Best Practices for Successful Online Communities
I apologize for neglecting this blog for the last week. I went to Washington DC to speak at the American Management Institute, and had a heck of a time getting home due to thunderstorms in DC and Chicago. In lieu of a technology briefing, I thought I would post an excerpt from a new white paper I did with Salesforce.com: Customer Service 2.0.
Launching an online community requires a great deal of planning, marketing, and in the beginning, a lot of internal resources. Based on member and vendor interviews, here are five key best practices for successfully launching a new community.
Build an open vs. closed community. With an eye toward enticing new participants, any initial roadblocks to community participation must be eliminated. The most common roadblock is requiring registration in order to read forum and blog postings. If interested parties are unable to view any community content, they are unlikely to go through a registration process to find out if the content is valuable.
If you build it, they don’t necessarily come. Just like Web self-service, having the best online community content and structure does not guarantee anyone will use it. Ongoing marketing campaigns are required to educate customers/members about online community options and encourage participation.
Well integrated to the rest of the Website. There are two angles on this. First, the look/feel of the community should be consistent with a company’s corporate look/feel so the community pages don’t feel like an afterthought. This can be a challenge using a hosted system with limited customization options, but most solutions will at least accept stylesheets to address issues like color, fonts and graphics. The 2nd angle is content integration. The best example is for customer service: customer searching the knowledge for assistance should receive search results including relevant forum postings, and attempts at posting a new forum topic should check to see if the question is addressed elsewhere on the company’s Website.
Adequate staffing/moderation resources. Just as customers who never find an answer on a self-service site tend not to return, community members that never receive an answer to a question posted on a forum will stop participating entirely. While the ultimate goal is for peer-to-peer participation to address the bulk of member questions, at the early stages the parent company is responsible for moderation and content creation, and even in later stages the company must have some resources dedicated to forum moderation to ensure ignored member postings are responded to.
Highly transparent, meaningful member ratings. All members are not created equal. While it is important for all community members to have a voice, as members work their way through the hyperaffiliation stages discussed earlier, thought leaders will emerge. Having a system that rates and identifies members who are frequent contributors of high quality content helps members understand which advice may be most trusted and meaningful.
I hope that is helpful to those of you, like ourselves, who are in the midst of launching a new online community. Questions, suggestions, comments? Please add a comment or shoot me an email! Thanks for reading.