When I’m asked to help a company with a community strategy, I juggle mixed reactions.
I’m thrilled someone is interesting in developing community, having watched it become the most powerful asset for many companies.
And I’m immediately concerned it might be for the wrong reasons (which will doom it to failure). Sadly it’s often the latter.
To figure out which situation we’re dealing with – and if business readiness matches enthusiasm – there’s a fairly simple litmus test.
It will save you blood, sweat and the bottom line if you run it before starting down the road of creating an owned community.
It’s straightforward, but often overlooked:
Your online community should solve an important (if not the most important) problem facing your customers or consumers.
It’s the same logic you’d apply to great a product, only more so, because you’ll be inviting people to invest hours, months, perhaps even years of their time into a network of relationships dedicated to a specific set of goals.
You need to honestly answer these questions:
- What is the purpose of the community?
- What is the value for its members?
- What is the value for your business?
Do the answers align – or are they different, at odds even? Can you honestly say what’s good for your company is also good for the community? Can those goals and outcomes sufficiently overlay?
If you feel like you’ll be making concessions to build the community; compromising on business goals or giving up on products, tools and services you think are more important, stop right there. An online community isn’t for you (yet anyway).
Before you even get to figuring out if you can adequately resource your community for growth, start from scratch and figure out what problems you’re trying to solve for people and how an online community might make those solutions come to life.
This isn’t an abstract process; it’s about tying the community to tangible business objectives.
Then start asking the next series of questions, which will ultimately lead you into community design:
- Who is this community for? i.e. Cyclists who live in car-centric cities
- How many existing communities serve this group?
- How long is the community likely to take to achieve its shared goals? (i.e. a month, or years)
Never mind how – start with why
You may have heard that communities are great for driving traffic to your site, turbo-charging your SEO footprint, adapting to search algorithms, product idea incubation, scaling customer service and more.
They can be all of these things. When done right they’re fundamentally transformative and probably the best brand asset you’ll ever invest in. But they won’t get past launch unless they’re planned, managed, and most of all, aligned with company purpose and intent.
Start with purpose, and when what’s good for business is good for the community, you’re ready to plant your seeds.