Online Community Health Check: Start Here by Vanessa DiMauro, Leader Networks

Contributor: Vanessa DiMauro (Leader Networks)

Online Community Health FollrOur lives are filled with checkups. We get checkups for ourselves, our kids, our aging parents. Even our businesses have checkups to make sure all those important systems are working properly. We find personal coaches, attend parent-teacher conferences, go to the doctor with Mom or Dad. In business, we have board meetings, conferences with attorneys and accountants, seek advice from coaches and, yes, consultants.

Every dynamic system requires a checkup because, well, change is inevitable. We would rather things improve than let entropy have its disorderly way with us or our activities. This is especially true for delicate, difficult or nuanced activities such as building online communities for business. These online social organisms are, after all, made up of lots and lots of people. Change is built in. To keep one of these entities growing and thriving takes present attention, past insights and good deal of foresight to manage the present, learn from the past and keep an eye on and plan for the future.

The word is out that online communities yield substantial business results for those organizations that do them well.  Numerous recent studies document the strong top line results when social business initiatives succeed.  However, while some are thriving, many social business initiatives are failing. Worse yet, some of their owners and sponsors don’t have a clear idea if they are failing, how they are failing, or why.How could this be? Online communities are tough to launch, and even tougher to sustain.

The finest social business leadership team or community manager can benefit from a little outside guidance, fresh ideas, new perspectives and best practices to keep the social business machinery humming. The good news is that successful communities can perform even better, and laggards can make significant improvements, when the right strategic, tactical, operational, technical and organizational changes are implemented.

That’s the key: identifying and implementing the right changes to keep your community on track. What kind of activities, practices and behaviors should be assessed to ensure it is healthy and operating efficiently to generate the greatest returns?  There are well over 120 checkpoints to assess an online community’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth and greater success.

These include factors such as:

  • Strategic viability – Are operational practices in alignment with business strategy and goals?
  • Business plan integrity – Does the business model match up with community strategy and operations?
  • Operational performance — Is the member on-boarding process efficient? Is the community growing at the right rate? Are outreach efforts fruitful? Are success metrics on track? Are they the right metrics?
  • Technical framework – Does the community face technical limitations that inhibit use? Does the chosen technology platform support the business model? Are the community technologies moving towards greater integration with core business processes? If not, what are the implications of this divergence?
  • Organizational practices – Does the organization have the right skills available to support online community and social business? Do the social business initiatives have sufficient visibility and executive support within the organization? If not, what should you do?

That’s always the real question: what should you do? So … to help every online community become a winner, we at Leader Networks offer our Online Community Health Check. Here is a brief overview of the service and  more detail about the process.  This in-depth research-based assessment tool evaluates your online community’s capabilities and opportunities. Based on our years (decades, really!) of experience, we understand how best to create online environments that combine your network and business needs with the needs of those all-important people – your community stakeholders. Social business success is built on a deep understanding of what it takes to connect and engage the right people around topics that matter to them.  Our health check process identifies critical online community success factors we’ve developed and proven through scores of engagements across various industries over 15+ years. We also enhance our practical expertise with an ongoing research agenda which uncovers and applies new understanding for best practices to your online community. If you would like to find out how your community is doing – is it already a winner or would some tweaking and coaching help it succeed? —  we would be delighted to discuss how we can help your social business initiative succeed and thrive. Start here.

 [This work was originally published on Vanessa’s blog, Leader Networks and is reposted here with her permission.]

7 Great Tips for Promoting Your Online Community

Promoting Online Community Follr Blog 7Congratulations! You’ve taken the plunge and decided to start an online community. Hopefully your next step is to focus on growth and retention. To do that, you need to get your community out there by promoting. Read on for seven easy ways to do just that!

1. Create a Short Video Create a short video in which you introduce yourself and the community and elaborate on why you started this journey. It doesn’t need to be particularly long or fancy – 2-3 minutes will do. Simply visualizing you, the face of the community, will entice potential new members to join and give a much-appreciated sense of transparency. Embed it in the welcome text of your community and your email invitations (See #2).

2. Invite Your Target Audience If you’ve decided to create a community, hopefully you already have an idea of who your members will be and have a target audience in mind. Once you have email lists, send a thoughtful, well-constructed invitation with a link to join and brief overview of your community’s focus and features. Up and coming community platform, Follr’s power email capability makes this so easy.

3. Make your Business Card & Email Signature do Double Duty This may seem like a no-brainer, but not nearly enough community managers do this: add your community link to your business card and email signature. This is a great way to make all types of people aware of your community and a great conversation starter when you exchange business cards at networking events. If you ask me, business cards and resumes are slowly but surely becoming obsolete thanks to platforms like Follr and LinkedIn so take advantage of email and add your link there too.

4. Get Involved in Similar Communities Visit blogs, groups and forums where your target audience is likely to be hanging around. Introduce yourself and join the conversation. Once you’re established in the community, casually invite members to take a look at a piece of content or a post on your community to entice them in.

5. Take Advantage of Existing Followers Take advantage of any traction you have on other social media platforms and blast out your link there. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and don’t forget your Facebook and LinkedIn groups as well. P.S. Use that hashtag!

6. Use a Hashtag This seems simple but come up with one short hashtag for your community and use it religiously. Photos, updates, content, you name it – it should all be searchable by your community hashtag. Check out more great things to do with hashtags here.

7. Send Newsletters Weekly or bimonthly send out a short newsletter via email to your members. Let them know what’s going on in the community, highlight new members and give the community a heads up on upcoming events or promotions.