success.
You must understand the commitment and dedicate budget and manpower to your social strategy. That includes securing internal buy-in and executive support. A first step could be to build more social computing tools into your site-such as tech support forums-and then spread the word through a CEO blog. You could also gain momentum quickly by having your employees blog on your Web site about relevant issues. Start monitoring the response to see how many participants you attract.
#4 Be an integrator.
Consumer activity is taking place on widely used social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, which is why it is essential to position your brand where interaction is happening. But there has to be a plan around the purpose of the interaction. Are your efforts tied to increasing brand awareness? Driving lead generation? Creating a more personal customer service touch? Either way, social networks are a proven starting point to branded social interaction. But . . . they are only a starting point.
Integrating this action into your own branded online community can serve to consolidate the interaction from around the Web, filter the noise and bring the traffic and resulting data from the consumer networks into your world where you can capitalize on the content.
#5 Consistently add fresh content.
Make sure your efforts don't go stale. Continually update your blog content, and actively contribute to forums. Regularly facilitate and offer a large amount of valuable information upfront to spur community collaboration. Get used to honesty and transparency in your approach, and respond to comments within an appropriate amount of time. Encourage user feedback and suggestions. Above all, continually test your ideas.
Another way to freshen your online community presence is to invite guest bloggers, add new forums, start conversations, and reach out to the community. You Twitter followers and Facebook fans are prime audiences for participation. Offer incentives where possible, and if available, reward your consumers or constituents for their participation.
#6 Be patient, and report on your success.
Exhibit patience and persistence when building your online community, as immediate growth and engagement will not happen overnight. Take each small win as a success, and remember that online communities are a mindset, not a toolset. Be sure to employ social analytics or a data warehouse in order to measure user behavior. Once you gain executive buy-in, it becomes your responsibility to demonstrate the value behind your social strategy. Make it everyone's business to know how community members are interacting with your brand or agency. The information provided will help you to determine exactly how much value your online community is adding to your organization.
About the Author
Account managers Teala Comer (firstname.lastname@example.org), Matt Vacondios (email@example.com), and Director of Digital Marketing Courtney Wiley (firstname.lastname@example.org) nurtures customer relationships for INgage Networks , an award-winning provider of enterprise social software and mobile marketing solutions. For more than a decade, the team has learned how to plan, implement, manage, and grow successful online communities for global brands and government agencies.
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