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.
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.
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.