Building a successful online community starts with a solid plan.
Read on for what to include in your association’s online community strategy.
Offering an online community to your members is a powerful way to provide member value. Research from Community Brands consistently shows that members place high value on networking and staying up to date on industry news, trends, and regulations. And an online community provides an ideal way to deliver these member benefits.
Building a thriving online community starts with a well-considered strategy. Your plan doesn’t have to be complex, but it should include some basic elements.
Here are seven essentials for your association’s online community plan:
Goals and success metrics
Be sure to define your organization’s goals for the online community so that your entire organization knows what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, at the highest level, your goals might be to:
- Grow your existing online community
- Recruit more members
- Improve member engagement
- Increase member value
TIP: These are examples of high-level goals. To ensure your goals clearly define what you’re trying to accomplish, consider using the SMART approach to goal setting: Make sure each goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, “To support our objective of growing our existing online community in 2022, we will recruit 500 more active online community members by adding a section about the online community to our new member onboarding emails.”
In addition to goals, establish a set of online community metrics to help you track progress toward your goals and find opportunities for improvement. For example, in the first goal above, growing the online community, you might track:
- Number of active online community members
- Number of online community logins
These metrics tell you how many of your members have joined the online community and how many are using it.
Online community team
Decide who to include on your online community team and define their roles and responsibilities. The team should include a mix of staff from across your organization. They should be able to:
- Suggest discussion group topics and content
- Moderate and participate in online discussions
- Regularly review metrics to find opportunities for improvement
TIP: Nimble Communities from Nimble AMS by Community Brands is an online community platform that makes it easy for your team to set up and manage a full-featured online community for your association.
Your online community should include valuable information, such as details about professional development opportunities, the latest reports on industry best practices, and new insights from industry thought leaders. Plan to give your members access to this type of content right off the bat to make them feel part of a group and benefit them professionally.
Create a calendar that includes a steady stream of new and useful content to entice users to visit the community more often. Content might include posts about industry news, commentary, job search tips, and career development opportunities. To keep people engaged, include content with varying purposes – such as providing industry information, starting a conversation, and entertaining.
Determine which groups you’ll launch with your community. You can start with a small number of groups, and then add more as you learn more about your members’ needs. A few groups to consider including in your initial launch:
- New members
- Discussion groups based on specific subjects, such as upcoming industry regulation changes
- Groups for each of your association’s upcoming events (so that attendees can connect and share content before, during, and after the event)
- Active committees and/or special interest groups
Establish guidelines to set a standard for how members should interact in the community and to define under what conditions certain interactions might be moderated. While each association’s community guidelines will be unique based on their brand and legal requirements, here are some ideas:
- Keep them brief. Members should feel encouraged to share information and ideas. So, guidelines shouldn’t feel oppressive, nor should they feel so long that members don’t want to take the time to read them.
- Tie them with your mission. For example: “Welcome to the online community for [your association’s name]! This is the place where [audience] can [purpose/goals of the community]. In keeping with our organization’s mission of [mission], we offer the following guidelines for how to use the community to engage with each other.”
- Offer examples. Provide a short list of examples of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, including:
- Unacceptable usage, such as self-promotion or business advertisements
- Unacceptable content, such as obscene messages and materials
- Inappropriate behavior, such as defamation, bullying, and hate speech
- Explain how you’ll enforce guidelines. Let community members know your process for enforcing community guidelines. For example: How do members report complaints and provide feedback? What is the review process for possible violations? What is the penalty?
- Make guidelines easy to find. Place guidelines somewhere that’s easy for members to find. Try to keep the link in the same place so that members know where to find it when they need it.
Create a plan to launch the online community with your members. The plan might include:
- Teaser communications to let members know the community is coming.
- Instructions and a timeline for early adopter members to post on the day of the rollout and for the next several weeks after the launch.
- A prep meeting to confirm that everything in the community and everyone on the team are ready to launch.
- A communications plan to let members know that the online community is live and how to log in.
Offering an online community can help you deliver greater member value that, in turn, helps you recruit more members, improve member engagement, and increase member retention. Discover more tips and techniques for creating an online community with the free guide: Attract, Engage, And Retain Members with an Online Community