8 Ways to Know Whether You Are Ready for an Online Community

21 Nov

Would an online community help make your association more vibrant? Would it promote greater engagement between and with your members? Here are a set of questions that will help you evaluate whether an online community could be beneficial for your association:

1. Do you have a core set of volunteers?

A core set of individuals who are passionate about the association and the constituency it serves are paramount to a community’s success. In most online communities, only a small fraction of the active members contribute content. To get a community started you need to figure out who those core members are and turn them into your “community team.”

2. Do you produce a significant amount of content?

Are you producing a lot of documents that your members cannot find elsewhere? Most associations are very good at producing content. That’s great, because content is one of the main drivers for getting members to come to your online community regularly. If possible, try to use the community as your primary vehicle for delivering content.

3. Do your members have specialized knowledge or expertise that would be valuable to others in the association?

For trade and professional associations, it is often the case that the acknowledged experts in your field are your members, and they will be happy to share their experience and expertise with others. Since many people join associations looking for specialized knowledge, the rest of your members will find great value in the accumulated knowledge/expertise that the community provides.

4. Is there a lot of content available that relates to your association’s focus, but it is scattered across a number of blogs and web sites?

One aspect of the Internet revolution is that it made it possible for anyone to be a publisher. The downside is that it can be hard to find high quality relevant information. An online community site can not only serve as a central location for cataloguing all of this information, but in addition, the members of the community can help categorize and rate this information so that it even more useful to others.

5. Are your members interested in connecting with others from their profession?

Well, that was almost a rhetorical question wasn’t it? I don’t think I’ve come across an association in which people didn’t want to network. An online community serves as another way for people to interact, share, and get to know one another.

6. Are you interested in feedback from your members on your content or your services?

And I certainly hope that this question was rhetorical as well. The primary purpose of the association is to serve the needs of its members, and its hard to do that if you don’t understand who your members are and what their needs are. An online community makes it possible for association staff and members to engage in meaningful, ongoing conversations that will result in better understanding.

7. Are your members distributed over a large geographic area?

If your association’s members are confined to a relatively small geographical area, then it may be possible for them to get together face-to-face on a fairly regular basis. If that’s not the case, then an online community is likely the best way for them to connect and interact.

8. Do you host an annual conference for your association, but want interactions between members to continue year round?

For many members, the association’s annual conference is an exciting opportunity to connect with others in their field, share experiences, and learn. A well run conference creates a sense of community amongst the attendees. But its hard to keep that spirit alive until the next conference comes around. An online community provides a platform in which the connections established at your conference can be preserved and strengthened throughout the year.

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5 Responses to “8 Ways to Know Whether You Are Ready for an Online Community”

  1. Kim Kishbaugh (@kkish) November 22, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    These are good questions. Here are a couple more:

    1) Do your members (or sub-groups of your members) already function as a community off-line? If so, then an online community could be a natural extension of that. It’s a lot easier to extend a community to new space than create a new one altogether.

    2) Are there already online communities targeted to your membership? Think hard about this because if there are, these need to be viewed as competition, and you need to make sure that any online community you build will truly offer enough unique value to make it worthwhile for your members to join yet another online space.

  2. Terry Coatta November 22, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    The issue of competition is very interesting, especially in cases where new online communities effectively compete with an existing association. In such situations, it’s probably worthwhile to see if there is some way to partner/cooperate with the online community rather than taking it head on.

  3. Adi Gaskell December 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    Some good tips there Terry. One more could be whether your members have already setup a community. Tools like LinkedIn groups make setting up a community very simple. In my previous role our members had setup a grassroots community long before we’d setup an official one. If they go to the trouble of getting something going themselves then it’s a fair indicator that demand exists.

    • Terry Coatta December 26, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

      Although hopefully one is aware enough of member needs to spot that before they feel compelled to go out and do it themvelves 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Online Community Management Links Roundup 25/11/11 - Community Management, Community Management Links | Blaise Grimes-Viort - January 27, 2012

    […] 8 Ways to Know Whether You Are Ready for an Online Community […]

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