Do You Know Why?

3 Jan

Since the company that I work for builds a platform for online communities, it should come as no surprise that people come to us and ask us for our help in getting an online community started. A lot of the initial questions that they have for us relate to the underlying technology: What features does the system have? How does it integrate with existing infrastructure? Where does the data reside? And of course, these are important questions because working through the answers helps ensure a smooth deployment.

But, we have one question that we like to ask potential customers that doesn’t usually come up all by itself: What is the purpose of this new community? Very frequently the answer to this question is “We want our members to be able to interact with one another” or “We want to create more engagement with our members.” While these are laudable goals, they are unlikely to be sufficient to ensure the successful initiation and growth of an online community.

For an association community to succeed, you need to understand what your members need and how an online community will address those needs. It is unlikely that your members will see the association’s online community as a good place to discuss family events, or sports teams, or hobbies, etc. Those types of discussions are much more suited to services such as Facebook or Twitter.

But your members do face challenges every day in their professional lives and they will flock to a site that helps them succeed in the face of those challenges. But who has those answers?  Somewhat paradoxically, it’s your members! Many of them have faced the same challenges and their experiences are the secret ingredient that will make the community compelling.

Of course, its not enough to simply bring these people together and hope that information will be exchanged. You need to understand in very concrete terms the sort of problems that your members face. You need to document these for the community and get feedback on what you might have missed. You need to seek out those members who have relevant experience and encourage them to contribute their knowledge. You need to seek out blogs and reference materials that address these same issues and make the community aware of them.

In the end, you will have your members interacting with one another and they will be more engaged. But that’s not the purpose of the community, it’s the result of having a community.

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One Response to “Do You Know Why?”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Online Community Management Links Roundup 06/01/12 - Community Management | Blaise Grimes-Viort - January 6, 2012

    […] Do You Know Why? […]

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