10 Steps to a Thriving Online Community
1. Share the mission so everyone knows what you’re trying to achieve
Before getting started, it’s important that everyone is on the same page, and although there may be an understood common vision, it’s important to explicitly document it, and deﬁne measurable objectives. Explicitly stating the vision and mission in the community will help establish and maintain consistency. Being clear about what the community’s objectives are will help determine what you should measure, what you should report on, and what success looks like.
- Deﬁne objective(s) with stakeholders and C-level executives.
- Deﬁne what “success” looks like (measurement).
- Establish buy-in on participation.
2. Establish the rules of engagement for employee participation
Determine who is responsible for the community and assign roles and tasks if appropriate. It is vitally important to stay on top of responding to, moderating, and curating content as it comes into your Community. Create internal “dos” and “don’ts” for employees who are not responsible for the community but may chime in from time to time.
- Establish buy-in on who and how to participate.
- Write down the rules.
3. Create and post your community guidelines
Every community needs its own set of community guidelines in order to set the acceptable standards for discourse. Set the appropriate expectations so that community members know what type of behavior will, or will not, be tolerated. Post and link to your community guidelines as often as you can, reminding visitors of the rules. Not only will this help keep most users in line, but it will also protect your community management team when stronger actions need to be taken against bad actors. Be sure to enforce your community guidelines with consistent and fair moderation practices.
- Create and post the Guidelines.
- Develop Community Guidelines
- Get Satisfaction’s Community Guidelines
4. Prepare a plan to promote the community
Be sure to plan for a newsletter announcement to your mailing list, a blog post, an update on your Facebook Page, an announcement on Twitter and an announcement via any other communication channels you have with customers and prospects. Put a pre and post-launch promotion plan together, including:
- Awareness/access on your website, social networks, and other static web assets
- Outbound communication (newsletters, marketing campaigns), email signatures, and stand alone announcements (e.g., on launch day, every month for 6 months, etc.)
5. Prepare and implement a Sentiment Response/ Negativity Plan
Put a plan together so you and everyone involved in the community is responding in the most effective way to varying types of participant sentiment – both happy and sad, good and bad.
- Create a sentiment-based communication guide to set a positive tone within your community. Some important items to highlight in the style guide are:
- Listen. You want your community to know you are listening and understand what they are saying is important.
- Empathy. You feel their pain or their joy. Recognize it.
- Appreciation. You are glad individuals are engaged and you appreciate all comments – that’s what makes a community real.
- Negative diffuser statements. Include a couple sample “diffuser” statements so that the tone of your community stays positive.
- Complete and implement a Negativity Plan.
- Communication Style Tips (PDF download)
6. Grow and launch your community
Go out with a bang! Run a contest – maybe the ﬁrst 10 “Idea” posts get a prize? Or maybe the ﬁrst 25 folks who ask a question get entered into a drawing. And be sure you’ve already seeded your community with some useful content so people aren’t arriving at an empty party.
- Ensure community is seeded before launching.
- Develop and execute a launch contest.
- Continue to build your community with periodic contests and newsletter announcements. Keep the momentum going!
7. Engage and close the loop.
In the early days of your community, it’s important to give people the satisfaction of a quick response so that they view the community as an efﬁcient and valuable resource. When responding, be yourself and keep in mind that you’re relationship building too – be friendly, empathetic and conversational. Remember to come back to close loops on topics that need further investigation or additional resources. Most importantly, be honest with your customers. Honesty builds trust which in turn breeds loyalty. Follow your guidelines (and appropriate style) when responding.
- Be timely, and encourage potential champions to reply
- Make sure to set the appropriate status on topics
- Keep stakeholders apprised of what’s happening in the community – this will help create a customer-centric culture
8. Curate your Community
Like a gardener, tend to your community. Weed, fertilize, cross-pollinate. Use the Topic and Reply Moderation Tools to close topics that don’t need additional replies, archive topics that don’t have lasting value to others, merge duplicate content, remove spam, edit topic titles so they’re clear and descriptive, set the status on topics so community members know where you’re at with them, promote relevant employee replies as the Ofﬁcial Response. Keep topics organized by making sure they’re categorized properly with relevant tags and product associations.
- Create and follow your own curation guidelines (e.g., daily/weekly/monthly).
- Community Curation Guide (PDF download)
9. Measure your Community’s ROI
Gather statistics for measuring and reporting via a variety of resources depending on your plan. All plans have access to the Management View which can be ﬁltered by date range and exported into Excel for your own slicing and dicing of the content and attached data. Many plans have access to a basic Community Stats page in their Admin section and can integrate their Google Analytics account with their community. Enterprise plans can add on the Community Health Analytics Dashboard powered by GoodData.
- Take a snapshot of your current stats so you have a baseline for tracking conversions from other channels to your community.
- Monitor Stats (and other metric sources, like Google Analytics) so you know how you’re doing.
- Measuring Success Webcast (video)
10. Monitor your members and keep your eye out for advocates
Keep your eye out for the members in your community who are frequent posters and a positive force of good. If they’re knowledgeable about your products and services, helpful to other community members and evangelists for your brand, reward them with a “Champs” badge. Community champions, also known as brand advocates, contribute to an engaged and thriving environment while also taking some of the load off the ofﬁcial employees.
- Create a Champions Program & Announce it.
- Building Advocates (webcast)
- Monitor users and look for potential Champions.