Online Community Building: Start with a Solid Foundation

by Vanessa Rhinesmith on November 22, 2010

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We often talk about social media and community engagement, but don’t always separate the two. It is important to understand the distinction between social media and community as well as how they complement one another within a social strategy.

Social media tools and technology can help to cultivate a community or provide online locations where communities can exist and grow. The execution of social media strategy can achieve deeper levels of success and engagement due to the presence of a community. Conversely, social media effectiveness can be limited by its non-existence.

Myth: If you build it they will come.

Truth: Creating an engaging community through a website, a blog, a Twitter profile, a Facebook page, or private customer facing online social network takes time, resources, and most importantly, commitment. It means first establishing how these online spaces and communities fit into a larger marketing, PR, and/or customer service strategy and align with the target audience.

No matter why type of platform you are looking to use to connect with your customers, clients or employees it’s important to start with the development of a solid foundation.  There are key foundational elements the can help you to build this foundation as well as enable your community to engage with your product, service, brand or organization:

  • Content: What will your content consist of? This of course will be linked to your broader and more detailed communications marketing strategy, but content is always your starting point. Your content should resonate with both your audience and your overarching messaging objectives.
  • Measurement: It’s important to identify your engagement goals and establish a means of measurement. This will help you to stay more focused on the measurable goals of your social media channels as well as enable you to revise your approach as necessary.

    Radian6 offers great ideas on how to measure community impact and effectively define community success, “How you measure community impact largely depends on how you want to define what a “successful” community means for your business.”

  • Guidelines: Developing user or community guidelines can be incredibly valuable and help promote engagement. Users need to know how they can participate, what are the rules and expectations, and where they can access support to assist them to do this.
  • Boundaries: Organizations need to assess their own expectations, policies, and legal needs that might impact what is and isn’t allowed. A posted Terms of Use or a legal disclaimer can help notify the community of content restrictions and moderating.
  • Moderation: Moderation of comments or other community content is important for several reasons. It shows your investment and commitment to the community, and it enables you to keep conversations focused and relevant to your readers.

Utilizing an online community, whether Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or a blog, as part of your communication marketing and/or customer service strategy can be powerful. To help you maximize that potential remember to develop a solid engagement foundation.

Taking the time to execute content, measurement, and engagement in a strategic and thorough way can help your organization build a engaged community that welcomes participation, promotes loyalty, and generates value while enabling you to effectively manage potential challenges and hurdles that might develop along the way.

Being able to engage with customers, prospective customers, peers, and business leaders is an opportunity that should be nurtured and allocated the appropriate amount of commitment and time.

What foundational elements do you find are important? What tips do you have for organizations when creating an online presence and cultivating community engagement?

(Image courtesy of katiedee47, Flickr)

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Online Community Building: Start with a Solid Foundation
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