It would have taken a pretty long blink to miss the brand exodus from one-way "push" marketing to promoting multi-directional conversations with customers - primarily in the form of online communities.
Setting up a successful community, even with your most loyal customers, takes a lot of planning. One of the biggest mistakes that brands make when they set out to start a community is jumping in head first and adopting a "build it and they will come" approach rather than developing a strategy for long term engagement. There are many factors that affect the success of an online community panel such as branding, engagement and member benefits; and having a clear game plan from the get-go is going to deliver a much happier group of responders more likely to contribute and stick with you over the long haul.
So how should you work towards building your online community panel? This is a generally adopted perspective from some of the leading mindsÛ_
1. Start By Listening
Knowing what makes your ideal participant tick is the first step. There are a number of ways that you can begin to understand them prior to launching your community, including: running a survey, holding a qual group, and joining and listening in to other online communities. Depending on what tactic you choose, the objectives remain the same: listen to and understand the customer (read a previous post from Peter Harris on Listening).
Concept by Mark Pollard (@markpollard)
2. Participate In Other Communities
Try joining a community similar to the community you want to create. Pay attention to what people say, how they behave, and what they want out of a community. But don't just observe - participate in those conversations and explore what other knowledge and learnings can be gleaned from the participants.
What is it that this constituency is truly passionate about? What attracts them to each particular community? Is it mixing with those of similar interests or gaining knowledge that they otherwise would not have been privileged to?
3. Manage The Community
When you listen before diving in and managing, you learn what it is that makes your members tick. Furthermore you learn the tone of voice being used and can ensure that the voice of the community manager is reflective of the community members - and the "voice" should be authentic. Don't try faking it. Obviously you don't want a 50 year old male moderating a community of 16 year old females talking about health products. Likewise you don't want a 20-something-year-old trying to talk to CFO's about tax compliance.
So when you are ready to launch a conversation with your newly formed community, don't jump straight into asking research questions. Remember the reasons why you joined your communities - they were probably not to participate in research. If you have researched the targeted members prior to launching the community panel, reflect back on what they wanted from a community that inspired them to join the group in the first place. Start by warming the community up. Ask what is relevant to them, what they are interested in. There is a tendency in research to ask what we assume to be relevant, but much of the time I have found clients are surprised by what their customers actually wanted to talk about. Despite going against their assumptions, keeping the topics close to the heart of the community members helped get the client's products on a track that they had not envisioned but traveling in a better direction.
Once you sense that your community is warmed up you can start to introduce more research questions. As a general rule of thumb, I would try and keep the topics half what is relevant to your business and half what is relevant to the community members
Diagram by Helge TennÌü (@bongo)
On a final note, always keep in mind that you are not the owner of the community; rather think of yourself as the parent of the bride - you might be paying for the day but it's all about the bride and groom.