Make sure you don’t waste your online community

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An online community takes effort and often time to plan, build, seed and grow. You need to work hard to make sure you get the business objectives right, work out who you are going to engage and how to engage them, and then work with them to seed and grow the community with them.

That’s why it’s a shame when this effort goes to waste. When your online community fails to live up to its promise.

So how do you make sure this doesn’t happen to you? That you don’t waste your online community?

Here are four ways that we have often seen the opportunities that online communities offer being wasted, and some thoughts on how to avoid suffering the same fate.

1. You just aren’t present in the conversations

An online community is a dialogue, you work with and alongside the other members of the community on a shared interest, issue, topic or problem. It is no good just asking questions and expecting answers. Nor is it any good just sitting and watching what others say. You must be part of the conversations. Talking to people and exchanging ideas with them.

The biggest danger of not doing this is that the community members will become disillusioned. They will start questioning whether you are even listening and the conversations and debates will stop being about the original subjects and start being about you. This makes a very intimidating environment for new community members and so you will find that a small bunch of members take over.

The solution is simple. Talk to your members. Ask them questions, answer theirs and give your own opinion. Enjoy your community and enjoy talking to the other community members. They’ll respond to you taking part and you, they and the community as a whole will benefit.

2. There’s no link back to the organisation

A branded online community, or one that is clearly from a particular organisation must be connected into that same organisation. Community members will quickly lose interest if they think that nobody is listening to and feeding back on what they are saying. They will uncover a community manager who is unable to connect them into the organisation or represent the organisation in the community.

A real connection is needed to make the most of your online community and this can often mean enacting real change in your organisation. If you are using it to its full potential, an online community should be a way of getting the customer voice deep inside your organisation. You should be talking about the online community in meetings right up to, and including, the Board meeting. This is the way your customers are heard in the organisation, and the way your organisation can talk to its customers. Make sure you do.

3. You are not encouraging organic conversations

Too many online communities appear to have a fixed purpose or objective and only encourage people to take part on this. They may be communities based on media share, and not encourage discussions or forusm. They may be online research communities that do not nurture organic discussions on broader topics or between research activities.

Often the most useful benefit that you will gain from your online community will come from the areas and discussions you least expect. The topics you didn’t initially focus on or the debates and discussions that your community members start themselves. Organic conversations are where things get exciting. They are where new ideas can really come from and where the community can truly come to life. Make sure you don’t stifle them.

4. You moderate every contribution before it goes on the site

There is a time and a place for pre-moderation, reviewing and approving every piece of content before it goes on the community. But in most cases this isn’t needed. There is nothing more frustrating for a user than arriving on a community site, finding interesting topics and discussions, registering and then adding their own thoughts only for these not to appear on the site. Many of these users will leave, frustrated, and never return.

Pre-moderation can be deadly. It should be handled with care and used only where other means are not possible or appropriate. Trust your community members to be responsible in their discussions and they will trust you back

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10 Comments

  1. Make sure you don't waste your online community | FreshNetworks Blog | thecommunitysecrets:

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  2. RT @xbermudez Make sure you don’t waste your online community www.freshnetworks.com/blog by @matt_rhodes - Twitoaster:

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  3. Tom Vanlerberghe:

    About the moderating.
    I think a lot of companies are so afraid of what people might say they go into a defense mode before there was even an attack.
    If they are afraid, what’s the reason why? It probably has nothing to do with the online community, but the backlash could be huge on that community.
    If they know what the problem might be, than companies should be able to formulate some kind of plan, just like they would in the ‘real world’.

    Still afraid of what they don’t know perhaps?

    grtz
    Tom

  4. atul chatterjee:

    Moderation is quite painful for the comment maker. A comment can always be edited later.
    What is this business of ‘organic conversation’? Is it possible to have ‘inorganic conversation’? I’m puzzled.

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