Vision Critical

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When you're building an online community - whether on social networks, insight communities, or online forums - getting people is one of the most important steps. If you have the right number (and the right kind) of people, your community is more likely to thrive, and you're more likely to get real ROI from customer engagement. That's why we work closely with many clients when they're recruiting people for their insight communities.

In our experience, clients tend to think recruitment is mostly about mailing lists and they struggle for ideas once this avenue is exhausted. Yes, inviting people who are already in your email database is a great idea, but unless you have a large and reputable database to begin with, you may need to look into other sources to maximize your recruitment efforts.

Here are 5 places that are often overlooked by marketers when they build their online communities:

  1. Online advertising and retargeting.

Investing a few dollars to do a quick and targeted advertising campaign is a good idea for brands that have small mailing lists. Online advertising is now so sophisticated that ads are often contextualised so they're in line with the publisher's content. For instance, if you're building a community of shoe lovers, it's fairly easy now to target websites covering fashion, shoes and other similar interests. Most advertising platforms also target web users who have already shown some interest in your brand - for instance, those who have recently visited your website.

  1. Corporate website.

Your website is one of your brand's most valuable communication tools: when people visit your website, that usually means they're already interested in what you have to offer.

One Vision Critical client placed a prominent image on their website's homepage to promote their online community. This worked well since the image was highly visible and enticed the right people to click and eventually join.

Don't forget about your blog as well. Many brands now use blogs to share valuable content to current and potential customers. Your blog readers are usually already aware of your brand, so it's likely that they're interested in engaging more deeply with you through your community.

Similarly, don't hesitate to invite people who have already subscribed to your blog. After all, these people are already open to receiving communication from you. That makes them a really good audience to engage in your online community.

  1. Social media advertising

Many companies are using social media to drive sales and to listen to what the masses are saying online. So if you've already invested heavily into your social media presence, you might as well as utilize this medium to invite people into your online community.

One word of caution: most social networks skew younger. Social media users are also generally tech-savvy. So it's important to think about who you're targeting before you begin.

  1. Refer-a-friend programs

Tap into the power of word of mouth, and experiment with refer-a-friend programs to boost your recruitment. For instance, after people in your community have completed a survey, add links to encourage them to tweet it or post it to their Facebook Timeline. You can even add refer a friend links to ongoing communications you have with your community - monthly newsletters are a great example of this.

Refer-a-friend programs are one of the many growth hacking tactics we've used to get people to join our own voice-of-market communities.

  1. Offline events and other category-specific methods

Tradeshows, conferences and other offline events are other ways of increasing awareness of your online community. Many of our clients have seen recruitment success simply by handing out pamphlets and other marketing materials about their communities at these events.

Think of best practices in your industry as well. For one of our sporting clients, we placed ads in match programmes, which people read at games. Another client has taken advantage of promoted tweets to get people to join their online community. The marketing tactics that you usually use in your industry could often be applied to your recruitment efforts also.

For research communities, you also have the option of buying your sample in two distinct ways: as purchased recruits or as top-up sample. If you need to reach a quota for a single study, then buying top-up sample is your best bet as you can recruit on a per-survey basis to target those harder-to-reach people. Purchase recruit is different because it guarantees you a set amount of active community members, who may stick around for longer than a single survey.

But both of these methods usually have lower member engagement and retention. In fact, people may not choose to stay in the community. That's why we often recommend these options as last resort. As I've discussed above, marketers often overlook other sources - you just need to think creatively and be willing to invest the time and the money to these sources.

Recruitment is an essential part of building your community, so leave no stone unturned. You don't have to rely on your mailing list alone to build a community that will support your marketing and research needs. Once your mailing list is exhausted, you still have other sources to use - together they can be as effective as a mailing list. By investing in tactics that utilize more than your mailing list, you can engage a larger and more diverse online community of customers.

The enterprise guide to online communities

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