Does your online community have a mission statement?

by Martin Reed on 23 October 2008 in Articles

Online communities need a mission statement

Online communities need focus and direction if they are to succeed. This focus and direction needs to come from the online community manager – they need to have clear goals in mind and know exactly what they want from the online community. Something almost universally overlooked when it comes to online communities is something that businesses have had for as long as I can remember – mission statements.

What is a mission statement?

I was going to write my own definition, but I think the one on Wikipedia hits the nail right on the head:

A mission statement [is a] brief statement of the purpose of a company, organization, or group. Companies sometimes use their mission statement as an advertising slogan, but the intention of a mission statement is to keep members and users aware of the organization’s purpose.

Mission statements are supposed to be short and sweet – if you try writing one and it covers pages rather than lines then your community doesn’t have a clear direction and it will suffer as a consequence. By forcing yourself to write a concise mission statement you will be condensing your aspirations down into brief, specific goals.

How to come up with a mission statement

Before I launched Female Forum, I knew I wanted to have a mission statement. This would allow me to be clear on what I want from the community and what I hope to achieve. I would also be able to use the statement on the site so that new visitors and members will understand the exact purpose and aspirations of the community.

Looking forward, I will also be able to use the statement in staff manuals – remember, if you aren’t clear on what you want to achieve with your online community, how can you expect your staff to be effective? Effective staff are a product of effective leadership and clear communication.

To come up with the mission statement for my new online community, I grabbed a pen and paper (yes, these still exist). I wrote down everything I wanted to achieve with the site, how I was going to do it, and who I was targeting the site at. Once I had all this written down, it was time to condense the statement down to a few lines.

After I had done that, it took a few drafts and changes to ensure the statement read well and was as clear as it could be. Eventually I scrapped almost everything I had written and came up with the following:

Our mission is simple – to be the most comprehensive and intuitive online community for women.

After thinking about what I had written for quite some time, I realised this mission statement was perfect. It is extremely brief and to the point, but covers exactly the aims and aspirations for the site. It covers who our target audience is, and our main priorities.

If I ever feel as though I am losing focus on the site, I can turn back to this mission statement and be reminded that my ultimate goals are to ensure the site offers comprehensive information (high quality articles covering a wealth of issues) and is intuitive (clear and easy to use).

You can still elaborate on your mission statement

If you want to use your mission statement on your site (which you should), then you may want to elaborate on it a little. Don’t change or edit your mission statement; just add a little more depth to it if you are going to use it on an ‘About’ page. This makes your community come across as a little more human (mission statements often come across as very business-like), and makes your members feel less like tradable commodities!

For the about Female Forum page, I used the mission statement to come up with the following:

Female Forum was founded on the basis of simplicity and functionality. We were tired of websites that were overly-complicated and overwhelming and wanted to challenge those that prefer style over substance.

Our mission is simple – to be the most comprehensive and intuitive online community for women. Sometimes it feels like you need a degree in computer science just to navigate the big, established websites. Female Forum will be easy to use, but at the same time will be full of great information alongside a friendly, welcoming community.

We recognise that catering to you, our readers and members, is our priority – not attracting big advertisers and filling our site with information that is distracting and irrelevant. You influence the future development of this site – we are new, fresh and innovative and want to prove this to you by listening to what you have to say. We welcome your feedback, and read every single email and comment you send us.

Thanks for dropping by – we look forward to welcoming you as a member of Female Forum and getting to know you better.

Conclusion

A mission statement helps you think clearly about what you want to achieve with your online community. The very process of simply sitting down and working on a mission statement will help focus your ideas and allow you to prioritise your time so you can achieve your goals. Not only will a mission statement benefit you as the community manager, developer or brand owner, but it will also benefit your visitors, members and staff. When put together, this simple statement will benefit your entire online community.

Your thoughts

Do you have a mission statement for your online community? Do you think it has helped you focus your community building efforts? Do you think mission statements are too business-oriented and therefore have no place when it comes to developing online communities? Share your thoughts, experiences and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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Smiley October 24, 2008 at 4:01 am

I do indeed have a mission statement. It needs updating, though, which I will get to over the weekend.

But a bit of tidying up and updating I think it’s perfect for my community. It shows we care about our visitors, and about their comfort. It also explains why we have staff members, as you know from the beginning I’ve tried giving my staff the image of a ‘customer service’ team, rather than the ordinary ‘moderators/bouncers’ image that chat staff have always had. I wanted to try a new image, I thought this would help deter user revolt in the future.

A lot of users like kicking up a fuss with authoritative figures. I’ve just about removed the image of authority and replaced it with an image of servant(ry?).. hopefully you know what I mean, it’s late :D my staff are there to serve the users, to answer questions, they’re meeters & greeters, they’re “here to help”.

So that is emphasized in the mission statement to install that kind of image into any reader.

Nicole Price October 24, 2008 at 5:36 am

Sometimes the name of a site may be self explanatory, in which case it may not be so imperative to explicate with a mission statement, but it certainly does not hurt to clarify matters.

Amish October 24, 2008 at 10:39 am

I do not have an online community. I however have mission statements for my business as well as my family. I have followed the same process that you did to come up with them and I am perfectly happy with both. The one for the family has outlived its purpose with our son now grown up, but the purpose remains the same for the family as a whole.

Mr Woc October 25, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Hi guys

Of course you must have aims and goals to be able to run a community successfully, my site also has a site ethos, to clearly outline our stance and the way we want to run our community.

I feel its important to have clear goals and also act on these, no point saying loads of things in your mission statement and then no acting on them.

Woc

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 27, 2008 at 9:56 pm

Smiley – Moderators need to keep an air of authority about them, but I completely agree with you that the more approachable and friendly you make your staff, the better.

Nicole – Did you swallow a dictionary?!? I think a mission statement is extremely valuable – you don’t necessarily have to publish it on your site (although I think you should), but it can help keep you focussed and aware of your goals.

Amish – A mission statement for your family life?! Well, I guess that can work, too!

Mr Woc – I agree. You can’t write a mission statement and then forget about it. You need to always keep it in mind and act upon it.

Smiley October 30, 2008 at 4:46 am

An ‘air’ of authority I agree, it goes without saying. But I always feel respect is to be earned, not imposed. I want people to feel they can chat to myself, including any complaints or criticism, without fear of getting banned. As a new site I think it’s important to encourage criticism as it’s the only way you can improve.

On many sites people are afraid to air their true opinions for moderators and site owners taking criticism too personally.

When moderators are more involved, and the owner(s) especially sit and chat with their guests for a while, have a little joke, have that “here to help” atmosphere rather than “roar we’re here to make sure you behave” I think the respect is more genuine and you get a different kind of authority. The kind of authority that is respected but not feared, people behave because they respect the staff – not fear them, so they also feel free to criticize which is perfect for a new site.

An older site doesn’t need to bother with that as much I don’t think. But a new site should always yearn for criticism.

I make my staff PM users who misbehave and politely ask them to adjust their behaviour and such, and reportedly almost everyone just apologizes and complies.

And of course if any of my staff are abused they get the big ban from the management. Either myself or my co-host can go into the admin panel and impose a flash ban, which only we can undo. That’s mainly for staff moral than imposing authority though – the staff likes to know that the management is always behind them.

John November 8, 2008 at 5:09 pm

I was also under the impression that a couple of my site names said it all, but after reading this article I will be coming up with a missions statement. Thanks for the tips

Joey Logano November 14, 2008 at 9:19 am

You make some great points in the article, and it is true that you need a direction, otherwise you won’t know where you are going, and in the end, that may distract you from the goal you first wanted to head towards in the first place.

I do have a mission for my community, and I feet like once I had established my mission, I did focus more on the goals. When I didn’t write my mission, I did feel like I was going in the wrong direction. Once I had established my mission statement, I knew that my goal was to create the best, the biggest, friendliest fan community website for my favorite nascar driver.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 17, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Smiley – I agree that respect needs to be earned rather than imposed, and constructive criticism is hugely beneficial and should be encouraged. You make a good point that it is just as important for you to be seen supporting your staff members as you do your ‘regular’ members.

John – You should have a mission statement regardless of how relevant your site name is. Your site name doesn’t tell you how you will reach your goals, or even what they are. Your mission statement will.

Joey – Thanks for your comment and for demonstrating that having a mission statement helped you focus more effectively on specific goals and aims.

Jessie November 26, 2008 at 7:41 pm

I have a mission statement for one of my communities but its not actually on the site. It’s in my notebook at home that I write ideas in to give me a good idea of the direction I’m going in. And when ever I start to stray I can reread my statement and it helps me realize what I’m trying to accomplish.

Smiley November 28, 2008 at 8:37 pm

That’s always a good idea, Jessie. A little reminder to keep going in the right direction.

Martin Reed - Blog Author November 29, 2008 at 1:08 am

Jessie – I agree with Smiley; it’s always beneficial to remind yourself of your mission statement from time to time.

Angus Parker April 7, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I took a stab at coming up with ’7 Steps to a Compelling Purpose for your Online Community’ that tries to break down how you might come up with a community mission statement. Anyone have any ideas on how to improve it. Cheers, Angus

Mike April 9, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Hi Martin,

The first line of your blog states ‘Online communities need focus’. With this in mind, Female Forum’s mission ‘the most comprehensive and intuitive online community for women’ seems too broad and lacks focus to me.

Thoughts?

Martin Reed - Blog Author April 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Mike – I consider Female Forum’s mission statement to be pretty focused – comprehensive (quality and varied content/articles) and intuitive (easy to use). Whenever I add or edit content, these are the points I need to remember.

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