How can my organization benefit from an online community?
Increased revenue, enhanced efficiency, easier collaboration, shared knowledge, more website traffic--- these are just some of the benefits your organization or business can gain from an online community.
But it doesn’t happen by magic.
You have to connect the dots between what your members value and the benefit you hope to gain.
Here’s a quick itinerary:
- Josie yearns to become a better teacher for her class of 5th graders.
- She Googles “become a better teacher.”
- Your new website and community, “BetterTeachers.com” is on page 1 of the search results because you’ve offered a ton of templates, ideas, and resources, and there are lively discussions happening between other educators just like Josie. (Google loves dynamic, expert content.)
- She devours all of the free content, and notices that she can become a paid member of your community. She wants more, so she pays your $5/month membership fee.
- Josie loves all of the great ideas she’s getting from the site, and tells her fellow faculty members about your site, and shares a few things in her social accounts.
- You pocket the membership revenue, Josie feels like she’s moving ahead in her career, and everyone is happy! (By the way, I hope you reached out to Acme Teacher Supply and invited them to sponsor your community.)
The benefit isn’t always revenue, either.
Let’s consider a small nonprofit, working to help kittens stranded by natural disasters. Of course, this little nonprofit needs revenue too, in the form of donations (and they can put a donate button on their community site).
However, they also have projects to work on, lessons-learned to share, and they need to empower their volunteers with information to spread the word about the cause.
Hmmmmm…..what could accomplish all of those things? Yep, an online community.
“KittenRescuers” could incorporate, in a one handy-dandy space:
- Pictures and videos of the kittens
- Stories about their success
- An invitation for volunteers to gather on Saturday for a rescue action
- New volunteer training content
- A private space for their board of directors
- Q&A for prospective volunteers or people who want to adopt kittens
Bonus...they may not even require a standalone website, because often a community platform can simply serve as the whole site (especially if it’s Crowdstack).
Those are just two illustrations. If you’re not sure if your organization needs an online community, consider these questions:
- What are my high-level goals?
- What are the high-level goals of my fans/customers/partners/volunteers?
- Is there a way I can help my fans/customers/partners/volunteers achieve their goals?
If the answer to number 3 is yes, and if the answer involves human engagement, information sharing, or support, then a community is a natural fit.
The purpose for your community should be defined before you do anything else, even before you select a technology, because your purpose may drive the technology selection.
For example, if your purpose is group collaboration, ensure that your community platform supports file sharing or file attachments. If your purpose is consumer feedback, you need technology that can support surveys and discussion.
Just to get your creative juices flowing, here’s an inspiring list of online community concepts:
- To facilitate user-to-user support, thereby decreasing internal technical support costs
- To allow my clients and partners to interact with each other and communicate more effectively with my team
- To continue discussions, conversations, and relationships that began at my live event, convention, or conference sessions
- To draw together experts to share best practices around my topic or profession
- To create a client hub, where prospects and customers can share articles, ideas, and ask questions
- To create a private forum/community to handle feedback, suggestions, and bug reports for new software
- To attract more traffic and increase repeat visits to my website
- To promote awareness of a new TV show, movie, book, or play (you fill in the blank)
- To offer a public forum for constituent or customer feedback (value and convenience enhanced for the customer)
- To centralize communications for my franchise owners and headquarters staff, making the franchises more successful
- To provide an online searchable knowledge base that improves customer access to information about my company and decreases phone calls
- To facilitate learning and extended discussions for an online workshop or training course
- To have fun and connect with others who share my hobby or passion (that's legitimate too)
- To make it easier and more cost-effective for engineers who are in different time zones to collaborate on a specific project (decrease travel and long-distance expenses).