12 Tips For Successful Branded Online Communities

March 14, 2011 Comments Off

Brands need to abandon the marketing mindset and embrace the community approach. This community approach involves many elements. These include:

  1. Use a unique URL. Communities need their own identity, not a community tab on the main website. Give them their own URL that relates solely to the community. This will solve many of the audience targeting issues you will have with putting community news on your company's site.
  2. Create a unique name for the community. A community needs a very special identity. It needs a unique name that is representative of that group. Using a symbol they already identity with helps. 
  3. Use forum-based software. Don't try to be too clever with your community platform. Make sure it's something that's simple to use. This usually means a forum-based software package. Use a popular one with plenty of community support. You can build the site and content around the forum software. Make sure you can show the latest discussions on the landing page of the community.
  4. Sell a product/service worth building a community around. Most products and services simply aren't interesting or important enough to build a community around. We don't feel a connection with others that buy these products/services. The products/services aren't representative of our self-concept. 
  5. Limit mentions of your products/services by you. By all means respond to such discussion and occaisionally start relevant discussions, but otherwise strictly limit discussions of your product started by you. Instead focus on starting discussions about members. Write content about what your audience are doing. Plan cool events and use them as the basis of activity. 
  6. Target your existing audience. You can't build a community around people that don't know you exist. They wont have any connection with each other. A community isn't an outbound process, you need to have the attention of the people you want to join your community.
  7. Use your unfair advantage. Brands have a tendancy to take from the community, they should be offering something to the community. They should bring something unique and exclusive that members can't get anywhere else. Ability to impact the products, have exclusive access to members, 
  8. Ensure your employees participate. A branded community in which employees participate (not just a community manager) is infinitely cooller than a community where your only connection is via the community manager. The community manager should be a great facilitator, but not the decisive link between the communtiy and the company. 
  9. Dedicate one full-time community manager to the community. I haven't seen a branded community succeed that only had a part-time manager. There aren't any exceptions to this rule. Either hire a full-time community manager, or don't build a community. Trust me, I know this puts some of you in difficult situations. 
  10. Reference your community in company literature. Talk about the community in your products, your press releases, in interviews, on your website. Look for opportunities to promote your community in major outlets. Take out a poster thanking them in a magazine if you like. 
  11. Meet them. Find a way to meet your members. If they're based globally, then meet the ones locally (cover their travel expenses). Go out to members when possible and have unique interactions with them. 
  12. Encourage off-topic discussions. In many communities the general/off-topic chat is the most popular type of discussion. Encourage these – it encourages real relationships between community members. Don't worry if members talk more off-topic than on-topic – it means they're developing relationships beyond the specific topic matter. They will keep returning to the community. 

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