5 Tips for Building an Online Community for Your Business

1. Have a critical mass of passionate customers.

The number one point of an online community is that it be a place where like-minded people engage with each other. If customers aren’t genuinely interested in your brand, starting an online community could be like throwing a party and no one came.

2. Give up control.

You may have built the community and manage it, but you must recognize that it really belongs to the users. As scary as freewheeling customer-to-customer communication can be, take a deep breath and understand that the quickest way to kill a community is to discourage open discussion. Never delete a post (unless it’s spam). Never sanitize negative feedback. Remember that the community can be an invaluable reality check and feedback mechanism. One of the reasons you initiated the community in the first place is because you know don’t have all the answers, right?

3. Make the community a rich experience.

Some rudimentary online communities are little more than online product support forums. That’s fine, but a truly energetic community is a venue for so much more. Ours, for example, has not only a discussion forum, but also a feature requests area for customers to provide insights into what they want to see in future products, a knowledge resource base, a job board, software and more. Activity on all is high.

4. Be prepared to invest in infrastructure.

Spearheading an online community doesn’t happen automatically — you need a team and the right software. Don’t skimp on either. We’ve grown the team that manages our community from one person to six in the last few years. And we decided to invest in customized software on which the community runs. Why? Because the community has to be buttoned up technologically — be pleasant to use, rarely if ever go down — if customers are going to want to use it. One thing we don’t have is an employee dedicated to watching the community. We’re certainly on top of what’s going on in there, since so many employees subscribe and participate. But remember, it’s not our place to interfere with customer-to-customer communication, so it wouldn’t make sense to have an official hall monitor.

5. Don’t get hung up on measurement.

We live in a time when measurement rules — everyone wants to be able to look at a dashboard and see how an activity is trending. It’s difficult to measure the ROI from an online community. If the community is going strong, you know it, and that is victory in and of itself. We have a simple metric to assess our community’s value — number of posts.

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Target-driven Online Marketer, skilled in creating and implementing effective, innovative marketing strategist.

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David Commerce

David Commerce

Target-driven Online Marketer, skilled in creating and implementing effective, innovative marketing strategist.

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