When Your Audience Creates Their Own Community Without You

Two organisations I’m working with are dealing with the same intriguing challenge; customers have already launched successful communities for their brand!

On one hand, this is a great sign. It shows the audience cares and wants to engage with one another. They’re helping each other already and the organisation doesn’t have to do anything. It’s a free bonus.

On the other hand, it presents several problems. The information shared in member-hosted communities is often poor and outdated, it attracts troublemakers (self-promoters), and there’s no way for the organisation to build a process to support those who don’t get help (i.e. in a hosted community, unanswered questions can be automatically redirected to support teams after [x] hours).

This also raises another dilemma. Both clients need to launch communities on platforms that integrate with existing systems, have adequate security measures, and provide access to data. By nature, that means it will be less convenient for members to use than the platforms hosting existing communities (Facebook Groups, WhatsApp, Slack, Subreddits etc…). Why would members use your community when a more convenient option exists?

You have two broad options here.

The first option is to engage with existing hosts of member-created communities and try to develop a relationship that will enable you to respond, correct false information, and gather what information you can. This can work well, but it’s rarely a long-term solution by itself. You’re at the mercy of people whose primary objective may not align with yours.

The second option is to build your own community, but offer a value proposition so strong it overcomes the convenience problem. This usually means a combination of:

1) Access to staff. Members can engage in member-created communities or get trusted advice from staff and validated members in the brand-hosted community. This requires staff to be heavily engaged in the community.

2) Personalisation. Design the community to be integrated into accounts with members receiving the news, information, and updates that are relevant to them. Free social media tools can’t share the latest product updates, top five known issues, progress on reported issues, and a list of relevant discussions – but your community can. Likewise, members can’t vote on ideas or see unanswered questions immediately escalated in other tools.

3) Unique features. Zero in on the specific features members want and show these in the community. This might include searchable documentation and knowledge base articles, leaderboards and badges, or the ability to contribute to the community in a unique way.

Whatever you do, don’t select a similar platform and try to compete against existing, established, communities. That’s a loss for you, your new competitors, and your members.

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