Online communities take conversations normally held between individuals to a global audience. You may find these communities on social media platforms such as Facebook or within businesses’ websites or blogs or through dedicated platforms.
No matter their physical hosting location, key performance indicators (KPIs) must be monitored in order to assess community growth and performance against initial goals. Here are some best practices for building an engaging online community.
Identify Your Core Members
After collecting data about your community members, the next step should be engaging them. One method would be providing valuable content. This could range from publishing a weekly digest of top stories from within your community, all the way up to hosting webinars or events with top experts in their respective field.
Your users could benefit from being divided into distinct communities with specific library, event and discussion thread options tailored specifically to their specific needs. That way, you can ensure you provide them with what they expect right from the start – providing value they’ve come to expect as core community members.
Identification and analysis of key stakeholders’ goals for your community is also recommended; this can help explain how it aligns with and contributes towards meeting those goals, helping secure internal buy-in from employees as well as ensure all teams work collaboratively.
Determine the Structure of Your Community
Be it an existing customer base or the need to generate leads, creating an online community is the ideal way to engage and convert customers. Not only will this reduce churn and increase revenue; but it can also help identify trends or issues that aren’t immediately evident.
Once you have identified the core members, it’s time to decide how your community will be structured. This decision will have an effect on how easily audiences find the content they’re searching for and become active within your group.
An effective community will include “most active” categories with products your users are likely to discuss; this will encourage users to visit this area first and create their own content. Furthermore, having a section dedicated to support queries may prove especially effective when trying to generate engagement for product-related topics.
Create an Intuitive Layout
Building your community to increase engagement, lower support costs, or foster loyalty requires first securing buy-in from key stakeholders. In order to do this effectively, demonstrate how the goals of the organization align with and can be accomplished with your new community.
Functionality, navigation, and content paths must be intuitive in any community; members don’t want to learn through trial-and-error or spend their valuable time trying to figure out how they should use your community.
Therefore, starting off with a wireframe and design mock-up is best practice for web development projects. This will enable you to isolate design from functionality, so as to test various features before incorporating them into the final design and ensure usability testing is carried out beforehand. It will also help prevent later redesign of layout issues – for instance your community should ensure its UI regions remain consistent across screen sizes and devices using standard UX patterns like padding and keylines.
Promote Your Community
Many successful online communities began as email lists or forum threads run by friends or colleagues. Make sure that from the outset your community is well branded by including an appropriate community description and cover photo, as well as linking it back to social channels or your website.
Consider teaming up with complementary brands to promote your community to their audiences, for example via sponsored content or co-branded events. This will allow you to expand the reach and grow the community organically.
Once your community is live and operating smoothly, it’s essential to set clear goals and KPIs – both short- and long-term – for it. These should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timebound). Doing this will enable you to better assess its value to your business, while pinpointing potential areas for improvement – for instance measuring engagement or new member recruitment, as well as more business-centric measures like customer success/retention rates.