If You Build an Online Community Will They Come

"If you build it, they will come." This worked for Kevin Costner in "Field of Dreams," but when it comes to creating an online community to drive better engagement with your customers, it's not that simple.

Building the community is only about one tenths of the work that needs to happen to not only get them there, but what's more important, to make them stay.

Even though communities often get grouped into a social media function, online communities existed before the likes of LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. Online communities have long been used by companies to connect better with customers, improve customer retention, crowdsource market research, improve customer service and help to elevate a brand's presence online. Online communities that are owned and driven by the brand itself can help ensure that the brand remains in charge and more in touch with engagement efforts.

Tips to Building a Successful Community

1. Content

User generated content is king. Customers put more trust in what their peers have to say about your brand then what you are telling them. User generated content holds a lot of power and a community can play an essential role in both housing this content and distributing it in a way that can grow the voice of your brand. Communities will thrive when they have current and regularly updated content that is relevant to the community. The content will keep users coming back.

2. Promotion

Members will not magically appear. Consider integrating your community into your business process or make it a part of your overall marketing strategy.

An important part of community management is promoting the community. If you are creating a customer community on your website, make sure it is front and center and easy to find. Include links pointing back to the community when interacting with customers. Get people talking about it. According to The Community Roundtable's State of Community Management 2014 report, communities with executive participation see 42 percent of members actively participate, while those without executive participation see only 37 percent active.

3. Purpose

Create your community with a sense of purpose and with clear goals of what it aims to accomplish. The goal cannot be to get the most views or the most members -- that isn't a goal, but can certainly act as a measurement of success. Communities often find success when their goals align with the overarching business goals of the organization.

4. Community Management

The role of a community manager is essential to the success of your community strategy. Community managers can help curate the content, drive promotion and ensure that the signal to noise ratio stays in check so that the community continues to deliver against its set goals. According to the Community Roundtable, best in class communities have more than twice the number of community managers as average. Community managers often work to encourage rewards for community participation. Rewards can be as simple as recognizing a member as an active participant and calling them out in a blog, to featuring a member's profile on your community site. These rewards will help motivate other members.

Building a community -- whether a customer focused built to support your customer service department or an internal community intended to bring together subjects matter experts to collaborate on project ideas for a new product -- requires an investment of time. But when built, adopted, cultivated and nurtured they can help take your brand to a new level of success.

There are great examples of success to be found, including Autodesk’s online customer community, which cut support costs by $6.8 million annually and National Instruments, which saved $7.8 million through an online community by reducing the number of calls to its contact centers.

I will end with a great comment by CamMi Pham at Kwin Media:

To build a community, you will need to learn to become a digital shrink. Building a community is like running a company. The best way to make sure everything is running smoothly is solving other people’s problems, not yours. Always be there and listen and show everyone you care. Reach out to everyone and ask them how you can help them. There are a million companies out there doing great things -- what is going to make you different? Here is the ugly truth, it is not your brilliant concept. Random acts of kindness can make a big difference. All you need to do is be there, listen, don’t judge and offer a hand. You have two hands: one to help yourself, the other is to help others. Start investing in people.”

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  TooFarNorth