In a nutshell, if you want to grow your online community, you must provide them with something of value. They want to be confident that the information you provide them is accurate, truthful, and, most importantly, that it will be beneficial to them in some way.
But what exactly does your online community want and require from you, and how can you be certain that you are providing it correctly? The best course of action is to simply ask them, but in the meantime, here are some things that your online community is most likely looking for from you right now.
They are looking for you to add value to their lives. In other words, the time they invest in engaging with your content should be worthwhile in their eyes. For example, if they read your ten tips blog post, they will receive actionable tips that will help them solve a problem, which will be of value to them.
Depending on where your customer is in the purchasing process, they will require different types of information. From the beginning of their research to the time they make the actual purchase of the product, they want information from you that they can use and understand and that explains who, what, when, why, and how.
Customers don’t want to be treated as if they’re stupid, and neither do you. Please keep them informed if you encounter any difficulties or problems. Also, keep them informed of any good news that comes their way. Don’t hide when something unexpected happens, such as a change in pricing, a technological glitch, or any other instance of human nature. All they ask is that you are honest and strive for excellence, and that is all they can ask of you.
Customers want to feel heard and understood every time they interact with your company, no matter how small or large the transaction may be. You must be able to put yourself in your customer’s shoes in order to provide them with excellent service and deliver what they desire. It is possible that they will not feel heard if they contact you and you do not respond in a way that is beneficial to them.
Customers today prefer to be in complete control of how they communicate with you. Provide a variety of ways for people to contact you, ranging from email to telephone to chat and more. Any assistance you can provide to alleviate their concerns and reclaim control over the process will encourage them to place more trust in you.
They are looking for solutions to their problems, not just for whatever you are selling. If you can provide them with a solution to their problem, that is exactly what they are looking for. To be successful in presenting that solution, you must understand how to communicate it to them in a way that they can understand and that they believe provides them with the options and choices they desire. For example, there are a variety of product formats available, as well as payment options.
What is the best option between free and owned community forums?
Despite the fact that social networks and community platforms appear to be interchangeable, there is a distinct difference between the two.
Generally speaking, users of social media sites have nothing in common with one another (only using the platform because their friends are on it). Communities, on the other hand, revolve around a specific issue, and it is your responsibility to take advantage of social media platforms and engage specific users on those platforms in order to form a community that is focused on your industry.
With this in mind, there are two types of communities you can start: free communities and communities that you own. The distinction is as follows:
Community Platforms that are completely free
There are “free” platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that provide community-like features, but there are advantages and disadvantages to using them.
One significant advantage is that it is completely free for users and comes with an already-existing audience. As a result, you can set up a free account on this platform, create content, and distribute it to your followers as long as you do the necessary research to determine who you want to reach on this platform.
Cons include the fact that you don’t truly “own” your community and are therefore subject to the decisions made by these companies regarding how your content is displayed to others on the platform. Just as you’ve mastered the platform on which your community is housed, the content algorithm shifts, and you’re forced to rethink your content strategy in order to keep your users engaged. It has been observed to occur.
When deciding whether or not to launch a community in this manner, here’s a quick list of free platforms to consider:
G2 Crowd is a crowdsourcing platform.
Owned Community Platforms are those that are owned by the community.
Then there are privately owned platforms, such as a community forum. This is a space that is owned by the brand and provides all of the benefits of a social media platform but with a great deal more control and flexibility in how you communicate with your customers and prospects. In the case of a blog or website that includes a forum or comment section for visitors, you have created an owned community that you can manage yourself.
There are advantages and disadvantages to owning a community, just as there are with free communities. This time, we’ll start with the disadvantage: from the perspective of the audience, you’re starting from the beginning. You have more control over your brand’s message when you have an owned community, but until your customers are aware of your community, you will have to do a lot more marketing to grow that community than you would on a free platform, so plan accordingly.
Ownership of community platforms has several advantages, the most important of which is that they allow you to maintain tighter control over your branding and messaging while not having to compete with the noise generated by other communities on the same platform. As an example, while a toy store on Twitter may have a built-in audience with which to interact, this business must compete with all of the other toy stores on Twitter that are interacting with the same people.
Community platforms also give you the ability to go beyond the limitations of social media platforms as well. Deeper analytics, single sign-on (SSO), gamification, increased access to your members, and custom design all help you provide a better experience for your fans. You should consider this option if you require a safe, private environment for your fans to interact with one another.
How to Create a Virtual Community on the Internet
1.Select a platform for your community’s activities.
2.Create a framework for your launch.
3.Identify the key internal stakeholders who will be involved in the community.
4.Create a community for yourself.
5.Start with a low-key launch.
6.Make your community more visible.
- Select a platform for your community’s activities.
Generally speaking, forums can be divided into two categories: those centered on a common interest and those that are more informational in nature.
When you create a shared-interest forum, you’re bringing together people who happen to be interested in the same thing in order for them to explore and connect with one another on a wider range of topics. The importance of collaboration between members cannot be overstated.
In most cases, informational forums are used when you want to provide a central location for the community to search for and share content related to your product, service, or designated topic in one convenient location.
You’ll want to start looking at detailed features that would support your community goals once you’ve identified the use case and the type of engagement that you’re looking for (e.g., customer support operations or brand loyalty). These can include, but are not limited to:
Analytics that are more in-depth
User-friendliness and a well-designed user interface
Customer service is available.
The adaptability of the platform
- Create a framework for your launch.
When deciding what type of business problem you want to resolve with your community, keep the following points in mind:
Are you looking for someone to:
How can you improve your customer satisfaction ratings?
Reduce the costs associated with customer service?
How can you increase the demand for your product or service?
Identifying and mobilizing influencers and advocates is essential.
How can we improve collaboration?
What is the scenario in which you are interested? Will you use the information you’ve gathered internally, externally, or a combination of both internally and externally?
Finding out the answers to these questions will make it much easier for you to determine why you are launching your online community and will aid you in aligning its purpose with your intended objectives.
- Identify the key internal stakeholders who will be involved in the community.
After determining the necessity of forming your community, the next step is to identify the stakeholders within your organization. There are three types of stakeholders to consider: the following:
Those who will be in charge of the community’s administration. This group of stakeholders may include the community manager, the marketing department, and/or customer service representatives in the case of externally facing communities. When it comes to internal communities, the stakeholders can be extremely diverse.
These are the individuals who will be impacted by the community. If your community is primarily focused on the outside world, marketing is almost always involved because the answers you seek will have the greatest impact on them. It is possible that product management will become involved if there is feedback from the community regarding product improvements.
Management at the highest level. This stakeholder is the individual who bears responsibility for the community and all of those who are impacted by its actions. The majority of the time, an executive will be an operations manager or a CMO who will be in charge of all digital experiences.
Another approach to identifying stakeholders is to combine the responsibilities of the community manager and the responsibilities of the social media management team. The community launch could be overseen by your marketing team, operations department, customer service department, or even a newly created department. As a result, each department is more likely to concentrate on key performance indicators (KPIs) that are important to them.
Marketing Key Performance Indicators
Market share is the percentage of a market.
Perceptions of customers
Organizing influential people and advocates
NPS is an abbreviation for Net Promoter Score.
Efficiencies in the workplace
lowering the cost of support
Customer Service is important to us.
CSAT is an abbreviation for Customer Satisfaction Score.
Product Management is the management of products.
Testing of new products
The study of the market
Beta testing is a type of testing that takes place before a product is released.
Responses from customers
Typically, only one person will be assigned to the task of launching the community. Your launch, on the other hand, can be made less stressful and more successful by leveraging resources and another talent within your organization.
- Create a community for yourself.
A decision on which platform to use for your community is the first step in getting things started. In either case, whether you are launching the community on your own or as part of a team, you will want to make certain that you or your team members are familiar with the software you will be employing. This is an excellent opportunity to experiment with a demo or to receive some hands-on instruction.
After you and your team have gained a thorough understanding of the software you will be employed with, you can proceed to make some decisions regarding its configuration. These are some examples:
Preserving the privacy of your community prior to launch. Make sure that your privacy settings are enabled if you do not want outsiders to have access to your community until you are ready to share it.
The “homepage view” of the forum should include a list of recent discussions. This will encourage new members and first-time visitors to participate in the discussion by letting them know what is currently trending in your community.
Creating your initial categories is the first step. Keep in mind that your initial category list is not set in stone, and you should avoid creating too many categories at the start of your project. Keep it simple and allow your categories to develop naturally. This will assist in keeping the discussion noise under control.
The process of signing up new members is being reviewed. The more straightforward the registration process, the more likely it is that people will want to join your community. You should think about implementing a single-sign-on system (SSO). It is also critical to thoroughly test your sign-up process prior to launching your pre-launch campaign.
Defining the roles of your staff and members. Decide what roles will be included within your community, such as moderators or super members. Consider who on your team will serve as the administrator, moderators, or community manager for the community.
Creating roles and assigning permissions to them. In order to assign and test permissions to the roles that you create, you must first create them. Examples include preventing new accounts from posting images or hyperlinks to other websites.
Choosing which features will be enabled is the first step. Included in this category are plug-ins, add-ons, and other features that are integrated into your online forum. Some features may not be required right away, but others may be critical in ensuring that your team has access to the information they require.
Creating a gamification environment. Start thinking about the benefits you’d like to offer your members as a way of saying thank you. A badge or other type of recognition for various accomplishments, such as being a beta-tester, might fall into this category.
Putting your theme into action. You’ll want to incorporate your forum into your overall brand strategy. Don’t be content with the impersonal default settings. For example, you could incorporate your company’s color scheme into your design while also including other personal touches.
Configuring the spam filtering system. Take advantage of the spam-filtering capabilities of your software. Test the controls against a set of trusted users who serve as a baseline. If you discover that legitimate content is being mislabeled as spam, make the necessary adjustments to the settings.
Creating an outgoing email account. Select the e-mail address that will be used to receive forum announcements. Check your welcome and registration emails to ensure that they contain the information you require.
Testing. You must test everything before publishing it on your forum over and over again until you are satisfied with all of its components. You should expect your testing to become more rigorous as you get closer to launch time. Consider all of the possible outcomes and be prepared for the possibility that not everything will turn out perfectly the first time. Prepare to make a decision on a launch date.
- Begin with a low-key launch.
Once you are satisfied with the way things are going in your community, it is time to prepare for a soft launch of sorts. Soft launches are intended to prepare your community for a full and public launch, which will take place later.
When BigFish Games introduced their new game Dungeon Boss, they used a soft launch strategy that worked extremely well for them. During the preparations for the launch, they placed their app in the Apple Canada store and directed users to their community forum, which was accessible only to members of their organization. Many pieces of customer feedback were received and some were incorporated into the Dungeon Boss video game title as a result. As a result, when they made it available worldwide, it quickly became one of their most popular downloads.
It is recommended that you launch your soft launch in three stages:
Preparing for the Soft-Launch is the first step.
Ideally, your community should be complete and ready to go live at this point. All test content has been removed, and any known issues have either been resolved or are scheduled to be resolved in the near future. We have reached the point where it is necessary to pre-populate your community with high-quality content that will elicit discussion and make effective use of your existing content. Start with at least ten discussions based on the material you have already prepared. Invite your colleagues to participate in these discussions and get the ball rolling. Because tone is important, you will want to ensure that you have established the appropriate tone before moving on to the internal soft launch.
- Soft-Launch on an internal network
Using trusted people from your organization, colleagues, and friends, you can identify problems before your forum is made public. The goal of the internal soft launch is to identify problems before your forum becomes public. When people test your community, they can provide you with valuable feedback and report any errors they encounter before you go live with the full launch of your community. It will be during this phase that your moderators will be able to learn how to use the tools that will be used in your community forum. Deficiencies in training should be addressed, and if additional training is required, it should be provided. Inquire about the opinions of your internal users. After that, set a deadline for moving on to the next phase, which is your public soft-launch event.
- Soft-Launch in the General Public
You should limit the audience for this launch to a small group of people whom you will encourage to provide feedback on your new community forum. To put together this group, you could try soliciting volunteers from trusted customers, posting a banner on your website, or including a mention of it in your company’s quarterly newsletter. The following questions should be addressed during your public soft launch.
Who do you think should be included in this group?
What problems do you hope to solve while you’re in the beta testing stage of the project?
What is required to bring the community up to liveable conditions?
What is your firm deadline for bringing your community to its full potential?
Your objectives should include the following:
Participation of the general public
Improving the quality of your community
The process of receiving feedback
Checking to see that your moderators and team members are familiar with the platform
- Spread the word about your community.
Once you’ve decided on a date, it’s time to start spreading the word to your target audience about it. The most effective way to accomplish this is to take advantage of your existing online presence. Promote your launch on your website and in email communications, as well as by having your sales team and customer service representatives inform your existing and potential customers about the new product or service release.
Here are some additional suggestions to assist you in attracting the first 100 members to your community:
Invite your contacts to join you. Certainly, bombarding your family members, friends, and professional contacts with information about a project you’re working on isn’t always enjoyable… but it works.
Everyone and anyone should be invited to participate. Make it a habit to engage in conversation with people wherever you go, especially if your community is centered around a broad product or service that provides value to a large number of people.
Gamification can be used to enlist the assistance of new members. Solicit the assistance of your growing early group in expanding the network by inviting their friends, colleagues, and digital connections to join. Through contests or reward systems that are integrated into your platform, you can encourage this behavior.
Collaborate with influencers. Collaborating with a related and complementary company can be a powerful tool for promoting your new community and welcoming new members who are interested in both products and services, as well as attracting new customers.
Check to see that all of your Google and Webmaster tools are configured correctly before continuing. Publish a sitemap and make your community visible to other users. In the event that you have completed all of these steps, the likelihood of your online community launch being successful is high.