I’ve recently been asked a lot about building an online community. What’s the best way to get your content seen? Grow a following? Engage people in a meaningful way? Some are considering putting their energy into non-traditional platforms such as Ning, content communities such as Medium, or platform-based groups such as Facebook.
We’ve experienced an array of results with all of these community-building platforms and tactics. How they can positively benefit an organization will depend largely on several factors. Below are a series of questions to consider if you’re looking to cultivate an engaged online community.
Are you willing to foster a community? There’s a difference between posting content and cultivating a community. Regardless of the platform you use, if you only post your blog and sign-off, you’re wasting your time. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Over a hundred years later, this realization still rings true. Growing a community requires putting forth effort into building that community. That means showing you care about what others are saying and taking the time to engage with their content with thoughtful commentary.
Will you offer value? What’s worse than posting content without engaging your community? Posting salesy content without engaging your community! No one wants to hear a sales pitch, so save it. Spend your energy on serving the needs of your community by offering value-based content and suggestions. This will strengthen your relationship with your audience.
Are you forcing them into your community or allowing them to opt-in? What’s worse than posting salesy content without engaging your community? Forcing your connections into the community! Some marketers are advising organizations to form Facebook groups, however, people are notorious for adding connections to the group without their permission. I’m regularly placed in groups of skincare distributors and local retailers who post about their products incessantly. It’s annoying. And, it sabotages trust.
Are you meeting people where they’re at or are you asking them to defer to the channel of your liking? In Mark Schaefer's recent post, he explained why breaking up Big Tech companies (such as Facebook and Amazon) won't work. His argument, "When it comes to something like a social network, we don’t want all that choice. We like all our stuff simple and in one place." That's exactly why Facebook groups won't disappear anytime soon. People are already on the platform every day. There is no need to go anywhere else. Establishing another place for people to go creates more work, and ultimately, we want what’s convenient. Keep this in mind when considering the space to build your community.
The Bottom Line
Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it. As you’ve seen here, building an engaged online community requires you to put the community first. Establishing and nurturing relationships, sharing content, and serving the needs of your community should be central to your efforts.
Perhaps the most important question is… Will you do the work?