I get a lot of people contacting me for help with their online community. Most of the time, they are unhappy with the amount of activity taking place – they want to see more. Most of the time, I see the same (or at least similar) problems. Therefore, in this article I want to outline five ways you can easily improve your online community.
1. Make the community prominent.
Don’t hide your online community behind a link. Bring it right up to the front page. Anything less, and you aren’t giving your community the respect it deserves. If you are serious about your online community, prove it by giving it serious exposure.
Show that you value the opinions of your members by featuring their content alongside your own editorial content – you are equal partners in this.
This goes further than just proving your commitment to the community. It puts the community in front of eyeballs. A lot of the time, visitors won’t even notice a link to your community – so put it where they can see it if you want them to join and get involved.
2. Keep it simple.
You don’t need fancy features and a glamorous site design. Most of the time, these are simply distractions. Keep things simple. There is nothing wrong with basing your community solely on a forum. You don’t necessarily need a full range of ‘social networking’ features. People need to be able to communicate – it’s as simple as that. They can do this with a basic forum.
Fancy designs are often just an ego stroke for the organisation that commissioned them. Remember, an online community isn’t about you – it’s about your members. Strip everything back and keep it basic. Your community may not look glamorous, but it will be far more likely to contain activity and member engagement.
3. Tell me why.
I come across a lot of online communities that don’t explain or outline their purpose. As crazy as it sounds, there are a lot of people building communities without actually making it clear what the purpose of the community is. Sometimes this is obvious from the name – but even then, I need to know why I should join your community rather than one belonging to your competitor.
Ensure that all visitors to your site know why they should be joining and getting involved in the community. Keep it short, simple, snappy and accurate.
4. Be active.
As a community manager, you need to be active in your own online community. You can’t be a matchmaker unless you get to know members of your community. You can’t learn from your members if you don’t know who they are.
Lead by example – get stuck in and enjoy the community. If you aren’t active or if you aren’t enjoying being active, your community has a problem. Fix it.
5. Build relationships at home and away.
Some people who contact me stress that they are highly active in their community – in fact, sometimes they are its chief contributor. Of course, a community isn’t a community if there is only one person doing the talking. If this is happening to you, it’s an indicator that you need to be more proactive.
Just because you’ve built an online community it doesn’t mean people will flock to it. You need to get out there and find members. Fortunately, that’s never been easier. Your potential members are out there writing blogs, telling the world what they are doing on twitter, and networking on Facebook.
Don’t stalk these potential members, and don’t spam them. Get to know them. Comment on their blogs, provide value. It’s all about what you can do for them – not the other way around.